Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The tempest that begins the play, and which puts
all of Prospero’s enemies at his disposal, symbolizes the suffering
Prospero endured, and which he wants to inflict on others. All of
those shipwrecked are put at the mercy of the sea, just as Prospero
and his infant daughter were twelve years ago, when some loyal friends
helped them out to sea in a ragged little boat (see I.ii.
The object of chess is to capture the king. That, at the
simplest level, is the symbolic significance of Prospero revealing
Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess in the final scene. Prospero
has caught the king—Alonso—and reprimanded him for his treachery.
In doing so, Prospero has married Alonso’s son to his own daughter
without the king’s knowledge, a deft political maneuver that assures
Alonso’s support because Alonso will have no interest in upsetting
a dukedom to which his own son is heir. This is the final
move in Prospero’s plot, which began with the tempest. He has maneuvered the
different passengers of Alonso’s ship around the island with the
skill of a great chess player.
Caught up in their game, Miranda and Ferdinand also symbolize something
ominous about Prospero’s power. They do not even notice the others
staring at them for a few lines. “Sweet lord, you play me false,”
Miranda says, and Ferdinand assures her that he “would not for the
world” do so (V.i.
Like the tempest, Prospero’s books are a symbol
of his power. “Remember / First to possess his books,” Caliban says
to Stephano and Trinculo, “for without them / He’s but a sot” (III.ii.