Magic and Witchcraft in The Tempest: Achieving Power and Authority in a Fictive World
The world of The Tempest bothprovokes and stimulates the ideal of art and nature; of grace and grandeur; of natural and supernatural; and of man’s moral and tragic vision in communal identity, sensuous pleasure, and spiritual love with characters in their society. In his play, “The Tempest,” William Shakespeare writes an allegorical play about an exotic island that evokes fantasies of paradise and political utopia. He describes how Prospero, the Duke of Milan, is a virtuous monarch and a benevolent ruler who uses magical powers for the good in his island. Moreover, Shakespeare incorporates Prospero as a man with integrity and mastery who utilizes art to achieve supremacy over the natural world by holy magic. The author would depict Prospero as a portrait of Shakespeare because his character, his self-mastery, and his unfaltering justice are similar to that of Shakespeare. Unlike Prospero, Caliban, the son of the dead witch Sycorax, is a deformed monster and a slave for Prospero who is both seen to be ugly and naturally evil in the play. The author characterizes him as earth and water who only exists for sensual pain and pleasure rather than for grace, civility, or art. Shakespeare also portrays Caliban as a poetic imagination because he always speaks in blank verse. In addition, the author utilizes both Prospero and Caliban to illustrate how they both perceive the idea of magic and witchcraft in two deviating forms: Prospero uses ‘white magic’ to control the natural world of his island while Caliban uses ‘black magic’ to fulfill his personal quest and desire for himself as a whole. Thus, Prospero definition of ‘magic’ differs from Caliban in that Prospero defines the concept of magic as ‘doing good to others in society’ while Caliban defines the word magic as ‘doing acts that hurt others for the sake of pleasure.’ Nevertheless, Shakespeare use images of magic and witchcraft in The Tempest to represent the contrast between Prospero’s and Caliban’s desire for knowledge and survival, ultimately suggesting that both Prospero and Caliban uses magic and witchcraft in similar ways, but that the play perceive the effects differently, or that the outcomes are different in their moral and tragic vision for power and authority in their society.
So the question arises: what is magic according to Shakespeare and how does it function in The Tempest? In his book, “The Tempest: A Guide to the Play,” Herbert Coursen suggests how one must believe in the ‘instruments of darkness’ in order to fully understand the quality of magic. He defines magic as “The contemplation of most secret things, together with the nature, power, quality, and substance to produce its wonder effects in nature” (Coursen 19). In other words, Coursen views magic as both dangerous and powerful. The author outlines how there are three types of magic used in Shakespeare’s play: 1) divine, 2) celestial, and 3) natural. He demonstrates throughout the play how Prospero and Caliban would both use the effects of magic in diverse ways, shapes, and forms. Prospero would use magic in all three different areas because he could manipulate nature for his own purposes, he could read the stars and interpret time, and he could walk down any road as if he has the power and control to be both pagan and Christianity (Coursen 21). On the contrary, Caliban would use only celestial magic in The Tempest because he strictly exists to have sensuous pleasure with woman like Miranda, who he attempts to rape. In other words, Prospero uses magic as a positive resource while Caliban as a negative force. Both Prospero and Caliban are viewed to be heroes and villains in the play because they have the ability to use magic and witchcraft interchangeably that allows them to understand anything in life without reason or moral sense.
A great example of Coursen’s theory in magic is in the beginning of the play, where Prospero uses white magic to control the natural and supernatural worlds in the first act, second scene of The Tempest. In the beginning, Shakespeare writes about an apparent storm and shipwreck where Miranda saw ‘the vessel sink’ (I.ii.32). The author illustrates how Miranda knows that the storm is a product of Prospero’s nature of white magic: ‘O, I have suffered / With those that I saw suffer!’ (I.ii.5-6). Moreover, Prospero assures her that ‘There’s no harm done’ (I.ii.15) and tells her that ‘’Tis time’ (I.ii.24). When Miranda expresses his concern for the shipwreck victims, Prospero uses his power of nature as an example of his potential dangers with magic. According to Miranda, she describes Prospero as a magician:
If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them (I.ii.1-2).
When Prospero starts to move back into the past ‘twelve year since’ (I.ii.52), he admits:
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies (I.ii.76-77).
