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Vengeance and Forgiveness in Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Vengeance and Forgiveness in Shakespeare’s The Tempest

There are many elements in Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, which one cannot reconcile with the real world. The main theme in The Tempest is illusion, and the main focus is the experiment by Prospero.

The Tempest, it is clear, features an experiment by Prospero. He has not brought the Europeans to the vicinity of the island, but when they do come close to it, he has, through the power of illusion, lured them into his very special realm. The experiment first of all breaks up their social solidarity, for they land in different groups: Ferdinand by himself, the court group, Stephano and Trinculo by themselves, and the sailors remain asleep. The magic leads them by separate paths until they all meet in the circle drawn by Prospero in front of his cave. There he removes the spell of the illusions; the human family recognizes each other, and together they resolve to return to Italy, leaving behind the powers of the magic associated with the island.

Before considering the purpose of Prospero’s experiment, we should note how central to all his magic Ariel is. And Ariel is not human but a magical spirit who has been released from natural bondage (being riven up in a tree) by Prospero’s book learning. The earlier inhabitants of the island, Sycorax and Caliban, had no sense of how to use Ariel, and so they simply imprisoned him in the world which governs them, raw nature. Prospero’s power depends, in large part, on Ariel’s release and willing service. In that sense, Ariel can be seen as some imaginative power which makes the effects of the theatre (like lightning in the masts of the boat) possible. One of the great attractions of this view of the play as a celeb…

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… vengeance. (5.1. 18-28)

Here, the imaginative sympathy for the sufferings of others leads to an active intervention based upon “virtue” rather than “vengeance.” This is a key recognition in the play: virtue expressed in forgiveness is a higher human attribute than vengeance. And in the conclusion of the play, Prospero does not even mention the list of crimes against him. He simply offers to forgive and accept what has happened to him, in a spirit of reconciliation. Unlike other Shakespeare plays, the ending of The Tempest requires neither the death nor the punishment of any of the parties.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Gervinus, G.G. “The Tempest.” The Shakespeare Criticism Volume 8. Gale Research Inc., Detroit. 1989: 304-307.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen. New York: W.W. Norton

The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

The Character of Ophelia in Hamlet

Of all the pivotal characters in Hamlet, Ophelia is the most static and one-dimensional. She has the potential to become a tragic heroine; to overcome the adversities inflicted upon her, but she instead crumbles into insanity, becoming merely tragic. This is because Ophelia herself is not as important as her representation of the duel nature of women in the play. Ophelia serves a distinct purpose: to show at once Hamlet’s warped view of women as callous sexual predators, and the innocence and virtue of women.

The extent to which Hamlet feels betrayed by Gertrude is far more apparent with the addition of Ophelia to the play. Hamlet’s feelings of rage against his mother can be directed toward Ophelia, who is, in his estimation, hiding her base nature behind a guise of impeccability. Through Ophelia we witness Hamlet’s evolution, or de-evolution into a man convinced that all women are whores; that the women who seem most pure are inside black with corruption and sexual desire. And if women are harlots, then they must have their procurers. Gertrude has been made a whore by Claudius, and Ophelia has been made a whore by her father. In Act II, Polonius makes arrangements to use the alluring Ophelia to discover why Hamlet is behaving so curiously. Hamlet is not in the room but it seems obvious from the following lines that he has overheard Polonius trying to use his daughter’s charms to suit his underhanded purposes. In Hamlet’s distraught mind, there is no gray area: Polonius prostitutes his daughter. And Hamlet tells him so to his face, labeling him a “fishmonger”, even if Polonius cannot decipher the meaning behind Hamlet’s words. As Kay Stanton argues in her essay Hamlet’s Whores:

Perhaps it may be granted…that what makes a woman a whore in the Hamlets’ estimation is her sexual use by not one man but by more than one man…. what seems to enrage [Hamlet] in the ‘nunnery’ interlude is that Ophelia has put her sense of love and duty for another man above her sense of love and duty for him, just as Gertrude put her sense of love and duty for her new husband above her sense of love and duty for her old. Gertrude chose a brother over a dead Hamlet; Ophelia chooses a father over a living Hamlet: both choices can be read as additionally sexually perverse in being, to Hamlet, ‘incestuous’.

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