Abstract Power is the origin of Creation, of Western culture, and of Shakespearean dramaturgy. Shakespeare’s The Tempest is an epitome of his plays about power: it represents his conclusive vision of power. In Nietzsche’s view, man is driven by the Will to Power, life is a plurality of forces striving after an increase in the feeling of power, and Superman is the highest status of human achievement in power. For Foucault, power is exercised rather than possessed, freedom is both the condition and the effect of power, and Panopticon is a modern example of using power to control human relations effectively. The Tempest is an allegory of power, in which Prospero stands for the personified abstract idea of Prosperity. Prospero is in fact a Nietzschean hero striving with the Will to Power, exercising his power in accordance with Foucault’s ideas, and trying to, though failing to, attain the perfection of Superman. In the play, various types of power are involved: supernatural and natural, superhuman and human, political and military, physical and intellectual, legal and lingual, aesthetic and ethical, etc. The play’s protagonist and many other characters all strive or dream to have supreme power. The play’s title and setting are also allegorical in terms of power. The tempest stands for mental as well as elemental storms. The island stands for the temporal world of power struggle for women or wealth. Shakespeare’s vision of power in The Tempest is thus a universal vision. It is like Tsao’s vision in Dreams of the Red Mansions: man forever tries to secure power and increase power by exercising power, hardly knowing that any struggle with power for power is but a dream at last.
Key words and phrases:
1. Nietzsche 2. Foucault 3. Prospero 4. Will to Power 5. Superman 6. Panopticon 7. The Tempest
I. Power as the Origin In the beginning of Goethe’s Faust, Part I, there is a scene in which Faust opens a Bible and is “stuck at once” by the line “In the beginning was the Word.” In his reasoning, Faust simply cannot grant the Word such merit as creating the world. So he tries to “translate it differently” and comes up with the line “In the beginning was the Mind.” It is logical to think that the Word comes from the Mind. But immediately Faust changes the line again to “In the beginning was the Power,” for, logically, nothing can be created without the power to do it even if one has the mind and gives the word to create it. Ironically, however, Faust changes the line once more “in a flash” to “In the beginning was the Deed.”1 The rationale now must be: even if you have the power to create the world, there will be no creation at all unless you have the deed of creation. This rationale sounds quite right, but it brings Faust, unawares, to the nonsensical conclusion that the Creation began with the deed of Creation.
Faust does believe in deeds, rather than words. His acts as represented in Goethe’s work are his legendary deeds. Yet, he is even more a believer in power. He strives to make himself as powerful as the omnipotent God, by way of black magic in addition to ordinary means. The entire Faust, Part I along with Part II, is a story of how the protagonist seeks and uses power. Thus, power is indeed the origin of Faust’s Word, Faust’s Mind, and Faust’s Deed.
Western classical tradition is often said to begin with Homer’s epics. The subject of Homer’s first epic (Iliad) is war: the cause, progress, and consequence of the Trojan War. The Trojan War is said to be caused by love: the love for Helen. But the human cause is itself said to have been caused by a super-human cause: the discord caused by Eris among Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Beyond the epic content, however, the historical Trojan War is said to have been caused by an actual struggle for control of the important trade routes through and across the Hellespont, which were dominated by the city of Troy. If this historical interpretation is true, the war was caused not by love for a beauty but by concern for commercial interests. Anyway, war is truly the conduct of using power to gain the power for owning women and/or wealth.
Like epic, drama depicts humans struggling for power. Shakespeare is often supposed to have begun his career as a playwright with the writing of Henry VI (three parts), and the last play he wrote (perhaps in collaboration with Fletcher) is often supposed to be Henry VIII.2 Both Henry VI and Henry VIII are history or chronicle plays. In histories, the subject is usually political and military power. In beginning and ending his playwright’s career with history plays, and by writing so many other histories besides Henry VI and Henry VIII (including Richard III, Richard II, King John, Henry IV (two parts), and Henry V), Shakespeare seems to tell us that power was his lifelong concern.
Besides histories, Shakespeare also wrote comedies and tragedies. Like satires, comedies often aim at human vices and follies. Shakespeare’s comedies have attacked various vices and ridiculed various follies. All vices and follies in Shakespearean comedies, however, are linked to high-ranking people’s political power and the power of sexual love in some way or other. Behind Bertram’s personal blindness of prejudice and unreason lies Helena’s unabated love for him. Behind the courtly intrigue of Duke Frederick lies Rosalind’s genuine love for Orlando. Behind the villainy of Iachimo lies Imogen’s constant love for Posthumus. Behind the king’s ridiculous decree for contemplative study lies the insuppressible love of King Ferdinand and the three lords of his court for the princess and the three ladies from France. Besides the flippant fun the merry wives of Windsor have with the roguish Falstaff, there is the love triangle Anne Page is involved in. Besides the laughable rivalry between the reluctant Beatrice and the confirmed bachelor Benedick, there is the serious courtship between Hero and Claudio. Besides the farcical confusion arising from mistaken identity, there is Adriana’s increasing suspicion of her husband’s infidelity. And besides the pleasurable prudery of the dour Puritan Malvolio, there are the romantic love affairs of Viola/Orsino and Olivia/Sebastian. If we want to see more examples of sexual love related to political power in Shakespearean comedies, we cannot forget the two pairs, of course, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Lysander/Hermia & Demetrius/Helena), nor the two pairs in Two Gentlemen of Verona (Valentine/Silvia & Proteus/Julia).