Noticing that he is born to rule, Prospero uses the phrase “secret studies” to convey Shakespeare’s curious restrictions towards magic. The power and danger of magic is evident from the start in the play when Prospero tells Miranda that without “the present business” the story he has told her “were most impertinent” (I.ii.136-138). An example of this is when the author writes:
In the passage above, we see that Shakespeare depicts Prospero’s past experiences, his present situation, and his magical powers into one single moment to illustrate how he uses white magic for the good of his island. Moreover, Shakespeare characterizes Prospero as a powerful man who can ‘cry to th’ sea” (I.ii.149) and as a figure of control and authority. Shakespeare writes: ‘Transported / And rapt in secret studies’ (I.ii.76-77) and his library a ‘dukedom large enough’ (I.ii.110). Both of these lines demonstrate how Prospero uses his magic and witchcraft to establish Caliban to become a servant for him. In addition, Prospero uses his magical power as a way to control and command Caliban (I.ii.368-373). He uses Caliban as a slave and an economic labour: ‘We cannot miss him. He does make our fire, / Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices / That profit us’ (I.ii.310-313). By him creating Caliban as a servant, Prospero is using his white magic to bring good into the natural world he is trying to establish. Moreover, when Caliban disobeys Prospero order, Shakespeare intends to show us that Prospero overall does not always have the power he thinks he has to be the rightful Duke of Milan.
Like Prospero power in white magic, Caliban’s power in black magic differs in that he uses his power of black magic to achieve sensuous pain and pleasure as his only existence in society. In particular, Caliban makes sexual threat to Miranda. As Prospero puts it: ‘tho didst seek to violate / The honour of my child’ (I.ii.345-346). Caliban replies:
O ho, O ho! Would’t had been done!
Thou didst prevent e – I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans (I.ii.347-349).
In the passage above, we see that Caliban remains powerfully associated in Prospero’s mind with the sexual threat to Miranda. When Prospero gets ‘confined into this rock’ (I.ii.360), Caliban uses his black magic power as his strategy to rape Miranda. When Prospero finds out that Caliban raped Miranda, he describes him as a ‘thing most brutish’ (I.ii.356). In other words, Shakespeare describes Caliban as a stealer who uses his black magic power to establish a sexual maturation with Miranda. Moreover, Shakespeare wanted to portray how Caliban too had the power to disobey the rightful Duke, Prospero.
Both Prospero and Caliban develop numerous dislikes throughout the play because they fight to achieve for more power and authority in their utopian society. An example is when Caliban first complains that ‘I must eat my dinner’ (I.ii.330) in which Prospero calls him ‘poisonous’ (I.ii.319). Moreover, Prospero would claim that he is an oppressor while Caliban is a usurper. When Caliban tells Prospero that ‘This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother’ (I.ii.331), Prospero responds angrily by calling Caliban a liar: ‘thou most lying slave’ (I.ii.344). In other words, both Prospero and Caliban in The Tempest are battling for their own pursuit and desire of power and authority in their society by using magic and witchcraft as a mean to achieve those goals in the end. Prospero would achieve those means through his discipline of virtuous knowledge while Caliban would achieve those through means by assisting Prospero for survival. Nevertheless, Shakespeare use images of magic and witchcraft in The Tempest to represent the contrast between Prospero’s and Caliban’s desire for knowledge and survival, ultimately suggesting that both Prospero and Caliban uses magic and witchcraft in similar ways, but that the play perceive the effects differently, or that the outcomes are different in their moral and tragic vision for power and authority in their society.
In closing, Shakespeare characterizes Prospero abilities of white magic as a way for him to control Caliban and the natural world while Caliban uses black magic as a way for him to achieve his desire for sensuous pleasure in woman. The author writes The Tempest as his last installment of Shakespeare works to allow the audience to fully understand more about the writer himself. Moreover, Shakespeare writes The Tempest as a play to give the audience more hope in life; to turn our minds to higher values in society; to guide man’s inhumanity to man; and to help us as human seek the essentials of life. After reviewing Act I, Scene ii in the play, Shakespeare gives us a clear message how parent plays an important role in the development of a child. In other words, Shakespeare believes that all parents should have a goal to protect not only their children but also themselves. Often in real life today, children long for power and authority in school or work; however, Shakespeare writes The Tempest, specifically Act I, Scene ii as a testament for us to keep sexual development for the younger generation to a limit of what they are able to tolerate. Needless to say, Shakespeare play in The Tempest reminded me English lawyer Sir Thomas More, where he once writes in Utopia about a fictive island that uses magic and witchcraft in their utopian society.
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Henderson, Andrea. Week 8-10 Lecture. March 2008.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Norton Edition. New York: W. W. Norton &
Company, Inc., 2004.
