(b) The Tempest is a play of forgiveness and reconciliation. How successful is the play in exploring these themes?
Prospero is a character that seems to stand at the very centre of The Tempest. Throughout the play, he prompts most of the action, and he has the last word.
The entire plot of the play is a scheme designed by Prospero to bring his rivals to a state of regret so that he can pardon them and restore the rightful order of things to his dukedom of Milan. As Prospero is seen as being all-powerful over the island, he could
easily destroy or punish his enemies by any method or means. However, he chooses not to and brings the past conspirators face-to- face with the sins of their past, which causes them to be repentant. In a god-like way, Prospero forgives each of them, allowing them
to live and return to Italy. In appreciation, they promise to faithfully serve Prospero. It is a picture of full reconciliation, with the exception of Antonio. This shows that the theme of this play is the ‘chain of forgiveness and reconciliation’, filled with religious overtones.
The religious theme in this play may be shown by how Prospero exemplifies wisdom, justice, and super-human good judgement. In relation to the other characters, this may be argued to show a Christ -like representation of Prospero to the readers or audience of the play. The time when the play was written would mean an audience composed of Christians, who would have almost certainly agreed that forgiveness was essential. Like Jesus he is betrayed by his enemies. After he is stripped of his power,
Prospero is then sent to die at sea; but he is almost miraculously raised from the near-dead due to the loving care of Gonzalo, who is a God-like figure due to his age, wisdom, kindness and caring. In spite of the wrongs done to Prospero, like Jesus, he bears no
grudges and does not become bitter. Instead, he uses his power to gather his enemies so that he can bring them to repentance and subsequently forgive them in order for everyone to be reconciled.
Throughout the play, Prospero’s god-like representation is shown by his judging, punishing, and forgiving. With the help of Ariel, Prospero also appears to be all-knowing too. It can be argued that he is an Old Testament God, where he turns to vengeful fury when he is crossed, and the question throughout is Prospero will overcome his anger and forgive his enemies. Christians are expected to forgive and revenge is not a Christian attribute. As Prospero observes, forgiveness is a nobler action than vengeance. However, it may be argued that Prospero’s actions were quite harsh. For instance, it may be said that the sufferings of Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo are comic. However, there seems to be something cruel in the way Prospero deals with his old enemy Alonso, letting him think until the last minute that his beloved son Ferdinand is dead. (Bringing Ferdinand back from the dead, so to speak, is God-like too.) Also, throughout the play Prospero’s anger is shown, for example, late in the fourth act, Prospero interrupts the spirits' pleasant masque when he's suddenly overcome with rage at the thought of Caliban's plot against him. Then, early in Act V, he admits to Ariel that he can only forgive his enemies by letting his "nobler reason" overcome his “fury." This fury, more than any other quality, makes Prospero more of a human than a god-like figure.
Prospero seems to contradict his character with mixture of forgiveness and almost cruelty. However, many would argue that his enemies deserved harsh treatment. Prospero loved Caliban and taught him language and had shown Prospero al the fertile and barren places on the island. Caliban now uses the language to curse Prospero and accuse him of stealing his rightful kingdom. He lovingly gave Caliban freedom and Caliban returned that kindness by trying to rape Prospero's daughter, Miranda. Prospero makes Caliban perform all sorts of menial tasks as a punishment for Caliban’s attempted rape, which may be argued as fair, but also may contradict Prospero’s ‘forgiving character’. Prospero makes essentially the same mistake with both Antonio and Caliban: he fails to keep them in their proper place, and he fails to exercise his responsibilities. It may be an error on the side of kindness but and he and others suffer because of it.
Prospero forgives his enemies, including Antonio and Sebastian, who don't seem to deserve forgiveness. His past errors of trusting too much in Antonio and Caliban were perhaps because of his kindness. However, letting the characters who deserved punishment suffer may have been accepted in the situations arising, but the question of why he let Gonzalo suffer may be asked.
Prospero isn't perfect and may be seen as a harsh, angry man. He breaks up the lovely masque for Ferdinand and Miranda when his anger overcomes him. He also plays with his daughter’s feelings and nearly breaks Miranda's heart by letting her think he hates Ferdinand, and horrifies Miranda with his cruelty to Ferdinand. However, Prospero also creates an image of reconciliation by bringing Miranda and Ferdinand. The fact that he plans from the first to marry Ferdinand to Miranda would suggest that he had planned reconciliation with Ferdinand's father, Alonso, all along. On the other hand, however, it can be argued that the anger that grips Prospero until the end and if he were planning to forgive from the beginning, wouldn't he already have overcome his anger?
This love story may have been a symbol of hope and new beginning for reconciliation of King Alonso and Prospero. As Ferdinand is the son of the king who helps Antonio overthrow Prospero, it would seem that Ferdinand and Prospero would be natural enemies. But Ferdinand's pure and simple love for Merinda allows Prospero to accept the young prince. This becomes the means for Prospero’s general forgiveness it is this love story that brings rivals together and restores co-operation. This is shown in Act IV Scene 1 where Alonso is forgiven and shown where his son is.
Although Prospero feels anger, he also overcomes it. His examples of forgiveness are present throughout the play. An example would be in Act III Scene 3 – Prospero’s plan begins to take shape as he send Ariel to visit the “three men of sin” in play, Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian. The feast,(which is usually a symbolism to harmony), is now broken by deceit and disharmony. Prospero meanwhile is invisible and Ariel appears before them in forms of a harpy, and lectures them on their sins.
When Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian are confined as prisoners in a grove near Prospero’s cave. Prospero instructs Ariel to release them and bring them to the cave. He tells Antonio and Sebastian he could punish them severally because of their misdeed and continued plotting, but agrees to keep quiet if they turn from their wickedness. Alonso is the least guilty, and most repentant, offers to surrender fully to Prospero all that was hiss. Prospero shows Alonso where Ferdinand is sitting playing chess with Merinda, thus reuniting father and son. The King of Naples is overjoyed and blesses the marriage of his son to Merinda. Caliban is partly redeemed since he recognises his unacceptable behaviour.
All the action of the main plot revolves around Prospero’s plan to bring his betrayers to repentance so that he can forgive then and bring about total reconciliation’s. As always, Shakespeare makes certain that all the loose ends of a play are tied up before the ending. causing the play to end as a comedy. Act five presents a climax, when Prospero confronts his enemies, brings them to repentance and forgives them. Those whowere though dead were discovered alive, a lost son id resorted to a joyous parent and Those who have committed offenses repent and are forgiven. The conclusion shows how the reconciliation is brought about. What isn't clear is whether Prospero intends from the beginning to forgive his old enemies or whether his mercy is a last-minute decision.
Merinda and Ferdinand are blissfully wedded a and Prospero is restored his rightful position and plans to sail home. He also generously forgives those who have wronged him, proving that “the rarer action is in virtue rather than vengeance” because he concentrates on the re-growth instead of revenge, Prospero proves the true nobility of his character, while allowing all the characters to better themselves.