Some of Shakespeare’s comedies border on “problem plays.”3 To explore the problem of justice and mercy, however, Measure for Measure provides a story of sexual desire that involves Angelo, Isabella and Mariana under the reign of Duke Vincentio. In showing the problem of racism and friendship, The Merchant of Venice relates a story of courtship to a story of monetary loan under the juristic judgment of the Duke of Venice. In reflecting the problem of moral and political disintegration, Troilus and Cressida tells how politics can corrupt love. None of the problem plays can rid its problem of political and sexual power, indeed.
Some of Shakespeare’s comedies also border on “romances.”4 But besides miracles, the romances also display the power of sexual love under the sway of political power: the pure love between Pericles and Thaisa in contrast with the incestuous lust of King Antiochus for his own daughter and the brothel customers’ lust for the chaste Marina; the noble love marred by rash jealousy as seen in the case of Leontes/Hermione, in contrast with the true young lovers’ love as seen in the case of Florizel/Perdita, which involves the power of two kings; the natural love of Ferdinand, in contrast with the unnatural lust of Caliban, for Miranda, which is controlled by Prospero, the “ruler” of the island.
Many of Shakespeare’s tragedies are woven with scenes and themes of sexual love, too. Think of Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet and Ophelia, Othello and Desdemona, Romeo and Juliet, etc. Even in tragedies where the dominant theme is not erotic, some characters are also tinged with sexuality. In King Lear, for instance, there is Edmund’s illicit passion for both Goneril and Regan. In Titus Andronicus, there is the illicit love between Tamora and Aaron along with the violation of Lavinia by Demetrius and Chiron. But in such tragedies, just as in comedies, sexual love is actually dominated by high-ranking people’s political power.
Some Shakespearean tragedies have, indeed, little to do with the power of sexual love. They most conspicuously deal with other themes directly related to political power. Recall, for instance, Coriolanus’ pride and military prowess in the power struggle between the Romans and the Volscians, and recall Julius Caesar’s pride and self-confidence amidst the power struggle of the Romans. Recall, too, Macbeth’s ambition and final downfall for regal power, and recall Timon’s hate of ingratitude in connection with the power of his wealth. Like his histories and comedies, Shakespeare’s tragedies certainly cannot dispense with political power. That is why it seems that none of his plays can do without a high-ranking authority (an emperor, a king, a prince, a duke, etc.) involved in the political and sexual affairs. And that is why Leonard Tennenhouse can claim that in Jacobean drama, “sexual relations are always political” (124).
Sexual love is itself a strong power, a power occasionally even stronger than political or military power. If it is not, as Freud suggests, the ultimate motivating factor of human psychology and social behavior, it is at least a frequent drive of life, a recurrent element of Shakespearean drama blended with the element of socio-political power. Basically, Shakespeare’s characters are all carrying on word wars or sword wars for the sake of power, that is, for the socio-political and/or familial-sexual power in its broadest sense, and their final goal may be just to use the power for wealth and/or for women, or for getting better socio-political and/or familial-sexual positions to keep and/or increase their power. Therefore, power can be regarded as the origin of Shakespeare’s dramaturgy, just as it is regarded as the origin of Creation and the origin of the Trojan War.
II. The Will to Power
For Schopenhauer, as we know, the world is driven by a primordial “will to live” (Wille zum Leben) and thus the desire of all creatures is to avoid death and to procreate. In challenging this view, however, Nietzsche holds that the “will to live” is but a secondary drive; the primary drive of life is “the will to power” (der Wille zur Macht)5: except in an extreme condition of poverty and limitation, what all living beings want is not a mere chance to live on but a good chance to gain power, and that is why people are willing to risk their lives in all sorts of “agon”(Greek for “contest”) just as the Greek heroes did.
Knowledge is an instrument of power. According to Nietzsche, the will to know depends on the will to power: the aim of knowledge is not just to know something, but to master, to have power over something. Science, therefore, is but a way of gaining the power of truth so as to govern Nature. Yet, knowledge or truth is not an “objective” reality; it is a process of “subjective” interpretation serving the will to power. In Nietzsche’s mind, therefore, there is no absolute truth: all “truths” are interpretative “fictions.” In this world, “fiction” is allowed and it often proves to be useful or practically necessary to life.6 Life, in Nietzsche’s view, is a plurality of forces, a lasting form of processes, and an intricate complexity of systems which strive after an increase in the feeling of power (Copleston 185). In life’s strife, the will to power may seek to overcome obstacles and recognize appropriation and assimilation as proper means for power. Unlike Darwin, who emphasizes the influence of external circumstances, Nietzsche emphasizes one’s tremendous power to use and exploit the environment, to shape and create forms from within (Copleston 186). Nietzsche also disagrees with the hedonist view that life’s aim is merely pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. For him, pleasure and pain are concomitant phenomena in life’s strife for power. Pleasure is the feeling of increased power; pain is the feeling of hindrance to the will to power (Copleston 186).
