Prospero is an incredibly powerful and active character in Shakespeare’s The

Tempest, which leaves a lot of ambiguity surrounding some of his key character traits.
Prospero can easily be read as an overly harsh, even dictatorial ruler of the island; his
treatment of Caliban, Ariel, and Miranda is far from empathetic in the outset. However over
the course of the story, Prospero develops and reveals himself as a caring, aging man with a
heart who truly wants the best for his daughter. Traumatized by betrayal and shunned
from his home, Prospero needed to be reawakened to the goodness in people in order to
redeem himself. The arrival of Ferdinand on the island and his romance with Miranda are
the keys that unlock Prospero’s heart and teach him to forgive again.
Prospero has seen some of the worst of humanity in the betrayal by his own brother.
Not only did Antonio breach Prospero’s brotherly trust, but “he was the ivy which had hid
[Prospero’s] princely trunk, and sucked [his] verdure out on ’t”, purposefully stealing
Prospero’s power. (1.2.86-88) Such violation of a deep familial relationship would leave
anyone feeling doubtful; perhaps his initial cruelty is a compensation for the trust that
Antonio has destroyed. Prospero is introduced in that damaged form of mistrust and
cruelty, his only true ally in Miranda. In this light, Prospero’s stormy attack on the ship and
dictatorial nature seem almost reasonable. In fact, it almost calls back to the biblical flood
or destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; all were angry and vengeful attacks on sinners by a
more mystical being with the best intentions for his chosen allies.
Among Prospero’s subjects on the island, Caliban far and above receives the
harshest treatment. This may be due to the fact that Caliban “didst seek to violate the honor
of [Prospero’s] child”, yet another attempt to break Prospero’s trust. (1.2.352-353) When
the situation is considered from Prospero’s perspective, he arrived on the island and

Ariel has a wonderful relationship with Prospero. Ariel receives far less berating than Caliban and even the power struggle with Prospero when Ariel is introduced can be interpreted as far less than dictatorial cruelty. a great service and one that Ariel should be eternally for. Miranda is the light of Prospero’s life. Ferdinand also receives the brunt of Prospero’s apparent cruelty. Ferdinand completes the trials and Prospero tells him “thou hast strangely stood the test. when [he] arrived and heard thee.1. Prospero’s manner of anger and harsh treatment seems much more justifiable. Following this understanding of their relationship. and good will until Caliban attempted to spite such generosity by taking Prospero’s daughter as well. (4.294-296) In fact Ariel does not seem to be enslaved at all. shelter. Prospero then forces Ferdinand to work in isolation but even gives ground there and allows Miranda to visit while he works. In such a context. rather more of an indentured servant working off Prospero’s great assistance.2. as with the others on the island. therefore Ferdinand must be tested and prove his worthiness of the jewel that is Miranda. (1. he is giving Ferdinand “a third of [his] own life—or that for which [he] live[s]”. I ratify this my rich gift”. finally giving . Shakespeare makes it clear that Prospero is attempting to orchestrate the union of Ferdinand and Miranda. Here. afore heaven. suffering slave.treated Caliban to food.4-5) This is not a thing to be taken lightly. but the moment that he openly accepts their union is a major turning point for his character. It was Caliban’s “art. This appears not to truly be vindictiveness but more a deep love for his daughter and a wish for her to marry the finest man possible. Ariel seems much more like a flighty spirit trying to escape his commitment and responsibility than an oppressed. that made gape the pine and let [Ariel] out”. When contrasted with Caliban’s relationship. Prospero appears cruel for legitimate reasons.

Ariel informs Prospero of Gonzalo’s pitiful state and his heart softens that “they being penitent. Prospero gives up his magic and begs forgiveness for his sins. and Stephano are given similar light treatment immediately after attempting to kill Prospero and take his island.29-31) This is massively important. This benevolence toward Caliban is possibly more telling of the extremity of Prospero’s shift than anything that occurs between Prospero and his brother.Ferdinand and Miranda what they truly desire.2. (5. Before he can fully let go of his power. Just as he forgave all those who wronged him. the sole drift of [his] purpose doth extend not a frown further”. Even Caliban.1. allowing the next generation to carry on. (5. Trinculo. he pleads to the magic of the island.1. Caliban violated Prospero’s trust and further then attempted a coup d’état against him. (4. “As you from crimes would pardoned be. Prospero is forgiving the very people who exiled him and turned him into the authoritarian ruler at the outset of the play for no other reason than their penitence. (4. A shift of this magnitude reveals the deep awareness that Prospero has gained since nearly killing his brother just days earlier.7-9) This is the first time in The Tempest that Prospero gives ground to anyone and shows that his power is not infinite. the powers of time and love have given rise to a new heir. Prospero “must bestow upon the eyes of this young couple some vanity of [his] art”.1. Even with all of this taken into account Prospero is ultimately forgiving and releases everyone to go home in peace. His final decisive act of change comes in the epilogue of the play. when Prospero remembers the plight of Antonio and company who are lost in the woods.19-20) . The trend continues.39-41) These two acts start knocking down the dominoes that result in Prospero finally giving up his magic and retiring. let your indulgence set me free” before his final exit.

He loves his daughter and wants the best for her so he creates an environment in which she can end up having the best life he can give her. which lends support to the symbolic correlation of Prospero. Prospero is a powerful man who takes over a new land without western civilization just as James was colonizing the supposedly uncivilized worlds of the East and the Americas.Prospero could also have easily been read as a cruel man. The play was written and performed for James I in honor of his daughter’s wedding. Prospero directs Miranda’s vision towards the situations and people who would serve her best interests. The masque may have been celebrating more than the union of Ferdinand and Miranda. but also the marriage of James’ daughter. more complexities are revealed and show Prospero as a man with deep emotions who can be deeply related to. he does his best and makes many mistakes however discounting his entire character based on a couple of mistakes cheapens a deep and valuable personality. and James I. Additionally. When read from a critical point of view Prospero is revealed as a good man and father who ultimately redeems himself . Just as Socrates believes that humanity “possesses vision but does not rightly direct it and does not look where it should” with education as the director. He superficially presents himself as a very rough and vindictive lord over his island and all those on it. Classifying Prospero as a good man and loving father supports the historical context of The Tempest. Prospero is one of the most complicated protagonists of any of Shakespeare’s plays. but this makes the interpretation of his character much more narrow and superficial. However as his character progresses. This also suggests that Shakespeare was criticizing western imperial culture with Caliban as the allegory for the conquered natives. Prospero is only human.