The Plays of William Shakespeare, Vol. 9 - The Tempest. Prod. Efrem Zimbalist Jr.,
William H. Bassett, Ted Sorel, Ron Palillo. Kultur, 1992.
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Caliban is the son of the dead witch Sycorax
Taught to speak by Miranda, he is made captive on the island by Prospero after he attempts to rape the girl.
Caliban is sort of creature of the earth.
Caliban is a noble being. He is a man of imagination.
Caliban talks of the difficulty of finding fresh water.
He is neither mean nor rude
Caliban, in other words, has the ability to understand without reason or moral sense
By not having moral sense, he is marked by the appearance of vice.
In his intellectual powers, he is certainly approached by the brutes.
His powers cannot be anything except the means to an end, that is , to morality.
Caliban, who is half brute and half demon, is ugly but immensely original
Shakespeare describes Caliban as ‘of the earth, earthly’.
Caliban is a poetical character, or a poetic imagination who always speaks in blank verse. His ability to speak in blank verse makes him an amiable character.
Miranda views Prospero as her tutot and protector and Caliban as her servant
Caliban is natural in the sense that he does not partake in grace, civility, and art. He is rather ugly in body, is naturally evil, and exists for sensual pain and pleasure.
Caliban hears music with pleasure, is incredibly knowledgable in the world of art.
Caliban’s birth was inhuma; he was born to be a devil.
Caliban is deformed in what Thersites, a Greek mythology, calls ‘a very landfish, languageless, and a monster’.
In the beginning of the play, Caliban came into the life of the magician when he reached the island. Prospero made Caliban as slave. He uses Caliban as a producer for his life.
Caliban is human because needs food, fuel, clothing, and shelter unlike Ariel.
Caliban, compounded with earth and water,
Caliban has amother name Sycorax
Shakespeare’s Caliban is rhetorically defiant
Miranda is fully a sexual being who asserts the importance of sexual attraction.
Prospero is somewhat a portrait of Shakespeare. His character, his self-mastery, his cal validity of will, and his unfaltering justice are similar to that of Shakespeare.
Prospero is a harmonious and fully developed will.
Prospero is sensitive, profoundly touched by the joy of the children, deeply moved by the perfidy of his brother
Prospero exerts a discipline of virtuous knowledge.
Prospero is a good man because he clears the world of his island from the evil magivc of the withc. He rewards the good characters and punishes the wicked. In other words, he is a virtous monarch who uses his magic powers for good.
Prospero is not diabolic. He is infact a noble and benevolent ruler who uses his magic knowledge for good ends.
Prospero is a theurgist who uses art to achieve supremacy over the natural world by holy magic
His art is supernatural and a perfection of natural philosophy.
Natural philosophy includes the arts of astrology, alchemy, and ceremonial magic, to all of which Propero alludes.
When Ferdinand is said to be like Caliba, Miranda says in 1.2.485-486, “I have ambition / To see a goodlier man”
Prospero describes his evil brother, Antonio, as ‘The ivy which had hisd my princely trunk,/ And sucked my verdure out on’t’ (I.ii.86-87).
Prospero hates Caliban.
Prospero says that he is “awak’d an evil nature” (I.ii.93) in Antonio.
Prospero has to
Caliban reminds Prosper that: ‘I loved thee,/ And showed thee all the qualities o’the’isle’ (I.ii.336-337) because he seeks himself in the pleasure he gives others.
The author writes the play as his last piece to allow the audience fully understand more about Shakespeare himself.
for communal identity, sensuous pleasure, and spiritual love.
Calibans entrance, directly after Ariel's stormy exit contrasts between the two characters with Ariel's light sprit as opposed to Caliban blunt and unattractive character. Before Caliban even enters view we are hearing of how Miranda is repulsed by Caliban 'I do not love to look upon' which once again gives us an opinion of Caliban before we meet him. Prospero's abrupt order, 'what ho! Slave! Caliban!'. The word 'slave' gives us a clear example of Calibans status. Shakespeare has purposefully made Calibans first line after many negative and animal like prose from Miranda and Prospero, this is so before he even speaks we have formed a very clear opinion of what we feel Calibans personality and appearance is like. 'There's wood enough within' although quite a simple line holds many meanings. The first being the fact that the line comes from off stage, which means we still don't know what he looks like, which in turn means that we are speculating what Caliban looks like. The second meaning this line has is showing us that Caliban directly disobeys Prospero's orders, which shows that Caliban