According to Nietzsche, rank is determined by quanta of power. The mediocre majority may possess greater power than the individuals who are not mediocre. But ascending life should be distinguished from decadent life. Truly great power consists in “the ability to withstand great suffering, to respond creatively to great challenges, and to transform into advantages what seemed harmful” (Thilly 503). For Nietzsche, the will to power cannot be understood apart from “sublimation” (Urmson 281). There is “master morality” in contrast with “slave morality.” The Superman (der Uebermensch) is one that has “the highest possible development and integration of intellectual power, strength of character and will, independence, passion, taste and physique”—he is “the Roman Caesar with Christ’s soul” or “Goethe and Napoleon in one” (Copleston 188). Such a man of great soul is above resentment, delivered from revenge. He has “the free spirit that wills to be responsible” and that spirit “acts as a counter-force to sickly revengefulness” (Mandalios 176). In a word, Superman is the greatest achievement of the will to power.
III. The Exercise of Power Influenced by Nietzsche and proclaiming himself a Nietzschean, Michel Foucault also knows the universality of the will to power. But Foucault’s interest is focused not on power as the target of the will, but on power relations, on how power is exercised in society. For him, power is more limited in sense: it is chiefly political power, seldom referring to such power as going beyond human relationships. Hence, his analyses of power shed light mostly on the means and effects of exercising power in society.
In Discipline and Punish, Foucault claims that “power is exercised rather than possessed” (26). It is not a property, nor some substance with its nature and origin directly visible. It is seen only when it is exercised by some agents, such as individuals or institutes. In its entirety, power is constituted by a multitude of “micro-powers.” It is seemingly a “strategy” spreading throughout the whole social system, manifested not globally nor comprehensively but locally. In truth, the exercise of power is like a game of chess: every piece demonstrates a “micro-power” in capturing another piece, but all the moves are directed by the overall strategic arrangement for the pieces. Thus, power is neither located in nor symbolized by the sovereign (as it is traditionally thought to be); it only permeates the society through the state apparatus dynamically and dispersedly (Hoy 134).
For Foucault, freedom is both the condition and the effect of power: to have power is to have freedom, and to have freedom is to have power. No one (no institute) can exercise power without freedom, nor can power be exercised on beings that are not free. Since any exercise of power will inevitably result in some form of resistance as the reaction, to exercise power on a non-resisting slave in chain is not to exercise power at all. Thus, the relation between power and freedom is like that of the opponents in an “agonism”— they are always engaging each other in a contest or combat of reciprocal incitement and struggle.7 If the exercise of power is like a game of chess, such power is not only the function of the capturing set of pieces but also the result of the possible resistance from the opposed set (Hoy 135-6).
Foucault shares Nietzsche’s view that there is no absolute truth. For him, discourse goes with power while knowledge is power transmitted by discourse under the control of power. Powerful individuals or institutes are capable of making truth, morality, and values which come from false consciousness or “regime of falsity” in Foucault’s terminology. Thus, real truth can be ascertained only when it is disinterested and in the absence of power relations (Hoy 131).
Foucault finds a great change in the Western history of exercising power in penal institutions such as found in the practice of discipline, surveillance, and constraint. The “Technologies of Punishment” have gone from “Monarchical Punishment,” which involves brutal executions and torture, to “Disciplinary Punishment,” which involves professionals (psychologists, program facilitators, parole officers, etc.) holding power over the prisoners. The modern disciplinary punishment is so practiced that the human bodies become “docile bodies.” Paradoxically, discipline both “increases the forces of the body (in economic terms of utility) and diminishes these same forces (in political terms of obedience)” (Foucault 138). The penal professionals are like masters while the inmates are like obedient slaves useful to the masters.
But it is dangerous for a sovereign to exercise power openly: “the power that does violence to our bodies and our minds must be hidden and dispersed because we are instinctually violent creatures who are prone to the expression of a will to dominate” (Lentricchia 35). Jeremy Bentham’s plan of “Panopticon” is for Foucault an example of modern disciplinary technology. A Panopticon is an annular prison-house designed to exercise power based on two principles—visible and unverifiable. It is visible in that the inmate can see himself as constantly under surveillance. And it is unverifiable in that “the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so” (Foucault 201). In such a Panopticon, all the inmates are deprived of freedom, property, and connection between populations. Thus, no internal violence is possible there. Although the Panopticon does not itself possess power, it is an efficient space for the exercise of power.
IV. An Allegory of Power As we know, The Tempest was at first listed as a comedy (differentiated from a history or a tragedy) by the Folio compilers of Shakespeare’s works. But, as the last of Shakespeare’s complete plays, it is more often than not ascribed to a romance. In fact, its genre has been a puzzle to critics. Gary Schmidgall writes: “The possibilities are admittedly boggling: The Tempest as romance, morality play, initiation ritual, refinement of the commedia dell’art, topical response to New World voyages, masque, comedy, tragedy, tragicomedy, hymeneal celebration, fairy tale, myth, or autobiographical palinode” (quoted in Daniell 15). Schmidgall has missed mentioning the possibility of “allegory.” I think, however, the play is most manifestly an allegory. It may well be “an allegory of Shakespeare’s own artistic genius” as many Victorians have thought it to be (Palmer 19). But, interpreted more generally, it is most surely an allegory of power.
Harold Bloom says that Shakespeare should have called The Tempest “Prospero or even Prospero and Caliban” (2). The play is indeed centered on Prospero as the one single protagonist, or on the protagonist and his present antagonist, Caliban. The two central characters, as we can notice, are both allegorical in nature. Prospero and Caliban are clearly incarnations of abstract ideas, just like Fellowship and Death in Everyman. They are master and servant, but may stand for general Goodness and Unruliness (Vaughan 278). Hence, R. A. Foakes, among other critics, regards Prospero as “a controller who exercises through his magic a power like that of heaven” and regards the oppositions between Miranda and Caliban as the contrasts between beauty and ugliness or between nurture and nature (145).
