The Tempest

by: William Shakespeare

Protagonist

Although The Tempest features many characters with their own plots and desires, Prospero is the main protagonist. Prospero sets the events of the play in motion by conjuring the terrible tempest that shipwrecks his enemies. The violence of the tempest indicates the magnitude of Prospero’s rage. After setting things in motion with the tempest, Prospero goes on to orchestrate all of the characters’ movements throughout the rest of the play. He starts by instructing his servant Ariel to place the castaways on three different parts of the island. Also with Ariel’s help, Prospero disorients the different groups of men, making them feel lost and helpless. He keeps up his manipulations of the island’s new inhabitants until the final act of the play, when he leads them all to the same place for the final scene of confrontation and reconciliation. The control he exerts over all other characters makes Prospero something even more than the play’s protagonist; he’s also a master manipulator, much like a puppeteer.

Prospero’s desire for revenge drives his manipulation of others. He manipulates the stranded characters in numerous ways. In separating the castaways Prospero makes each group believe the others have perished. This mistaken belief makes several plot points possible. Ferdinand, who believes he alone survived, is ready to pledge himself to Prospero and fall in love with Miranda. Alonso, who believes his son has died, loses all hope, which inspires Antonio and Sebastian to plot his assassination. Prospero also subtly manipulates Miranda into falling in love with Ferdinand as a part of his grand plan to resolve his conflict with Alonso. He hopes the union of their children will help heal the wound between them. What Prospero wants more than anything else is reconciliation. And reconciliation is precisely what he gets in the final act. With peaceful relations restored with Alonso and his men, Prospero gives up on magic and prepares for his return to power in Milan. The play, which begins with a violent tempest and concludes with calm celebration, parallels the trajectory of Prospero’s character arc. Whereas he starts off seething with rage and vengefulness, he eventually calms down and sets the stage for emotional appeasement.