Allegorical Interpretations in The Tempest

William Shakespeare's last play, The Tempest, is rich in symbolism. It has been interpreted in several ways by critics and reader alike. There are fanciful interpretations attached to the characters of Prospero, Caliban, Ariel, Miranda and several others. It has been called a complex piece of dramatic art.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

One critic considers Prospero as a man of genius, a perfect artist lacking at first in a practical sense for worldly success. Subsequently, he attains the height of his supernatural powers. Miranda, for him, represents Art in its infancy. Caliban stands for the lower human passions and appetites whom Prospero subdues to his service and who he vainly tries to lift to a higher level. Caliban trying to rape Miranda signifies the lower passions of mankind attempting to violate the purity of Art. Ariel represents the imaginative genius of poetry liberated from long slavery to evil influences, in this case the wicked witch Sycorax. The marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda shows Shakespeare's view that success in art is possibly only through the hard labor amounting to toil.

Another critic opines that in writing this play Shakespeare was answering the great question of the day, namely, the justification of European usurpation of the backward and uncivilized areas of Earth. Shakespeare felt a warm interest in the English colonization. Caliban is interpreted as a mere anagram of cannibal, representing state of barbarism over which Prospero, the European colonizer, establishes his just sway in order to carry the torch of civilization to the remotest parts of this planet. Gonzalo's description of an ideal republic in Act II is a satire on the prevailing systems of governance.

The Tempest presents a picture of the glorious victory of the righteous human soul over all things around it. Prospero represents wise and virtuous manhood, while Caliban is the lowest and Ariel the highest extreme in the wonderful chain of earthly existence. Prospero represents the middle link - the wise and good man who is the ruling deity to whom the whole series is subject. Ferdinand stands for passionate chivalrous devotion of youth, while Miranda represents the yielding simplicity and sweetness of the unsophisticated girl. The young lovers are the hope of mankind representations of those natural instincts which, watched and guided by the paternal care of Prospero will bear their rightful harvest of happiness as well as pleasure.

Next interesting interpretation is that Shakespeare has sought to represent himself through the protagonist of the play, Prospero; he has given us a self-portrait in the character of Prospero and his farewell speech at the end of Act V as well as in The Epilogue conveys his desire for giving up his vocation of a dramatist and retiring to Stratford-upon-Avon after weaving all the dreams through his 37 plays. The Tempest being the last of his plays, William Shakespeare treats the speech of Prospero as his last will and testament. The voice of Prospero has been interpreted as being the voice of the playwright himself. Prospero's supreme control over the island and the spirits symbolizes Shakespeare's supreme mastery of the English stage during his time. When Prospero renounces his magic, it is Shakespeare during his time. When Prospero renounces his magic, it is Shakespeare himself bidding a kind of farewell to the dramatic career.

According to another interpretation, The Tempest deals with a subject which constantly occupied Shakespeare towards the close of his career, that of reconciliation, pardon and atonement of sins. In this case, Prospero forgives all his enemies after they have represented of the grievous wrong done to him twelve years ago in conspiring against him and banishing him from the dukedom of Milan. It is reconciliation time between Prospero and Alonso with their offspring uniting in holy wedlock at Naples with all the religious rites and rituals and their grandchildren becoming the joint rulers of Naples and Milan.

The Tempest represents the glorious victory of the righteous human soul over all things around it. It also represents an allegory about the pursuit of power and the consequences of that pursuit and that any perversion of the natural order of things in this world brings distress and doom. And that adherence and obedience to the natural order is essential for man's attainment of the highest good in life. The Tempest, therefore, yields a multiplicity of meanings and interpretations to generations of critics and readers; the list can never possibly be exhausted. It is the peak of Shakespeare's creation.