August Wilhelm von Schlegel is considered to be the first to adopt an allegorical approach to The Tempest. He “related Ariel to the airy elements and Caliban to the earthy, suggesting an allegory which coincides with Elizabethan and Jacobean humor-psychology” (Daniell 50). Later, James Russell Lowell in his allegorical interpretation equated Caliban to brute understanding, Ariel to fancy, and Prospero to imagination (Daniell 51). Interpretations like these certainly can be justified in their own right. However, I certainly wonder why Prospero cannot stand just for prosperity while Caliban and Ariel stand for the earthy and airy elements respectively.
As a male Italian name, “Prospero” does suggest that all he aims to do is to prosper. In the play, we may recall, Caliban occasionally calls Prospero “Prosper”: “All the infections that the sun sucks up/From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall” (2.2.1-2); “now Prosper works upon thee” (2.2.83). And Alonso does the same: “and the thunder ... pronounced/The name of Prosper” (3.3.99). Even in a stage direction in Act III, Scene 3, “Prospero” is once replaced by “Prosper”: Solemn and strange music; and Prosper on the top (invisible). The ending “o” in “Prospero” may be omitted intentionally by the poet for the sake of rhythm (to keep the line’s iambic meter). Nevertheless, the poet as well as the characters may really equate “Prospero” to “Prosper” in mind.
To prosper is a mundane idea, as it means “to succeed and do well; to thrive and grow in life.” It is often the effect of having power and exercising it well. In The Tempest, Prospero tells his daughter on the unnamed island that he was originally Duke of Milan; but he was not content with being “a prince of power” (1.2.55); he became “transported and rapt in secret studies” (1.2.76-77). He never mentions why he became obsessed with “secret studies” and “prized” some volumes of his books “above his dukedom” (1.2.168). But from the fact that he gained magic power over the years on the island, we can infer that Prospero is actually like Faust: his “secret studies” are like Faust’s secret contacts with Mephistopheles. Indeed, Prospero is like Faust in coming near to being the Almighty, and in possessing such supernatural power that he may for some time prosper well without limitation. His doings on the island--including his saving Ariel from the cloven pine and making the spirit his servant, his usurping Caliban’s island and controlling him as his slave, and, above all, his conjuring up the eponymous tempest and bringing about the revelation of Antonio’s evil nature, the redemption of Alonso, the suppression of Caliban and his accomplices’ revolt, the possible marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda, etc.—all bespeak his prosperity in exercising his hard-won supernatural power before he comes to know the limitation of such power and prosperity. Thus, the play is indeed an allegory of power, of how a mundane and yet Faustian hero wills to have infinite power for prosperity, gains it, exercises it, and finally reflects upon it.
Many other characters in the play also show that they, likewise, willed to have supreme power. Prospero’s brother, Antonio, usurped his dukedom in order to become the “absolute Milan” (1.2.109). Alonso, the King of Naples, helped to supplant Prospero and married his daughter to Tunis in order to have more power. Sebastian was once tempted to murder Alonso for power. Stephano, supported by Caliban and Trinculo, was about to murder Prospero and become king of the island. Gonzalo once stated what he would do if he were king on the isle. Miranda said: “Had I been any god of power, I would/Have sunk the sea within the earth ...” 1.2.10-11). Ferdinand said, “I am the best of them” and “myself am Naples” (1.2.432 & 437), supposing his father was already dead. Saying that he was “first my own King” (1.2.344), Caliban, naturally, wished to have power to take back his isle and win Miranda to people “This isle with Calibans” (1.2.353). Through all these characters’ deeds and thoughts, Shakespeare suggests undoubtedly that all people, regardless of their ranks, races, and genders, have the Will to Power. Thus, the play is indeed an allegory of power.
V. The Types of Power
As an allegory of power, The Tempest is fraught with power of various types. Firstly, it has both natural power and supernatural power. Natural power is seen in the storm that sinks the ship, the sea that drowns the men, and the land that provides “all the qualities of the isle” (1.2.339). Supernatural power is felt when the men’s drenched garments hold “their freshness and glosses” (2.1.60-61) and when music is heard “played by the picture of Nobody” (3.2.124-5). Supernatural power goes with Ariel, of course, who performs Prospero’s behest, and with Prospero himself, who controls everything on the isle, including Caliban’s “dam’s god, Setebos” (1.2.375).
As a human being, Prospero ought to be confined to his human power, which is to see, to hear, to feel, to think, and to do things like other human beings. Yet, he wishes to have superhuman power into the bargain. His “secret studies” have finally made him a god-like being, as he has acquired the superhuman power to foresee things, to charm people from moving, to command spirits, to change fates, and to create the future at his will.
Other characters in the play behave like most human beings. Alonso used military power to help Antonio extirpate Prospero out of his dukedom and to win more political power for himself as well as for Antonio. All that Sebastian, Stephano, Gonzalo, Ferdinand, and Caliban once dreamed of was the highest political/military power, too, that a king might have.
