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A Brief Examination of Shakespeare's The Tempest and The Theme of Redemption

Updated on December 6, 2011

The Genre

What makes The Tempest such a difficult work to classify is that it is vaguely reminiscent of many of Shakespeare’s earlier works of various genres. In its exploration of the consequences of a disruption of the natural order, it illustrates many of the themes traditionally present in his tragedies. When the natural is disrupted by the unnatural, namely, when Antonio usurps Prospero’s dukedom, there is a consequence which must restore the natural order. If this were a tragedy, the audience would expect the eventual death of the usurped and usurping power and some sort of return to a natural state. Where this play differs, however, is how that natural order is restored. In this regard it holds loosely to the conventions of Shakespeare’s comedies in its subsequent movement toward redemption.

The Central Theme

This idea of redemption is, effectively, the most central theme of The Tempest. The storm that sets the scene in the beginning is the result of the upset natural order that has occurred previous to the action of the play, and it is the first step toward its restoration. In essence, the storm is an uprising of the natural against the unnatural—a violent and corrective rearranging of nature. It is fitting, in this light then, that Prospero has the power to manipulate the natural world as it is he against whom nature has been set. The audience may be concerned at first that Prospero’s intentions are inclined toward revenge rather than reconciliation, but the action quickly extinguishes these concerns. Though Prospero effectively rules with the power of a god, his use of power never becomes abusive or self-serving. He loves his daughter dearly and naturally, unlike previous Shakespearean fathers such as King Lear, nor does he attempt to repress her love for Ferdinand. Additionally, he grants mercy and forgiveness to those who wronged him despite his potential power over them.

Familiar Shakespearean Motifs

The story of The Tempest resurrects familiar themes of appearance and illusion versus reality which were extremely prevalent in many of Shakespeare’s earlier plays. As Prospero tells Ferdinand, “Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, / And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, / Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep” (4.1.154-158). This speech is remarkably reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and expresses a similar duality of human nature, namely the coexistence and interdependence of illusion and reality and its role in human existence.

Unfamiliar Structure

One thing about The Tempest that seems markedly different structurally than many of Shakespeare’s other works is its tightly woven order. Whereas in plays such as Henry IV where months pass by, this play does not allow for an unnatural time differential between the drama and reality. The play is exclusively focused on the present, which stands out when compared to others. Also present is the harmonious working of parallels in characters and symmetry between plots and subplots. Both of these elements serve to ground the play in reality and advance the order and reconciliation being developed.

The Bigger Picture

Through a study of the works of Shakespeare, a reader can gain compelling insight of human nature—it’s vices from his tragedies and its redemption from his comedies. The Tempest is a compelling culmination of these two disparate elements. Humans are truly the rarest, most remarkable blend of dirt and magic, of mind and matter, of natural and unnatural, of destruction and redemption.


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      mif 2 months ago

      Hi.Thank you for your useful hub.

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      esha 5 years ago

      Hi emichael its really a amazing novel king lear I want to read some more novels plz tell me name of some interesting novels

    • emichael profile image

      emichael 5 years ago from New Orleans

      Thanks for reading, esha :)

      Romeo and Juliet was great. If you enjoy Shakespeare's tragedies, my favorite is King Lear. Definitely check that one out if you haven't already.

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      esha 5 years ago

      awesome writer i love shakespeares novels my faverate novel romeo and juliet

    • emichael profile image

      emichael 6 years ago from New Orleans

      Thanks man :)

    • festersporling1 profile image

      Daniel Christian 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Wow, you're a very good writer!

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi again emichael :)

      Yes, it is a good play.

      I preferred 'Hamlet', though.

      I went to see that in Stratford, too, but in the Courtyard Theatre, because the main theatre was already closed.

      David Tennant and Patrick Stewart were in it, and I thought that it was brilliant!

      'Romeo and Juliet' is actually one of my favourites.

      I love it :)

    • emichael profile image

      emichael 6 years ago from New Orleans

      Oh wow...I bet that was amazing. I've seen a Shakespeare play performed only once, at the Shakespeare Theater in Chicago. It was Romeo and Juliet - probably my least favorite of his, but I couldn't pass up a chance to see one performed. I had an opportunity to visit London once with a couple friends, and we went by the Globe but unfortunately didn't get a chance to see anything performed there.

      But if I'm ever able to make it over to your side of the world again, Stratford is near the top of my list.

      I enjoyed this play a lot. Thanks for reading and for your comment :)

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      I saw 'The Tempest', at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, a few years ago, before it was re-built.

      I really enjoyed the play. Patrick Stewart starred as Prospero.

      Coincidentally, it was one of the plays I studied afterwards for A' Level. I was interested in your comments about the Redemption theme.