The Tempest

by: William Shakespeare

What Does the Ending Mean?

The Tempest ends with a general sense of resolution and hope. After four acts in which Prospero uses magic to split up, disorient, and psychologically torture his enemies, in the final act he lures everyone to the same spot on the island and forgives Alonso and Antonio for their betrayal twelve years prior. The main event that heals the wounds of the past is the union between Miranda and Ferdinand. Alonso, who thought his son had died in the shipwreck, feels completely renewed when he sees that Ferdinand has, in fact, survived. Ferdinand’s engagement to Miranda establishes a bond of kinship between Alonso and Prospero, further bridging that rift that separates them. Miranda and Ferdinand’s union suggests the possibility for a new future, devoid of the kind of conflict that has driven the play. Miranda articulates this possibility for a new future when she expresses a sense of wonder at the “brave new world” (Vi.i) that has opened up for her. With the major conflict between Prospero and Alonso resolved, Prospero breaks his staff and gives up magic in preparation for his return to Milan.

Despite the resolution of the main conflict, the end of Shakespeare’s play also plants the seeds for possible future conflict. Miranda and Ferdinand’s engagement may help bring an end to the conflict of the previous generation, but a disagreement that arises during their game of chess in the final act suggests that new conflicts may hover on the horizon. First of all, the very fact that they are playing chess may bode ill. Chess is a game about regicide, meaning the assassination of a king. Given that the central conflict of The Tempest arose from the attempted assassination of Prospero while he was Duke of Milan, it seems striking that Miranda and Ferdinand would play a game that repeats the narrative of assassination—even if only metaphorically. Even more foreboding is Miranda’s accusation that Ferdinand has cheated: “Sweet lord, you play me false” (V.i.). Cheating in a game is not as serious as political betrayal. Nevertheless, it remains disconcerting that the sense of a new beginning that arises at the end of the play should be tinged with dishonesty. Will the next generation repeat the sins of the past?