All individuals have physical power and intellectual power for life. In the first scene of The Tempest, the mariners are exerting their strength (physical power) to handle the ship against the storm and surges while the boatswain is exerting his skill and knowledge (intellectual power) to fight in the same tempestuous situation. The boatswain is wise enough to tell Gonzalo the practical truths: “What care these roarers for the name of King?” (1.1.16-17); “if you can command these elements to silence, and work the peace of the presence, we will not hand a rope more” (1.1.21-23). In certain situations, authority is really of no avail while laborers’ physical power and professionals’ intellectual power are of great importance. This idea is reinforced in Prospero’s understanding that his authority cannot dispense with Caliban as his slave and Ariel as his minister.
All intellectuals know that there is legal power in social laws and there is lingual power in human languages. Legally, power goes with rank: a king has his supreme authority in his kingdom; a duke, in his dukedom, just as a ship-master has his top command in a ship. That is why so many characters in The Tempest are shown to try to keep their high ranks if they have them, or try to usurp others’ high ranks, or dream of having the highest rank. Legally, marriage is entitled to both name and property, which yield social and financial power. That is why Alonso married his “fair daughter Claribel to the King of Tunis” (2.1.68), and that is why Prospero is arranging his daughter Miranda’s marriage to King Alonso’s son and heir Ferdinand. Legally, alliance can augment power. That is why Antonio allied with Alonso first and sought to ally with Sebastian next, and that is why Caliban would ally with Stephano and Trinculo. And legally, ownership also has power to keep what one owns. That is why Caliban claims to Prospero that “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,/Which thou tak’st from me” (1.2.333-4).
Terry Eagleton suggests that “the name of Prospero’s language is Ariel, who symbolizes his word in action” (94). In truth, lingual power is seen in all sorts of speech act. It is seen in Prospero’s revelation and consolation to Miranda, his promise and praise to Ariel, his threat and command to Caliban, his accusation and explanation to Ferdinand, his reproach and admonition to Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio, etc. Language has power mostly because it tells truths, but it may have power, too, when it tells lies. What Prospero has told Miranda about his past may all be true, but it is surely a lie to say Ferdinand is “a traitor” coming to the island to work “as a spy” (1.2.463 & 458). The lie, however, has the power to justify Prospero’s testing toil imposed on Ferdinand. Very often lies may not be easily differentiated from truths. In Caliban’s mind, Prospero is truly “a tyrant, a sorcerer that by his cunning hath cheated me of the island” (3.2.40-41). But for Ariel it is a lie to say Prospero is such a person. Prospero himself may refuse the appellation, but we know he is truly tyrannical to Caliban, has magic power like a sorcerer, and has truly “cheated” him of the island somewhat like what a colonist did to the natives of a colony.8 Anyway, despite Ariel’s ascribing it to a lie, Caliban’s description of Prospero does have the power to justify Stephano and Trinculo’s joining Caliban in the scheme to murder the tyrannical sorcerer-usurper.
To lie is immoral. In human society, the importance of moral power cannot be overestimated. In The Tempest, Prospero plainly acts as a moralist facing and trying to redeem “three men of sin” (3.3.53). He stands for the moral power that can cease to be revengeful, get reconciled with enemies, rectify their misdeeds, and bring the entire society to a blissful ending.
Love is the core of morality. One may be moved by the power of beauty, but one is even more moved by the power of love. Sexual power often comes from beauty. Ferdinand and Miranda “are both in either’s powers”(1.2.453), as soon as they see each other’s divine appearances. As Robert Grudin has observed, there is a vein of anti-lechery in the play, since Caliban is stopped from raping Miranda, Ferdinand is enjoined to refrain from premarital sexual intercourse, and Venus is left out in the Masque that calls upon goddesses to bless the young couple (200 ff.). Beyond sexual love, it seems, the parental love that Prospero bears to Miranda is more important: the entire play is a father’s effort and arrangement to ensure his daughter’s future prosperity. It is the power of such parental love that moves us and sets in motion all the acts of the play.
Beyond the parental love, then, there is also the compassionate love, the love that goes with the sense of community and fellowship. When Ariel says that his affections would become tender towards all the charmed prisoners if he were human, Prospero replies:
Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?
In the end, Prospero does show his merciful and compassionate love towards everybody, including the ugly, monstrous Caliban. In Prospero’s mind, ethical power is really placed above aesthetic power.
In actuality, Shakespeare has his Christian conscience, and that makes him naturally place ethical power or moral power above all worldly powers. It is only that Shakespeare is, after all, a poet of nature rather than a moralist. He tends to show us not the ideal way of living but the true picture of life, in which man keeps using all types of power to win better socio-political and familial-sexual positions, to have wealth and women, and to gain security and prosperity in life.
VI. The Nietzschean Prospero Prospero is indeed a Nietzschean hero. He manifests Nietzsche’s idea of “will to power” and he can be considered as a near example of Nietzsche’s “Superman.” Originally as the rightful Duke, Prospero did not have to struggle for existence when he was in Milan. Yet, he was obviously not content with the political/military power that his rank allowed him. He made himself obsessed with “secret studies,” and that led him to neglect his ducal duty. Thus, he seemed to forsake political power in pursuit of supernatural power. And thus his “will to power” is of the highest kind.
