Internet Shakespeare Editions


Prospero, the magus, and Shakespeare

Dr. John Dee.

Prospero appears to be very much in control throughout The Tempest. He controls much of what happens the characters on and offstage, and is able to manage the natural phenomena of the island. His power derives from his books, from his mastery of Ariel and, to a lesser degree, from Caliban. In his command of nature and magic, he fits the pattern of the "magus," a figure something between a modern scientist and a magician.

As The Tempest is probably the last play that Shakespeare wrote unaided*, it is tempting to see Prospero, in his command of the action onstage, as a representation of Shakespeare. The impressively orchestrated structure and originality of the play also suggests that Shakespeare may have intended the play as a sort of culmination of his art. This reading has been especially popular because of the final speech made by Prospero, which sounds rather like a formal farewell* to the theatre.

While this response to Prospero is is some ways attractive, it is certainly not the only way his character can be understood: Shakespeare makes him demanding -- even at times almost cranky -- as he rails at Ariel, and even at his daughter. He can also be seen as a source of power that is destructive.


  1. After the tempest

    After The Tempest Shakespeare appears to have collaborated on Henry VIII (All Is True) and The Two Noble Kinsmen, as well as a lost play, Cardenio.

  2. A farewell to charms

    Now my charms are all o'erthrown
    And what strength I have's my own,
    Which is most faint. Now 'tis true
    I must be here confined by you
    Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
    Since I have my dukedom got,
    And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
    In this bare island [the stage?]by your spell;
    But release me from my bands
    With the help of your good hands.
    Gentle breath of yours my sails
    Must fill, or else my project fails,
    Which was to please. Now I want [lack]
    Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
    And my ending is despair
    Unless I be relieved by prayer,
    Which pierces so, that it assaults
    Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
    As you from crimes would pardoned be,
    Let your indulgence set me free.

    (Epilogue 1-20)