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Notes on The Tempest Themes

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The Tempest Topic Tracking: Authority

Act 1

Authority 1: Shakespeare toys with the concept of authority in the chaos of emergency. Although the ship is owned and paid for by the King of Naples, the Boatswain and the Master have authority over their passengers. This authority is not gained by strength or inheritance, but knowledge. To a certain extent, the fact that the passengers were unwilling to entirely submit to the authority of their mariners may account for the shipwreck and some of their misfortune.

Authority 2: Prospero wields authority over Ariel for two reasons: the first is a debt which Ariel owes to him for freedom, and the second is force. Prospero's knowledge of the 'secret arts' makes him more powerful than the spirit, therefore able to control him.

Authority 3: Prospero has authority over Caliban for reasons which are at first similar to those of Ariel. First, he alleges that he gave Caliban the gift of language and the gift of knowledge. Tacitly, however, Prospero rules over Caliban by force, not because of a debt for his education.

Authority 4: Prospero gains authority over Ferdinand by accusing him of being a spy. By doing this, his daughter moves to protect the young prince, who is instantly attracted to her. It is through this attraction that Prospero really gains control over Ferdinand.

Act 2

Authority 5: The King does not use his authority to protect Gonzalo from the jests of the Lords. Gonzalo cannot truly defend himself because the Lords are royalty and he is merely a councillor. When Gonzalo does criticize the Lords, it is only because they are doing a disservice to his king, not because they have insulted the councillor.

Authority 6: Sebastian and Antonio plot to kill the King in his sleep. Sebastian plans to seize the power for himself because he can acquire this authority by virtue of blood-relation. The authority of a kingdom is given without knowledge but with force. Antonio's acquisition of his brother's kingdom is the same: his brother is too concerned with knowledge, therefore he can be overcome by force.

Authority 7: Caliban submits to the two drunkards. He submits for two reasons: first, they are an alternative to his current master and second, they have alcohol. Caliban gives his only power, knowledge of the island, as a pledge to his new masters. His hope is that by exchanging masters, he will be able to better his life.

Act 3

Authority 8: Ferdinand continues to submit to Prospero's wishes for the sake of Miranda. Her charms cause him to give up his personal authority to Prospero. Miranda, under the authority of her father, will gain a new master in Ferdinand at their marriage. This union is a gesture of authority for Prospero. By wedding his daughter to the Prince of Naples, he assures his own position as well as that of his descendants.

Authority 9: Stephano has taken the position of leader in this threesome. Caliban gives the pair the knowledge to commit the assassination - a deed which he could commit himself. Caliban is willing to exchange one master for another and plan an assassination, but he is not willing to perform the deed himself.

Authority 10: Fear supplants the sense of confidence that comes from the King's authority. Antonio, Alonso and Sebastian suffer guilt from their conscious abuse of their own authority and power. Alonso remembers his part in Prospero's expulsion and feels dread.

Act 4

Authority 11: This scene includes the portrayal of three kinds of authoritative relationships. The first is between Prospero and the dutiful slave, Ariel. Prospero is constantly promising freedom in exchange for loyalty. The second is between Prospero and the rogue slave, Caliban. The master must utilize force to subdue the renegade slave. The third is between the slave and the inept masters. The drunkards have lost their wine and they briefly criticize their slave. They forget about this when they see the flashy garments hanging on the tree. Against the advice of their slave, they begin to put on these garments which are symbols of power, but not power itself.

Act 5

Authority 12: Authority changes in the resolution of the play. Everyone is put back into their 'rightful' place. Prospero is once again Duke, the conspirators are all revealed and slightly chastised. Caliban is freed from his slavery. The drunkards are once again merely drunkards, and Miranda's marriage to Ferdinand is approved by Alonso.

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