The Tempest by William Shakespeare is not merely a fairy tale but a play rich in symbolism with allegorical meanings woven intricately into it. Discuss with suitable examples from text.
The Tempest has been interpreted by critics as a work of art impregnated with rich symbolism and allegorical trappings that lie hidden beneath its surface meaning. Upon our close reading, we are assured of its myriad layers of meaning. The play is realistic at the core. Symbolism and realism are interlarded with each other. Dramatic critics opine that The Tempest is an intricate piece of work by virtue of its various interpretations.
The fairy-tale motif that is most predominant throughout the play is a means of depicting imaginary beings by which the upper surface of the whole texture of its plot is designed with cues from folk-belief and literature. So, it is apparent that there is a parallel strand of thought flowing underneath its overt structure. It is a great deal of effortless ease on the part of the dramatist to put forward the fact that human life is essentially a manifestation of such stuff as dreams are made of. It is suggested that life is but transitory phase in this mundane world. Elaborate use of masque in Act four is a symbolic projection of impermanence of life. This is why the masque is presented by those spirits who melt into air as soon as they have done their job. The spirits therefore symbolize the fleeting nature of all things. A rich poetic spirit along with its dreamy substance lingers on till the climax is brought out.
Another piece of criticism pertaining to Shakespeare’s personal reflection towards the close of his life is his much-preoccupied thought with the primal human qualities like pardon and atonement for the sins or mistakes of one generation through the youthful love of the next generation. This is what is elaborated upon at the end of drama; a reconciliation sets in; it is entirely devoted to Prospero’s dealings with those who have wronged him.
Again, another piece of interpretation shedding light on contemporary Renaissance ideal is concerned with the role of man as a man of action and a man of self-command. Prospero was no doubt a failure as a duke; he was altogether incompetent as ruler of Milan. As he was engrossed in metaphysical studies round the clock, he hardly got time to discharge the princely duties. A dire calamity of personal loss he suffered. It led to his banishment from kingdom. A piece of morality that is implicitly digressed in the text is the emphasis on worldly wisdom. It is highly precious a moral obligation of a Renaissance man. But it is obliquely suggested that both the scholarship and sane sagacious mentally are two important personal endowments required of a ruler. Thus, there is a piece of exhortation to everyone to become a man of action instead of a man of contemplation. Because much speculation is prone to idleness. The liberal arts by which Prospero educated himself proved really helpful for him to exercise supernatural power over his enemies. At last, the enemies were pardoned; Prospero attains heavenly wisdom as he forgives his enemies.
The Tempest is regarded as an allegorical attempt by Shakespeare to portray himself. The depiction of Prospero is a kind of self-portrait. It is said the play is a brilliant exposition of Shakespeare’s last will and testament. It is but Shakespeare’s voice and not fictional Prospero’s that is dominant as an allegorical subtext presenting the mastery of his dramatic muse over his fellow counterparts. In the text we see that Prospero renounces supernatural powers; it is Shakespeare himself bidding farewell to his dramatic career.
The Tempest has been acclaimed as a text or rather a seminal Elizabethan exegesis as a ground-breaking study of the critique of colonialism. Spurt of exhilarating enthusiasm in the sphere of exploring new territory was at its peak during queen Elizabeth’s reign. Political and economic expansionism of European civilization broke new grounds. The proper name Caliban is a word used as a piece of anagram of the word ‘’Cannibal’’. Caliban is symptomatic, beyond doubt, of what is savage or sheer barbarism. Such embodiment of beastly impulse in the making of Caliban needs to be humbled and civilized by its master Prospero; So, it is the civilizing mission of the colonizer that is uppermost in the character of Prospero. It is another discourse of master-slave relationship some critics find as a source of enlightenment for the utter savage. The mastery of Prospero over Caliban is justified as Prospero is passed for an educator to spruce up the native population of that island. This view of the play is a kind of defence of the European conquest of the backward and uncivilized countries of the world. Gonzalo’s description of his ideal commonwealth in Act two is a satirical comment on the communist and socialist forms of government. From this point of view the text is openly disapproving as a forthright critical analysis of the European civilization; goaded by the motive of commercial success they exploit the dispossessed native.
Christian morality is analogically embedded in the text. What most impresses us about Prospero is his clarity of mind and virtue of his righteous soul glorifying the tenets of Christian morality that explicates the triumph of wise and virtuous soul. A beautiful classification is presented in arranging Prospero as the highest while Caliban is presented as the lowest. It is but the reflection of the fact that those who are wise are given the task of purging the evils of savage mind. Ferdinand is characteristically chivalrous in his conduct that he shows while dealing with Miranda who is an embodiment of homespun, docile girlhood representing the pristine innocence of her charming youth. Both Ferdinand and Miranda exhibit natural emotions.
Furthermore, we must point out another allegorical interpretation that is highly suggestive of the pursuit of power and its consequences. Antonio and Alonso joined hands as regards Prospero’s banishment from his dukedom. Their diplomatic astuteness against Prospero became successful. Alonso became over-lord while Antonio became usurping ruler of Milan. They are mainly seekers of power for malevolent purpose. Its consequence is utterly havoc with the victims. Prospero sought power for noble and beneficent purposes.
Prospero is symbolically presented as an artist who attains the highest power and becomes the ruler of the realm of art. Miranda represents art in its infancy. Caliban stands for lower human passions. His wanton desire for Miranda induces him to attempt at violating her virginity. Such repulsive temptation is indicative of the sensual pleasure of sinful wrongdoers; it is the inherent demonic aspect of mankind. Caliban is evil incarnate. Prospero’s benevolence is considered a virtuous quality while Caliban’s bestial violence is looked down upon as utterly abominable. The fact is acknowledged that it is the good that emerges triumphant over the evil in the order of nature. Ariel represents the imaginative genius of poetry; it is a spirit working as an associate of Prospero. The marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda symbolizes the ripening, maturity, and perfection of art through hard labour amounting to drudgery by the votary of art.
Another important allegorical interpretation is shown in the text by illuminating the fact that obedience to natural order of things in this world is essential for man’s attainment of the highest good in life. Antonio shows a perversion of natural order because he proves himself a moral reprobate by violating his duty of filial obligation. Instead of showing brotherly affection Antonio ill-treats Prospero and Miranda. Antonio makes amends for his conspiracy. Alonso was also the victim of conspiracy. His conspirator was no other than his brother. Shakespeare quite emphatically disapproves the violation of the moral sanctity of brotherly affection. Caliban along with other associates hatched a conspiracy against Prospero. All these incidents shed light on those who violated the sacred natural order of things. We know how Prospero restores the disrupted order of things by dint of his innermost quality of forgiveness. This is stated under the garb of allegory.
All these interpretations are but different approaches to study such classic work of art. It reflects various philosophical tenets of Shakespeare. The text “The Tempest” is therefore rich in symbolism and allegorical meanings.