In seeking for infinite, supernatural power, Prospero is quite like Faust. Unlike Faust, however, Prospero does not make any deal with the Devil, nor does he surrender moral integrity in order to achieve power and success. Although he is said to have done “secret studies” and to own a magic staff and some magic books, there is no mention that he has ever made any pact with Mephistopheles. Moreover, what he does on the island after he has divine power is not for such worldly pleasures as Faust has indulged. His greatest pleasure, it seems, is to show the power of his “Art,” while his goal is to ensure the prosperity of his family.
Frank Kermode regards The Tempest as a pastoral drama concerned with the opposition of Nature and Art. In his interpretation, the main opposition is “between the worlds of Prospero’s Art, and Caliban’s Nature” (xxiv). Prospero’s Art, “being the Art of supernatural virtue which belongs to the redeemed world of civility and learning, is the antithesis of the black magic of Sycorax” (xli). Such Art has two functions: to exercise “the supernatural powers of the holy adept” (xlvii) and to control Nature (xlviii). In this interpretation, Prospero is regarded as a good mage.
As a good mage, Prospero is almost a Superman, an ideal man of power in Nietzsche’s terminology. He knows he has the tremendous power to master, to govern Nature. He has appropriated the island, assimilated Ariel, mastered Caliban, exploited the environment, and caused the tempest to shape and create the future of his family and the other members of his world. But the increase in power does not spoil him. Instead, he is sublimated in a way. He has the “master morality” to set himself above resentment and deliver himself from revengefulness. He is indeed like a holy adept, exercising his supernatural power to counter the evil powers and to tame the wild.
But Prospero is not yet a complete Superman. As his mind is still restricted by his mundane idea of personal prosperity, not yet extended to the ideal of wishing to withstand great suffering for the whole world and make the entire human race prosperous (as Goethe’s Faust finally wishes to), he is at most just on the way to the highest status of Nietzsche’s Superman.
VII. The Foucauldean Prospero
As a Nietzschean hero with the highest Will to Power and almost achieving the status of a Superman, Prospero is, nevertheless, a Foucauldean expert as well in his exercise of power. Prospero knows well the Foucauldean truth that “power is exercised rather than possessed.” That is why he perpetually tries to show his magic power by exercising it. His raising the tempest, controlling Ariel and Caliban, teasing Alonso and his followers with a magic banquet, calling spirits (of Ceres, Iris, Juno, and nymphs) to perform a nuptial dance for Miranda and Ferdinand, and driving the plotters with magic hunting dogs, etc., as well as his saving Ariel from the cloven pine, are all acts of showing magic power by exercising it. And all these acts stand for some of the “micro-powers” that constitute the entirety of his almighty power, which is independent of his dukeship.
Prospero also knows well the Foucauldean truth that freedom is both the condition and the effect of power. As he has the power to control even Setebos, Caliban’s dam’s god, and “make a vassal of him” (1.2.376), he knows he can enjoy freedom on the island at will. In contrast, all those in his power (Ariel, Caliban, and the shipwrecked Italians) are no better than slaves under his control and at his mercy. Many of them want to resist or even revolt, but they are all overpowered and therefore without freedom to do things at will.
Readers may wonder why Prospero decides to forsake his “potent Art” by breaking his staff, burying it “certain fadoms in the earth” and drowning his book (5.5.50-57). Barbara Traister thinks that “Prospero knows the limits of his power” (120). Why, then, does he know the limits of his power? It may be because he knows his potent Art is actually nothing but “rough magic” (5.1.50). It may also be because he knows that “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on” (4.1.156-7): power and man are both inconstant. But it is more probably because he knows the Foucauldean truth that to exercise power on a non-resisting slave is not to exercise power at all. In the end of The Tempest, all the other characters are so overpowered by him that it becomes meaningless to exercise power again on them. It is as if an “agonism” has lost its opponents. Furthermore, it is even more probable that Prospero has come to realize that he himself is enslaved by both his Will to Power and his Way of Exercising Power: since he has achieved his goal of ensuring prosperity for his family, to keep showing power to his non-resisting slaves is no other than to make himself a slave of power.
Prospero knows, too, the Foucauldean truth that there is no absolute truth; power can control discourse and make truth. In telling Miranda what had happened to him and her in Milan, Prospero was constructing (or reconstructing) a truth in his informative discourse so that his doings to the shipwrecked Italians may be justified. In accusing Ferdinand of coming to act as a spy on the island, he was making a lie (a false truth) to further his plan on him. In refuting Caliban’s remarks that he usurped his island and ill-treated him, Prospero was replacing Caliban’s truth with his own truth so that his government on the island might be justified. In admonishing the shipwrecked Italians, he was uttering a moral truth to justify his treatment of them. Indeed, Prospero always claims (in speech and in mind) that he has the truth. But his truth is never disinterested and in the absence of power relations. In actuality, his truth is often no better than expedient discourse made to justify his exercise of power.
What Prospero practices on the island is what Foucault calls “Disciplinary Punishment.” The island is in essence a Foucauldean “Panopticon,” in which the prisoners (Caliban at first, and later the shipwrecked Italians) have become “docile bodies” held under strict discipline, surveillance, and constraint. In this Panopticon, Ariel represents the agent that makes the modern power of imprisonment both visible and unverifiable. He really keeps an eye on every “inmate,” allots places for them, manages matters separately with them, and stops them from dangerous schemes—and all these things he does invisibly (as an airy spirit), with his unverifiable power. This Panopticon is indeed a great success. It is so successful that all guilty and mischievous malefactors are chastised there in time, and everything just goes smoothly there in complete accord with Prospero’s ideas. Prospero is indeed the governor, and the play is “patterned around ideas of governing, of the master-servant situation in its multiple aspects” (Godshalk 166).
