Written by Ng E-Ching, 2A01B, 21 April 1996.
"... the natural man functions like the virtuous shepherd of normal pastoral, to indicate corruption and degeneracy in the civilized world; if the natural man is a brute, so much more terrible is the sin of the nobleman who abases below the natural." Consider the debate between Art and Nature in the play The Tempest.
The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's late comedies, in which the typical comic conventions are blended with darker elements of tragedy. One of the ways this manifests itself is in the imperfect conclusion of the play. Although comic traditions such as marriage and the restoration of order are followed, not every character is disposed of [ominous?] perfectly.
The character that this is most evident with is Antonio. Although Prospero forgives him for his removal of Prospero from Milan, and does not reveal his plot to kill Alonso, we receive no evidence that Antonio repents of his actions. At the banquet scene which causes Alonso to repent, indeed, drives him temporarily to insanity, Antonio's conscience is apparently unaffected. His only line after the harpy's appearance -- "I'll be thy second" -- implies that he [possible] will follow Alonso and aid him in suicide. At the concluding scene of the play, Antonio says almost nothing, even when Prospero promises not to give him and Sebastian away to Alonso. This seems to indicate that he does not share in the general mood of repentance and reconciliation, especially as his sole line is a sarcastic remark about Caliban, so reminiscent of his earlier bantering with Sebastian that it seems a statement that he has not changed. It seems that Antonio is not a character who can be brought to repentance, but it must be questioned whether this is due to innate imperfection of his nature -- which should be noble, having been inherited from a "good womb" -- or whether it is by choice that he embraces evil.
When considering Antonio, Sebastian cannot be forgotten. He is a foil for Antonio, being also a younger son[?], and in danger of being led by Antonio into committing the same crimes. It is difficult to ascertain whether Sebastian has really changed. While he, like Antonio, is restored to the natural order at the end of the play, by being locked out of the leadership position which he is clearly unfit for, he banters in Act V as if nothing had changed. His fear during the harpy scene is genuine, and after it, "But one fiend at a time / I'll fight their legions o'er" indicates that his mind, too, is slightly unhinged. However, this fear and his alarm at Prospero's supernatural knowledge of his plot to kill Alonso seem to have no lasting effect on him -- he jokes about Caliban and Stephano as blithely as ever, speaking far too often and cheerfully to be consistent with guilt. In Sebastian's case, future harmony may be at risk, Sebastian is easily led into crime by people such as Antonio. By his inclusion, Shakespeare makes it clear that some characters are limited by their natures in what goodness they can achieve.
Stephano and Trinculo are also practically unchanged by the end of the play. From getting drunk and boisterous at their entrance, they remain irreverent and get even drunker by the conclusion. Stephano's shamefaced response to Prospero's challenge "You'ld be King o' the isle, sirrah?" -- "I should have been a sore one, then" -- seems to imply that he has learned that this particular deed was wrong, but does not guarantee future good behaviour. Stephano and Trinculo must be watched, because even more so than Sebastian, neither, by nature, is able to fully repent and make a permanent change in their characters, and Stephano especially can be effortlessly led into wrongdoing. It can only be hoped that fear of cramps will restrain him.
While these characters do not support fully the idea of harmony and reconciliation at the end of the play, because they do not fully repent, there are other characters who do repent to varying degrees. The character who fully repents and makes complete restitution is Alonso, who not only restores Prospero's dukedom, but gives him his son in marriage. Alonso represents the person who is able to fully enter into the spirit of reconciliation.
Caliban is a character who, while having a considerably imperfect nature, manages to learn a great deal by the end of the play. His words "I'll be wise hereafter,/ And seek for grace" are a promise for the future, indicating that he has accepted his limitations, and has chosen to follow the guidance of superior natures. We are confident that Caliban will be able to improve himself, [He will try] because he has now realised, through Prospero's allowing him to learn on his own, that Prospero, not Stephano, is the one he should turn to for guidance. Caliban is an unusual figure in that while we are fully aware of his limited capacity for learning, he does present hope for the future. [exactly how?]
Even in the characters who have not actually committed any wrong during the course of the play, we are made aware of imperfections. Ferdinand, who by and large has presented himself as a blameless heir, is discovered playing chess with Miranda and cheating. From Miranda's words "for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle,/ And I would call it fair play", we gain the impression that Ferdinand was cheating on his own behalf. This is worrying, because it seems that Ferdinand may not always follow the dictates of his conscience as a king. We are offered some reassurance in Miranda -- she comments on his cheating, and we have come to trust her sense of right in watching her remonstrate with Prospero, when watching the storm and when he imprisons Ferdinand. She is the check that will balance off Ferdinand's limitations of nature. (Although I personally find it slightly unsettling that all three times, Miranda's entreaties/comments are not seen to have any effect.) [good] However, we are left in doubt as to whether Miranda forgives and accepts Caliban for what he is. This is the only instance of forgiveness that seems lacking in the end of the play. [good]
Although Prospero is the character who masterminds the whole comic resolution of The Tempest, some of his actions cause us uneasiness for the future. Generally, he reassures us with actions such as his forgiveness of the court party and keeping his promise to Ariel. It is in keeping with the spirit of reconciliation that he forgives Sebastian and Antonio for their plot to kill Alonso -- but one feels that Alonso should be told about it and given the opportunity to forgive them too. It seems possible that Prospero is trusting too much of the future to himself, by not warning Alonso that Sebastian might cause problems. Just an hour or so before, he gave in to the desire to display his art to Ferdinand and Miranda, meanwhile forgetting the court party and Caliban's plot. Prospero is not infallible. His vanity is also painfully obvious in his desire to tell everyone "the story of (his) life" at the close of the play. However, Prospero has not failed us -- he has forgiven all and created the opportunity for this happy ending. His overly angry response to Ariel's reminding him of his promise has become an easy assent by the end of the play; apparently cruel and arbitrary actions such as the storm and Ferdinand's imprisonment have been revealed as having purpose, and causing lasting harm to no one. Although not perfect, it seems likely that Prospero will succeed in the task ahead of him, as he succeeded in the tasks he set himself during the play.
Shakespeare was certainly aware of the imperfections of human nature when he wrote the conclusion of The Tempest. However, these do not preclude the spirit of reconciliation and harmony that characterise a comic resolution. Antonio, Sebastian, Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban may indeed pose threats in the future, as they have done during the play, but these will only cause serious threat if they are not watched over. From the beginning of the play, it is made clear that Prospero will not relinquish trust as freely as he did in Milan. Because Prospero now knows these characters' limitations, we are fairly confident that he will watch over them, and that the ending of the play is truly a comic resolution.
Tight, succinct, accurate, insightful. Bingo!
Use quotation more to your benefit. 39/50
Art vs. Nature (E-Ching's),
Art vs. Nature (Rouh Phin's),
Prospero as Ruler, Prospero vs. Caliban,
The Tempest as Masque, Apparitions and Stage Spectacle,
Ideas vs. Dramatic Principle, Island of Echoes & Suggestions,
Comic Resolution, Prospero Context
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