After the famous harpy scene mentioned at the end of my last essay, Prospero returns to Miranda and Ferdinand. He agrees to their marriage and gives it his blessing, and also frees Ferdinand from his labors. As a wedding present, Prospero uses his magic powers to summon spirits who then perform a play for the young couple. A very interesting thing happens in this scene: Prospero lets himself be so drawn into the play that he forgets all about the present situation and the threat that Caliban and the two drunken servants pose.
” I had forgot that foul conspiracy of the best Caliban and his confederates against my life: the minute of their plot is almost come – “
As we know, the reason that Prospero lost his dukedom 12 yrs ago was because of his love for the arts and study; that is his weakness it seems. He almost lets himself be drawn back into the very thing that caused his tragedy in Milan. However, he does something that shows his strength of character: he recovers his composure. Once Prospero realizes what he is doing, he quickly puts and end to the play of spirits and is very upset.
“Never till this day saw I him so touched with anger so distempered.”
Why is he angry? Well, I believe that he is upset with himself; he has recognized that he is an ordinary human being struggling with his own weaknesses. Despite that minor setback, Prospero is able to recover his composure and stop the conspiracy of Caliban and his followers.
Here is an interesting side note: The play the Tempest is rather like its main character if you think about it. It is very short, orderly, concise and to the point – much like the qualities of Prospero himself.
After the plot of Caliban is stopped, Prospero summons Ariel and asks about how the King and his group are faring. Ariel tells Prospero how they are under magic, which is making them crazy: “The king, his brother, and yours, abide all three distracted;”. Ariel then proceeds to tell Prospero how, if he could only see them, he would feel sorry for their situation: “Your charm so strongly works ’em, that if you now beheld them, your affections would become tender.” Prospero then says something very intriguing:
“the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance: they being penitent, the sole drift of my purpose doth extend not a frown further.”
Many people at this point in the play would be ready to get revenge on their enemies; maybe hurt them the way that they had been hurt. Prospero chooses to do something extraordinary: he is going to be virtuous – extend mercy (that theme comes up again!) on the very people who put him on this island. Remember near the beginning of the play, right after the tempest Miranda is upset because she believes everyone has drowned. Prospero said something – “There is no harm done………..So safely ordered, that there is no soul – No, not so much perdition as an hair”. His original intention was never to harm anyone. All he wanted to do is bring about a brief moment of repentance from his enemies (accomplished during the harpy scene), in the hope that they might change and learn from what they did.
Prospero orders Ariel to bring King Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio and Gonzalo to him. While Ariel is gone, Prospero draws a magic circle and renounces all of his magic. He will burn his book and break his magic staff and take off his magic robes. The whole purpose of his magic was to bring his foes to him, but now since that has been achieved he no longer needs his magic.
Ariel leads the enchanted people to Prospero and they stand in the circle that he had drawn. While the magic is fading, and before they recover their senses Prospero talks to each one of them individually. Sort of like a dress rehearsal. He also puts on his old clothes (sign of returning home and accepting old responsibilities) from Milan so that they will recognize him. Once the magic has worn off, he reveals himself, the responses he gets are very different:
King Alonso: They dukedom I resign, and do entreat thou pardon me my wrongs.
The King Alonso responds to Prospero with repentance and sorrow, but Antonio just stays silent and doesn’t say anything. What is he thinking I wonder? After the first meeting, Prospero presents King Alonso with his son Ferdinand who he thought was dead, and they are happily reunited. Caliban recognizes what a fool he was for trusting Stephano and Trinculo: “What a thrice-double ass was I, to take this drunkard for a god, and worship this dull fool!” And Prospero invites everyone to stay and hear his story, and then they all return to Milan where Prospero become the Duke again. Prospero says that “every third thought will be my grave”. This sounds like an acceptance of responsibility, he needs to prepare himself and his people for what will happen when he dies. Instead of all of his thoughts consumed with the pursuit of study (like 12 yrs ago), he will return to Milan with a much better balance of responsibility and as a stronger person then when he left. So, the ending themes of the play seem to be ones of Thanksgiving, mercy and joy. Also coming back together, and the reuniting of a family.
At the close of the play, Prospero ends with this speech:
“Now my charms are all o’erthrown, and what strength I have’s mine own, – which is most faint: now, ’tis true, I must be here confined by you, or sent to Naples. Let me not, since I have my dukedom got, and pardon’d the deceiver, dwell in this bare island by your spell; but release me from my bands with the help of your good hands: Gentle breath of yours my sails must fill, or else my project fails, which was to please: now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant; and my ending is despair, Unless I be relieved by prayer, which pierces so, that is assaults Mercy itself, and frees all faults. As you from crimes would pardon’d be, let your indulgence set me free.