by Jacqueline Wong
[Context passage: Act I, Sc ii, lines 79-116. From "Being once perfected how to grant suits" to "To most ignoble stooping"]
Paying close attention to tone & imagery, comment on the presentation of Prospero and important ideas in the play raised here.
We are presented with the highly emotional and angst-filled account of past times in Milan narrated by the main protagonist of The Tempest, Prospero. The turbulence in his tale reminds us of the equally disturbing tempest in the previous scene with its general mood of disorder and destruction. Although there are no physical indication of violence as in the last scene, Prospero's report is coloured with such images. It is here, in Act 1 Scene 2 that we learn that Prospero's "art" had conjured up the "tempestuous" storm. Miranda's "piteous heart" demands a salvation for the "poor souls" onboard the ship but her father, the great magician, Prospero promises that, "there's no harm done". He proclaims, "tis' time" and sets out to explain his motive for raising The Tempest that is the driving force of the entire play.
As he speaks of the past, Prospero is no doubt reliving every single detail "in the dark backward and absym of time". He seems to have vengeance on his mind right now. Old wounds are cruelly re-opened and he re-experiences the bitterness of betrayal by is "false brother" and the pain of what had happened "twelve year since". At the same time, he is also stirring up lost memories in Miranda's "remembrance". We see Shakespeare's magic at work as well while he deftly weaves the plot into his audience's mind. Every time Prospero calls Miranda to attention, Shakespeare speaks through the lips of his creation to his audience, "Thou attend'st not?" Taking on the voice of father, magician and "prince of power", the bard leads us straight into the crux of The Tempest of Prospero's voice.
The usurped Duke of Milan speaks of the usurper, Antonio most vividly, using myriad images. We picture Antonio's brilliance in politics as Prospero tells of how his brother "being once perfected how to grant suits, how to deny them, who t' advance and which to trash for over-topping" supplanted him. He presents us with a hunting image as he acknowledges Antonio's skill & compliments him. Prospero uses a number of images in his speech to let us see Antonio as a political animal. He shows us how "having both the key of the officer and office" Antonio gained supporters and got rid of opposers. This double image aptly portrayed how he not only secured the authority entrusted to him; he also had the ability to assert that power to his own means -- "set all hearts i'th' state to what tune pleas'd his ear". At the same time, we notice that the play is one that rings of music, this is only one instance where music is mentioned. It is a recurring motif. He maneuvers his way into nature when he informs Miranda (and the audience) of "the ivy which hid my princely trunk and suck'd my vendure out on't". We see in our minds' eye the devious Antonio who sucked the power out of his brother's welcoming hands and so, his life, leaving only a dry shell. Through the use of such imagery, Shakespeare unfolds the passionate tale of usurpation before the "wondrous" Miranda and us, the audience.
The wise Prospero speaks of how he had laid himself wide open to harm in "being transported and rapt in secret studies". "Neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated to closeness and the bettering of his mind" he entrusted Milan into the hands of his treacherous brother and in doing so, "awak'd an evil nature" in his false brother. Not contented with his position, Antonio "new created the creatures that were mine, chang'd 'em or else new form'd 'em" and "confederates wi'th King of Naples" to bend Milan "to most ignoble stooping". It is obvious that Prospero was not conscious of what Antonio was doing and so, we, the sympathetic listeners feel for him although we know that he is partly at fault for his downfall. Prospero's anger and feelings of vengeance is understandable but we know that "there's no harm done". At the same time, as we listen to the usurped fling charge after charge at the amoral usurper like the sea waves beating relentlessly at the "yellow sands", Shakespeare questions the Prospero's usurpation of the "creatures" of the island -- Caliban and Ariel. We find out later that the powerful mage subjects the "most delicate monster", Caliban to "most ignoble stooping" and even the "fine apparition", Ariel is not spared from the magic of Prospero who has him at his beck and call. They cry for liberty but do they receive it from the usurped "master"? This is another of the important ideas raised in the play.
Miranda listens attentively to her father as he relives how he had placed his trust mistakenly on Antonio, "like a good parent" and how it "beget of him a falsehood in its contrary". "He needs will be absolute Milan." This convoluted image reminds us of how the unknowing Caliban had placed his trust and "loved thee and showed thee all the qualities o' th' isle." The situation of Prospero "twelve year since" mirrors that of the "abhorred slave", Caliban. Meanwhile, it also presents Antonio and Prospero as complex political creatures surviving in the "realism" of politics. The usurped did not refrain from usurping others in a different place and time. Here, we see the men as truly brothers because they are alike in their usurpation. The only difference lies in Prospero's benevolence in his decision towards reconciliation. We are given enough to be sure that Antonio will never consider the very idea because he "made a sinner of his own memory". The man created and shaped his own reality to suit his means and this is another recurring motif in the play.
We have seen how the people are unable to see through the illusion of the "tempest" and sometimes, they just do not understand their own reality because they do not want to see it. Prospero has made use of that weakness to "recover" his dukedom as he brings the plotters, Antonio, Sebastian and Alonso to the island for a lesson. We will meet the king of Naples who despairs of ever finding his beloved son, Ferdinand after The Tempest and refuses to entertain the hope of seeing him again but we know he does in the end. Power, "all prerogative" had gone into the plotters' heads and this veils the actual reality to become another reality in the mind. We encounter another motif in the play, that of fathers. We know that although the fathers (Prospero and Antonio) are enemies, they will forget their differences in the union of their child (Ferdinand and Miranda) eventually.
This tale that "would cure deafness" is the stepping stone of the entire play and we are presented with a multi-faceted Prospero -- the magician who usurps, the wronged who was usurped, the avenger, the father, the master, the duke. Can we really define him? Shakespeare leaves that intriguing thought in our minds as we take leave of this account full of "imagistic" qualities and themes.