VIII. The Vision of Power All great writers are visionary poets. A great work often envisions something significant. Dante’s Divine Comedy, for instance, is a Christian vision of the afterlife told in an allegorical manner. And Goethe’s Faust is a romantic vision of man’s quest for the infinite. Now, I say The Tempest stands for Shakespeare’s vision of power: it is told partly in an allegorical manner and partly in a realistic/fantastic manner to depict a partly Faustian and partly Nietzschean hero exercising his power in a Foucauldean method. Furthermore, this play is like our famous novel,Tsao’s Dreams of the Red Mansions,9 in that it envisions man’s perpetual, and yet vain, strife for power and prosperity.
I have said above that The Tempest is an allegory of power as it shows its protagonist (Prospero) and many other characters all striving or dreaming to have supreme power. Now, we must say that the play’s title and the play’s setting are also allegorical in nature. Northrop Frye suspects that “tempest” suggests “the Latin tempestas, meaning time as well as tempest, like its French descendant temps, which means both time and weather” (Sandler 178). I think the tempest is both a storm of the world and a storm of the mind, that is, both an elemental storm and a mental storm. As an elemental storm, it may wreck ships and ruin bodies. As a mental storm, it may stir minds and change mentalities. In the play, as we see, the tempest raised by Prospero has truly done no harm to the shipwrecked Italians: the tempest is just a means to redeem them morally. Thus, allegorically, the tempest really stands for any critical time created by Heaven or by man as a “brainstorm” to confuse and/or clear up one’s mind.10
I have also said above that the anonymous island in The Tempest is Prospero’s Panopticon used to hold Caliban and the shipwrecked Italians under strict discipline, surveillance, and constraint. Upon further consideration in the light of allegory, however, the island is, even more justifiably, an epitome of the mundane World of Power. In this World of Power, everyone keeps struggling for power--for supernatural power or for various types of human power (political, intellectual, legal, lingual, moral, sexual, etc.). In this World of Power, when one has become the Lord of Power (as Prospero has), one will exercise one’s power to further prosper oneself and one’s family (as Prospero does to prosper himself and Miranda) in one’s interactions with others, including one’s ministers (the Ariels), slaves (the Calibans), friends (people like Gonzalo), foes (people like Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio), and other related persons (people like Ferdinand, Stephano, Trinculo, Adrian, Francisco, the ship Master, Boatswain, Mariners, etc.). In this mundane world, as each one struggles with a Will to Power and exercises one’s checked or unchecked power for prosperity, usurpation (of a position, a land, resources, rights, etc.) is frequent, mental tempests are even more frequent than elemental tempests, and very few, if ever, can understand the vanity of seeking and showing power. Thus, all are enslaved by power in trying to increase power, show power, or overpower others. “Liberty!” may become the most common outcry when conscience sees through power.
Interestingly, towards the end of The Tempest, Prospero discovers Ferdinand and Miranda playing at chess, and we hear this dialogue:
Mir. Sweet lord, you play me false.
Fer. No, my dearest love, I would not for the world.
Mir. Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle,
And I would call it fair play. (5,1.172-5)
Here is Miranda’s teasing talk about chess-playing, of course. She is teasingly showing her strong love for Ferdinand since she says she would call it fair play if Ferdinand should wrangle for a score of kingdoms by playing her false. Here, however, we also see a truth bearing on the World of Power. Just as the kingdoms of chess are the targets of moves with chess-pieces, the kingdoms of the world are the targets of tactics with human powers. One may wrangle for a score of kingdoms at chess or in the world by playing false, but one may be pardoned or even praised for doing so by one’s lover or partner, who likes power no less than this one. This dialogue actually suggests that the innocent Miranda and Ferdinand will get ready to enter the World of Power, and thus there ensues another generation of power struggle.
Upon seeing Ferdinand and Miranda obsessed in playing chess, Alonso remarks: “If this prove / A vision of the island, one dear son / Shall I twice lose” (5.1.175-7). For Alonso in the story, the scene is not a vision, of course. But for an allegorist who sees life as a game of chess, this scene is certainly “a vision of the island” as a “brave new world, / That has such people in it” (5.1.183-4). It is a world where “goodly creatures” (5.1.182) are true opponents forever maneuvering with power for power.
The world of The Tempest is in fact the dramatic world of Shakespeare in miniature. It is the condensed Shakespearean world in which all characters in tragedies or comedies and in histories or romances exercise power to increase or keep power, be it superhuman power or human power, physical power or intellectual power, political power or sexual power, legal power or lingual power, aesthetic power or ethic power. In this world of power struggle, glimpses of vanity may occur to the “goodly creatures” occasionally and elevate them to a Superman’s level temporarily. But as Everyman is after all only a worldly Prospero—a person aiming at prosperity in this world, not at perpetuality in the other world—the tempests of power, inward and outward, are forever there, challenging all temporal figures.
