The Tempest: Manipulation

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As a final farewell to theatre, William Shakespeare wrote The Tempest. In this tragicomedy, Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, have been stuck on an island for twelve years with their slave, Caliban, and Prospero’s secret servant, Ariel. To get revenge on his brother, Antonio, for overthrowing him from rule, Prospero concocts a tempest to bring him, his entourage, and Alonso, a conspirator, to the island, where he plans to regain his throne. The constant struggle and desire for power results in manipulation.

Consequently, one theme illustrated is that manipulation can be seen in three forms: physical, verbal, and musical. For instance, physical control is seen when Prospero subjects Caliban to serve him with harsh threats. Then, verbal manipulation is seen when Antonio persuades Sebastian to kill Alonso in order to gain his throne. Finally, Ariel manipulates a drunken group with melodic tunes in order to lead them to Prospero, which is seen as musical control. First, physical control, a form of manipulation, is seen when Prospero commands Caliban to serve him with extreme threats.

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To get revenge on his brother, Antonio, for stealing his kingdom, Prospero creates a storm to shipwreck his brother and other targets. When he witnesses Miranda’s empathy for the crew aboard, he decides to tell her the story of how they ended up on the island. Afterwards, they decide to visit Caliban, their slave. The monstrous beast was taken under Prospero’s wing when they first arrived. They taught him how to speak; and in return Caliban showed them the island. But when Caliban tried to rape Miranda, Prospero turned him into their slave.

When the two visit Caliban, he curses at them and in return Prospero threatens, “For this, be sure, tonight thou shalt have cramps/ Side-stitches…Urchins … Thou shalt be pinched/ … each pinch more stinging… ” (1. 2. 389-394). Prospero promises to torment Caliban if he does not abide by his commands. Caliban wishes to be free and rule his island once again because it’s rightfully his; he was born into power, but had his kingdom stripped away, just as Prospero had his. In addition, Caliban resents learning their language but tells Prospero he enjoys being able to urse, which leads to more threats from him, “If thou neglect’st or dost unwillingly/ What I command, I’ll rack thee with old cramps/ Fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar/ That beasts shall tremble at thy din. ” (Prospero 1. 2. 443-446) Prospero threatens, once again, to give him more pain. These threats not only add to his physical torture but to his ever-growing paranoia. Caliban is always worrying about his next punishment. However, if Caliban hadn’t tried to violate Miranda, he wouldn’t have to undergo any torture. In spite of this, Prospero had no other choice but to punish him.

He had to control Caliban because he couldn’t trust him. His physical threats are a form of manipulation because Prospero has control over him; if Caliban doesn’t fulfill Prospero’s demands, he is punished, so to avoid this, he adheres to his master. Next, verbal control, another form of manipulation, is seen when Antonio persuades Sebastian to kill his brother, Alonso. While Ferdinand, the son of Alonso, is falling in love with Miranda, Alonso, Gonzalo, Antonio, and Sebastian are searching for him. Alonso believes Ferdinand is dead, which leaves him in a state of grief.

Gonzalo tries to lighten up the mood, but Antonio and Sebastian continue to point out the negative. At the same time, Ariel enters and plays solemn music to put all the men to sleep except Antonio and Sebastian, giving Antonio the perfect opportunity to manipulate him. At first, the two conclude that Ferdinand is dead, so the next heir to the throne is Alonso’s daughter, Claribel. But because she is married, Antonio persuades Sebastian to kill Alonso, while he would kill Gonzalo, so Sebastian would inherit the throne. To encourage him, Antonio says, “…And look how well my garments sit upon me/ Much feater than before.

My brother’s servants/ Were then my fellows; now they are my men” (2. 1. 313-315). This quote reveals Antonio has no moral center. His lust for power has corrupted him, leading him to kill his brother and he celebrates the rewards it’s given him. The men who served Prospero, now serve him, and Sebastian can have that, too, if he kills Alonso. This rhetorical control gives Antonio the upper hand, which allows Sebastian to envision himself as the new heir to the throne, “Thy case, dear friend/ Shall be my precedent: as thou got’st Milan/ I’ll come by Naples.

Draw thy sword. One stroke…” (Sebastian2. 1. 332-334). They both then draw their swords, ready to attack, when Ariel wakes Gonzalo with an urgent song which saves Alonso and Gonzalo from their murder. When Sebastian says as Antonio has Milan, he will have Naples, Alonso’s kingdom; this shows Antonio’s verbal manipulation worked. Sebastian now believes that if he kills Alonso, he will have all the power he has desired. Antonio has successfully persuaded Sebastian to kill Alonso, revealing that verbal control can be quite dangerous if used correctly.

Finally, when Ariel uses soothing melodies to lead the castaways to Prospero, this is seen as musical control, a form of manipulation. Meandering through the island are members of the shipwrecked party, Stephano, his jester friend Trinculo, and Caliban, their new servant. Ariel secretly watches the drunkards wander the island. Because of their altered state of reality, this gives Ariel a chance to manipulate the group, according to Prospero’s plan. First he instigates the group by calling out, “Thou liest,” in Trinculo’s voice, confusing Caliban, which causes both him, and Stephano to turn on the innocent Trinculo.

Then, the spirit plays a tune on the pipe and tabor-drum. Stephano and Trinculo call out to the mysterious musician, while Caliban calms them by saying, “Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises/ Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not,” (3. 2. 148-9). The delightful sounds are the manipulative tunes that Ariel plays. Afterwards, the group decides to follow the music when Trinculo says, “The sound is going away. Let’s follow it, and/ after do our work” (3. 2. 162-3). Ariel’s sweet harmonies have worked, because the drunkards want to follow the sound. Prospero’s plan for revenge is to have all the shipwrecked people brought to him so he can either forgive or punish them for what they have done. To follow through with his plot, Ariel must lead the groups to him by using his most effective tool: music. His manipulative songs alter their perception so that they are easily controlled. Music is a powerful force when it comes to manipulation; it adjusts the view of reality, which can ultimately lead to control. Physical control, verbal control, and musical control are all powerful forms of manipulation.

In reality, the people of today are easily persuaded. Whether it is by commercials, peer pressure, or political ads, people are easily swayed to believe something, either true or false. Similarly, in the Tempest, manipulation is easy to achieve. The characters are affected by tragedies or drunkenness, which makes them vulnerable. While in this state, any form of control can be used to persuade anyone on the island. But when physical, verbal, and musical manipulations are used, they are extremely powerful.

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The Tempest: Manipulation. (2016, Nov 27). Retrieved from

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