The Tempest Themes

Shakespeare tends to focus on very specific issues in each of his masterpieces. In The Tempest, the themes of power and magic are the dominant ones. However, a little bit of attention is also drawn to the topic of colonization.

Looking for The Tempest themes? Find them all described here! This article prepared by experts contains descriptions and analysis of the key themes in The Tempest. If you wish to dive deeper into the world of this play and understand the underlying issues, this section is for you!

The picture lists the key themes of The Tempest: power, magic, and colonization.

💪 Power in The Tempest

It seems like almost every scene goes back to the questions about power in The Tempest. Even in the opening scene, the audience has the pleasure of observing the boatswain commanding the royal party, who are the passengers. Moreover, an exciting aspect of this play is that power is taken by force in most cases. As it would be anticipated, it leads to even more instability in the relationships and the vicious cycle of desiring even more. One of the best examples is how Antonio and Alonso betray Prospero. It is an immensely political problem, which yet shows that no illegal manipulation with authority can be left in the past. Later on, it leads to Antonio wishing for more power and attempting to murder the king. At the same time, the audience sees that this time his attempt fails. Therefore, it proves that violence is not a universally successful tool when it comes to gaining power.

Another relationship based on gaining power in The Tempest is Prospero and Caliban. After Prospero takes over the island with magic, Caliban swears for revenge and wants his rights and freedom back. However, the culmination of this theme in The Tempest appears to be the moment when the main character decides not to keep going with the vicious cycle. The fact that Prospero refused to seek revenge on Antonio influenced other a lot. They all come to peace and understanding at the end. Shakespeare’s main message regarding this theme is that compromise and forgiveness are a much better tool for settling things down than violence.

The Tempest Quotes about Power

Had I been any god of power, I would
Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere
It should the good ship so have swallow’d and
The fraughting souls within her.

The Tempest act 1, scene 2

I must obey: his art is of such power,
It would control my dam’s god, Setebos,
and make a vassal of him.

The Tempest act 1, scene 2

His mother was a witch, and one so strong
That could control the moon, make flows and ebbs,
And deal in her command without her power.

The Tempest act 5, scene 2

💫 Magic in The Tempest

In The Tempest, magic is one of the main themes. Supernatural elements are not uncommon in Shakespeare’s works, but this piece is full of magic manipulations. Prospero is the character who applies magic almost all the time. The first scene begins with him using it, and the play ends with him using it for the last time. However, it should be noted that a lot of times, he puts on illusions that do not harm his enemies except for psychologically related troubles. At the same time, Prospero possesses almost total control over the events and people on the island. Thanks to the spirit, he knows what is happening everywhere and can think through his next moves.

There is a certain resemblance between the way Prospero alters reality with magic in The Tempest and how the author does the same with words. Many times, Prospero is found peaking from the hiding at some of the scenes, just like the director manages the action. This is quite symbolic, and there have been a lot of assumptions made about these kinds of comparisons. One of the suggestions is that Prospero appears on the scene of the play as Shakespeare himself. It makes sense if we look into the last part of this literary piece. In the epilogue, Prospero asks the audience to set him free by applauding. It wouldn’t be so significant if this play wasn’t one of the last ones that Shakespeare wrote. Such an epilogue might be the way of saying goodbye to the theater. Therefore, as one of the main themes of The Tempest, magic has interpretations.

The Tempest Quotes about Magic

My master through his art foresees the danger
That you, his friend, are in; and sends me forth–
For else his project dies–to keep them living.

The Tempest act 2, scene 1

But this rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

The Tempest act 5, scene 1

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

The Tempest Epilogue

⛓️ Colonialism in The Tempest

Colonization in The Tempest appears to be quite a fascinating subject. At least it was exciting for the readers during the time when the play was written. The attempts of colonizing distant lands attracted a lot of attention. In The Tempest, colonialism as a theme is opened up through the complex relationships between Prospero and Caliban. Prospero sees an uneducated islander as less of a human than himself and expects him to be grateful for teaching. However, it has never occurred to him that Caliban might be the rightful ruler of the island because such a savage cannot possibly perform such a complicated role. In return, Caliban understands that Prospero doesn’t respect him at all and traits him as a slave. Finally, it leads the islander to realize that he gave up the ruler’s position for nothing. Naturally, such an unfair situation evokes anger and violence in Caliban, making Prospero even more convinced in the savage nature of his protégé. It perfectly illustrates the relationship between the native people and the colonizers when every little misunderstanding leads to violent conflicts.

Moreover, Shakespeare explores the fears related to the theme of colonialism and slavery in The Tempest. For example, it is evident that people can hardly tolerate the marriage of a king’s daughter and an African. Another situation pointing out colonization and slavery issues is when both Trinculo and Stephano see an opportunity to capture Caliban and make money on him back home. On the other hand, colonization offers the chance to build perfect contemporary societies, just like Gonzalo dreams about.

The Tempest Colonialism Quotes

Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.

The Tempest act 1, scene 2

You taught me language; and my profit on’t
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!

The Tempest act 1, scene 2

This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou takest from me. When thou camest first,
Thou strokedst me and madest much of me, wouldst give me
Water with berries in’t, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I loved thee
And show’d thee all the qualities o’ the isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile:
Cursed be I that did so!

The Tempest act 1, scene 2

Thank you for reading this article! If you need more information about literary themes, check the article about themes in literature. You might also want to take a look at The Tempest essay topics collection. And if you need to make the text of your essay more colorful, try our paraphrasing tool. Any questions left? Check The Tempest QA section!

🔗 References

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