This vision of power is in fact a universal vision. It has often been reflected in Western literature since Homer’s epics. It is most impressively reflected in Goethe’s Faust as well as repeatedly reflected in Shakespeare’s plays. In the East, I find, it is most significantly reflected in Tsao’s Dreams of the Red Mansions. In that great novel, as we see, the red mansions refer to the Mansion of Prosperity and the Mansion of Security, in which powerful people, while still struggling for women and wealth, for weal and for woe, dream to have security and prosperity all the time, hardly knowing that la vida es sueño.11
It is significant that The Tempest begins with a mage’s tempest which seems to threaten safety, and ends with the same mage’s promise of safety with “calm seas, auspicious gales” (5.1.314), while the in-between is a series of temporal words and deeds expressing the ways of the world in struggling with power for power. Towards the end of the play we do hear Prospero swear to abjure his “coarse magic” by breaking and burying his staff and drowning his book (5.1.50-57). But we do not see him carry out the oath in the play. Will he carry it out, now that he has resumed his dukedom and secured his daughter’s prosperity? I say, “Nobody knows.” Yet, unless Prospero has truly become a Nietzschean Superman caring for sublimity more than prosperity, he might just go back to Milan, still bringing with him his staff and book so that he might still keep his magic power to ensure his own (and his family’s) security and prosperity forever. After all, in Shakespeare’s vision of power, a prosperity-minding man must consider security first and a secured man will go on with his Will to Power to seek prosperity by exercising power like a Foucauldean. To prosper is to have women and wealth, and to lose power is to lose prosperity. This is all Prospero knows, and all he needs to know.
See lines 47-60 of the scene “Faust’s Study” in Goethe’s Faust, translated by Louis MacNeice (1951), Oxford UP, 1808.
Scholars have not been able to decide as to when Shakespeare started to write plays. In his Shakespeare: The Complete Works, G. B. Harrison says that “Shakespeare probably first began to write plays in 1591 or 1592; but some scholars dispute this and claim that he had been actor and playwright since 1587” (9). It is for this uncertainty that Harrison places Henry VI along with six other plays as the first plays that had been written by 1594 (see his Introducing Shakespeare, p. 164). But many books simply place Henry VI and Henry VIII as Shakespeare’s first plays and last one respectively though they may be dated differently. In Frank Magill’s English Literature: Shakespeare, for instance, the three parts of Henry VI are listed as the first plays and dated from 1589-1591 while Henry VIII is listed as the last play and dated from 1612-1613. In Louis Wright and Virginia LaMar’s The Folger Guide to Shakespeare, we see Henry VI and Henry VIII also placed first and last in the chronology of Shakespeare’s plays but they are respectively dated from 1590-1592 and 1612-1613.
The term “problem plays,” as coined by F. S. Boas in Shakespeare and His Predecessors (1896), refers to such plays as All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cressida. For me, they refer to any plays that raise problems in the plays’ subject matter or generic classification.
Many scholars take for romances such later plays as Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest. Several common features have been suggested for such plays. For me, the most important feature is: they contain magic and other fantastical elements.
In his The Will to Power, Nietzsche says: “This world is the Will to Power—and nothing else!” (917). In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche makes Zarathustra say: “Only where life is, is there also will; but not will to life, instead—thus I teach you—will to power!” (90).
These and the following Nietzschean ideas are clearly stated in Copleston, pp. 182-188.
It is noted that as Foucault’s neologism, “agonism” is “based on the Greek agõnisma meaning ‘a combat,’ which implies ‘a physical contest in which the opponents develop a strategy of reaction and of mutual taunting, as in a wrestling match.’” See Faubion, p. 348.
It is noted that since World War II, Caliban as a colonial victim has dominated the interpretive paradigm throughout the Third World and even within the Anglo-American orbit. See Vaughan, p. 280.
Referring to 曹雪芹 《紅樓夢》。 The novel’s title is variously translated into English. David Hawkes & John Minford’s translation is: The Story of the Stone. C. C. Wang’s is: Dream of the Red Chamber. Hsien-ye Yang & Gladys Yang’s is: A Dream of Red Mansions. I prefer to translate it into Dreams of the Red Mansions or Dreams of the Red Houses. For explanation, see [翻19] in 「大家一起翻」in DGD English-Learning Website (http://dgdel.nchu.edu.tw).
It is interesting to note that in British English “to have a brainstorm” is to suddenly become forgetful or unable to think clearly, while in American English “to have a brainstorm” is to suddenly have a clever idea.
The Mansion of Prosperity is 榮國府 and the Mansion of Security is 寧國府. On the surface, the two mansions claim to bring prosperity and security to the nation (國). They actually seek prosperity and security only for their dwellers. In the novel it seems that only Jia Bao Yu (賈寶玉) came to know Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s theme: la vida es sueño (life is a dream).
Bloom, Harold, ed. William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy. Vol. 7, Part II. New York: Image, 1994.
Daniell, David. The Critics Debate: The Tempest. London: Macmillan, 1989.
Eagleton, Terry. William Shakespeare. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986.
Faubion, James D., ed. Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984. vol. 3. Trans. Robert Hurley et al. New York: The New Press, 2000.
Foakes, R. A. Shakespeare—The Dark Comedies to the Last Plays: From Satire to Celebration. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.
Godshalk, William Leigh. Patterning in Shakespeare’s Drama. The Hague & Paris: Mouton, 1973.
Grudin, Robert. Mighty Opposites: Shakespeare and Renaissance Contrariety. Berkerley & Los Angeles: U of California P, 1979.
Harrison, G. B. Introducing Shakespeare. London: Penguin, 1966.