Prospero: A Dark Protagonist the Tempest Term Paper

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Prospero: a Dark Protagonist

The Tempest has little plot, but builds its suspense through the interplay of intricate characters. Prospero is the protagonist of the play who must elude that treacherous Caliban who wants to usurp his bother's throne. There are those who claim that Prospero is just acting on the outside and that on the inside, he is a warm-hearted person. This research will support that opinion that there is sufficient evidence in the play to suggest that Prospero is not hiding anything and is a selfish and uncaring as he appears on the outside.

One can sympathize with Prospero from the standpoint that he is the victim of his brother's plot to kill him. However, it is difficult to sympathize with Prospero because he does not present a likeable character. When we first meet Prospero, he is strutting with self-importance. He is continually insisting the Miranda pay attention. It is apparent that he has failed to keep Miranda's attention on what he has to say. Miranda is much more interested when the topic turns from his obsession in the pursuit of knowledge.

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It is Prospero's quest for knowledge that gets him in trouble in the first place. He neglects his everyday matters as duke, which gives his brother a chance to rise up against him and attempt to take his position. This is a strong example of how Prospero places his own wants and desires above the practical matters necessary for governing the land. He pays more attention to his own follies and leaves the rest of the country to fall into disrepair. Prospero ignores his responsibilities for his own quest for knowledge. This also demonstrates a childish attitude towards his responsibilities. This places his position and ability to lead in question.

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Prospero possess magical knowledge, which gives him a large amount of power. However, we soon find that he uses this magic to make himself look better. He uses this power entirely for his own benefit. Prospero's punishments of Caliban could be called petty and vindictive. For example, he calls on the spirits to pinch Caliban when he uses foul language. Prospero is unfair to Ariel when reminded of his promise to relieve him of his duties early if he performs them willingly and without coercion. Ariel complies with Prospero's wishes, but rather than being relieved as promised, Prospero bursts into a rage and threatens to return him to his former imprisonment and torment. This demonstrates that Prospero has an angry temper that will flare at the slightest provocation. This too, is a childish trait that demonstrates a certain level of immaturity on Prospero's part.

Prospero treats Ferdinand horribly by first leading him to his daughter and then imprisoning and enslaving him. Once again we have the theme of serving Prospero, even if the other person's life is ruined. Prospero is good at dishing out punishment to the other characters in order to control them for his own purposes.

At the end of the play, Prospero's request for the audience to applaud so that he can be freed from the Island has been interpreted in many ways. For instance, there are those that say it represents Shakespeare himself and the way his work gripped him. His only release was when the curtain was about to comedown. One could say that his request was another example of his selfishness. He must have the audience's appreciation to feed his own ego. Both of these explanations are plausible. However, one must take Prospero's base personality into account as well. When we take into his self-absorption in the opening of the play, it seems more likely that this ending is to reinforce his selfishness.

Prospero is much like a great puppeteer. He invents that plot through his own spells and actions. He creates situations to his own liking and uses the other characters as if they were marionettes, simply put their for Prospero's entertainment. He creates the plot through creating the misery of the other characters. In this sense, it is often difficult to remember that he is the protagonist, rather than the antagonist. For example, it is easier for the audience to sympathize with Caliban after Prospero dishes out the terrible punishments to him. One tends to get caught up in Caliban's misery and forget that he was the one who wanted to usurp the power from Prospero. Prospero may be acting in defense, but he gets carried away in his own self indulgences.

Prospero creates the play to his own liking. He arranges for Ferdinand and Miranda to fall in love. In the end scene, he presents Ferdinand to Miranda as if he were a new toy. During the storm, Prospero assures his daughter that nothing bad will happen to them. He assures her that he had her best interests at heart all the time. This fatherly reassurance is one of the few gestures that Prospero makes that may demonstrate any type of compassion for another human being. However, he may have been saying this to pacify her so that she would leave him alone. This also sheds a new light on the relationship with Ferdinand. One must ask if he did it for his daughter, or if he did it for his own amusement.

Dr Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

Prospero's actions make him appear to be a nemesis, rather than a protagonist who deserves the sympathy of the audience. However, the "correct" view of Prospero has been a point of argument for critics. Prospero is clearly the central character in the Tempest. One of the key arguments for Prospero as a dark protagonist is from a structural standpoint. One must ask the question, " if Prospero is not the protagonist, who else could be considered the protagonist?" The play must have a protagonist and an antagonist.

It could be argued that Caliban is protagonist, especially as one sympathizes with his pain and Prospero dishes out mental and physical torture. It is easy to understand when Caliban finally has enough and decides to plot to kill Prospero. At one point, it is easy for the audience to "switch sides" and come to an understanding with the former antagonist. The audience tends to forget that in the past, Caliban had planned to take the position from Prospero. They lose perspective that, regardless of how cruel it may seem, Prospero may be doing less to Caliban than Caliban may have done to Prospero. Caliban wished to assassinate Prospero. Prospero did not attempt to take Caliban's life, he only made it uncomfortable. His attempts to control Caliban may seem cruel, but they were also a protection in order to preserve his own life.

One of the techniques that Shakespeare used to create conflict in the viewpoint of the audience is to make the antagonist, Caliban, a handicapped person. Humans have always been fascinated, and sympathized with those that have physical differences from the normal population. They tug at the heartstrings of the average person. Regardless of what they do, they are judged by a different standard than the rest of the population. It is easy for the audience to have more sympathy for Caliban and see Prospero's actions as picking on someone less fortunate.

However, if we step outside of Caliban's physical appearance and look at him as a member of the "norm, " then the audience might make another judgment about Prospero's actions towards him. If Caliban were not one of the unfortunates in life, then his actions would be judged on a different scale and Prospero could easily be seen as a protagonist defending his territory against an evil foe. It is Caliban's physical appearance that changes the viewpoint of the audience.

The Tempest is masterful in that the conflict is not truly in the characters of the play, but… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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