The Tempest

by: William Shakespeare

Point of View

Shakespeare primarily frames the action of The Tempest through Prospero’s point of view, which makes sense since Prospero’s motivations drive the plot. Prospero’s backstory sets the stage for the play, and his magic and cunning set the play’s events into motion. Shakespeare gives the sorcerer many opportunities to speak, often at length. In Prospero’s first scene, he delivers speeches in which he recounts the story of his exile from Milan, praises his daughter, threatens Ariel, and insults Caliban. Throughout the rest of the play, Prospero commands spirits and manipulates others. Although he may only spend a small amount of time onstage in acts 2 and 3, his actions and motivations continue to guide the plot, anchoring the story to his perspective. In the final act Prospero returns to the spotlight and delivers his longest speeches yet. This return to center stage reminds the audience that despite the many scenes not involving him, Prospero has orchestrated these events with the sole aim of securing a happy ending for his own story.

Even though Shakespeare tends to privilege Prospero’s perspective, he does not necessarily bias the audience toward the sorcerer’s view of things. Shakespeare also gives voice to characters who reject Prospero’s domineering nature and the fact that he has taken over the island. Early in the play Ariel expresses dissatisfaction about having to wait for Prospero to grant him freedom, while Caliban speaks and acts directly against his master. When Caliban enters for the first time, he immediately curses Prospero. He then delivers a speech in which he recounts and condemns Prospero’s villainy. In later scenes, Caliban takes his resistance further, conspiring with Stephano and Trinculo to assassinate Prospero and reclaim the island. By showcasing Caliban’s point of view in this way, Shakespeare complicates Prospero’s perspective. If Prospero’s motivations derive from having been deposed and stripped of his power, then is it not hypocritical of him to have done the same thing to Caliban and the other island inhabitants?

Whereas Acts 1 and 5 center on Prospero, the events in Acts 2 through 4 alternate between the perspectives of various groups of individuals on separate parts of the island. This shifting point of view indicates the differences between the various groups. Alonso and his retinue all belong to the ruling class, and much of what this group focuses on has to do with matters of a court that is far away. By contrast, Stephano and Trinculo serve the ruling class, and their scenes of drunken jocularity could not be further from the solemnity of the perspective offered by either Prospero or Alonso and company. The shifts in point of view also create a sense of dramatic irony, where the audience understands things the character don’t. Although many characters believe other characters have perished in the tempest, the audience knows that this is not the case. This form of dramatic irony indicates to the audience that the play’s events likely lead toward a peaceful resolution rather than toward tragedy.