Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Masters and Servants
Nearly every scene in the play either explicitly or implicitly portrays a relationship between a figure that possesses power and a figure that is subject to that power. The play explores the master-servant dynamic most harshly in cases in which the harmony of the relationship is threatened or disrupted, as by the rebellion of a servant or the ineptitude of a master. For instance, in the opening scene, the “servant” (the Boatswain) is dismissive and angry toward his “masters” (the noblemen), whose ineptitude threatens to lead to a shipwreck in the storm. From then on, master-servant relationships like these dominate the play: Prospero and Caliban; Prospero and Ariel; Alonso and his nobles; the nobles and Gonzalo; Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban; and so forth. The play explores the psychological and social dynamics of power relationships from a number of contrasting angles, such as the generally positive relationship between Prospero and Ariel, the generally negative relationship between Prospero and Caliban, and the treachery in Alonso’s relationship to his nobles.
Water and Drowning
The play is awash with references to water. The Mariners
enter “wet” in Act I, scene i, and Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo
enter “all wet,” after being led by Ariel into a swampy lake (IV.i.
The isle is indeed, as Caliban says, “full
of noises” (III.ii.