Throughout The Tempest the underlying theme of power entrances the characters into a damaging mindset. The use will ultimately turn to abuse and so strip the characters of all authority they may have gained. Essentially the theme works as power versus desire. It is the desire of the characters that will eventually lead them to the world of affluent power that is sort by every man.
The most significant character, Prospero is the central catalyst in the battle for control in the play and is used by Shakespeare to dramatise the exercise of power by creating these flamboyant scenes to boast about his supremacy in the play. Especially the extravagant ‘Masque’ he crafts. He uses his power only to increase his social standing and nurse his broken ego. He is controlled by revenge because of his usurpation from Milan. He feels a need to fight against his brother and the king who have so maliciously deserted him on the forsaken island. In turn the jealousy and desire for revenge controls the way he uses his power and formulates manipulativeness in his personality which is shown through his command over Ariel and Caliban. It is ironic that he is so livid with Antonio, his brother for banishing him to the island and amazed that he could be so brutal to him, yet he has no reservations about holding Ariel and Caliban. The most powerful thing he controls is Ariel. Ariel has a lot of power, as made known when he performs great tasks such as creating the tempest. Prospero has enough power to control Ariel which gave him even greater intensity. Prospero is the leader of the enchanted island because of his magic powers. He can control the island however he likes, and he always seems to know exactly when and where something is going to happen. He had lost Milan but he gained a new empire, the enchanted island.
Prospero delves so far into corruption even his ‘spirit’ has to remind him of his ‘human’ feelings and so showing his weakness of being so drunk with power he cannot control his ‘human’ emotions. It is also Ariel that turns Prospero’s rage into forgiveness. Although it can be argued that Prospero uses his power and control for the greater good, he freed Ariel from the tree that ‘Sycorax had banished’ him to and he blessed his daughter and Ferdinand’s wedding with awe-inspiring Masque. Prospero is certainly highlighted by power and without this and his magic, he could do nothing and would be demoted insignificant. It is his possession of magical knowledge that gives him plenty of power.
Prospero’s magical knowledge was bestowed upon him by ‘the good lord’ Gonzalo, who has managed to be the only character to stay away from power and not get involved in it. He is perhaps the most powerful character as he is exempt from the corruption. The ‘good lord’ is indeed wise as he has witnessed the wrong doings of the rich and powerful and it has only brought a melancholy atmosphere to the play. Alonso lost his son to The Tempest, Prospero lost all control of his feelings, and Caliban, who is a savage, lost all dignity by an attempted rape of Miranda and consequently lost his authority. Gonzalo is the role model in the play to the other characters. He is always optimistic and sees the bright side of life. He has a vast care for all the characters, even Stephano and Trinculo who make fun of him. Although being socially insignificant he rises above the falseness with his caring, forgiving nature and ascends over the isolated failures in the hierarchy.
Many of the characters cannot handle the responsibility of having power. Even the king Alonso, who had greatness thrust upon him, loses all integrity in the play and becomes a coward which ultimately contradicts his title. Alonso’s courtiers are almost caught under the islands trance like setting and desire power for themselves after encountering Caliban, the savage, and exploiting his knowledge of the island. The three drunkards squabble over who shall be king and plot to murder their leader. Power corrupted their minds into withstanding murderous thoughts and treachery towards their loyal monarch. They create a parody of the use of power as it had distorted their minds and altered their personalities for the worse. The Tempest deals with power. Power in many forms. In it’s barest form, the plot sees Prospero regain political power which has been stolen from him by a scheme led by his brother Antonio. Stripped of his social power, Prospero uses magical power to achieve his ends. The world is out of balance and a godlike Prospero uses mystic forces to bring stability.
Overall, man’s overwhelming desire for power is contradicted by the responsibility of keeping a rational mind. All the characters have a certain amount of power; the key is maintaining it and not letting it maroon you on an isolated island where insomnia will get the better of you. The use and abuse of power defiantly is a major part of the play and manipulates the characters who exploit each other to appear the strongest in the cycle that will ultimately end sorrowfully.