‘When No Man Was His Own’: Magic and Self-Discovery in The Tempest
‘When No Man Was His Own’: Magic and Self-Discovery in The Tempest In the article, ‘When No Man Was His Own’: Magic and Self-Discovery in The Tempest, Ellen R. Belton explains, in detail, the way Prospero’s magic helps characters find their true identities (128). Belton writes that Prospero’s magic has two sides: manipulation of nature and spirits of nature; and the attempted manipulation of human beings (127). Prospero’s success in natural magic is considerable while, according to Belton, he is “deluded about his own accomplishments” with his manipulation of human beings (127-128).
The magic Prospero has touches characters in three ways: physical coercion, control over his victims’ senses, and a type of hypnosis on his victims’ conscience (128). The last of which, according to Ellen, is the most important in Prospero’s task of testing all the inhabitants and visitors of the island. Belton goes on to list numerous other literary pieces and says none strike parallel with The Tempest (129). Belton suggests that, because of the sleep like trace Prospero puts his victims under, the characters compare their trances to dreams because it is the closest thing they can relate to (129).
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In her article, Belton includes a detailed story explaining instances where the power to paralyse, silence, or even induce sleep is used to overcome the magician’s victims (130). Prospero uses his ability to intoxicate his inhabitants, as stated before, to test the inhabitants of the island. Belton uses the example of Miranda’s trance and compares it to that of the charmed lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and writes that this trance like state proves Miranda and Ferdinand’s affection is from an intuitive force that recognizes their affinity for each other (131).
Belton continues to describe other scenes in which Prospero tests each character and in turn, each character’s true nature is shown to the audience (131). Belton believes Prospero is saying that “sanity and reason, at least in ‘men of sin,’ interfere with self-knowledge’ (133). In the case of the third group, Belton writes, reason for Prospero’s art is nonexistent. Prospero does not need to use his magic on Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban while they are drunk because this is the equivalent of the trances and they are faced with no true challenges.
Their drinking only further shows their degraded nature and, according to Belton, it soon becomes a form of punishment. Prospero then presents their degraded character this way because when they’ve lost reason, they’ve lost the highest, and possibly the only, faculty they have. The Elizabethan interpretation of human behavior and the Neoplatonic philosophy exist side by side in The Tempest. Although Prospero says he has a traditional view of the human soul, Belton writes, his magic seems to show his view consisting of ‘mind’ ‘reason,’ and sense. The intuition mentioned earlier between Miranda and Ferdinand explains their inability to profit from Prospero’s magic. Finally, Belton writes, each character is eventually tested in two ways (135). First, Prospero reveals the ‘unique qualities’ of each character. Second, each character’s vulnerability to corruption is tested, Belton explains. Prospero liberates the human soul in The Tempest. Eventually, Belton writes, Prospero brings each character together and puts them in a type of moral hierarchy. While the audience, as well as Prospero knows the strengths and weaknesses of each character, the characters also know what has happened.
Belton states it is clear that Prospero reserves special affection for those who have remained perfect even though temptation was put in front of them. All this leads to one question Belton and the audience still have – does Prospero himself experience a similar self-discovery? Belton describes a detachment of Prospero’s own behavior and states that there remains conflicts and contradictions in Prospero’s handling of the sorcerer’s calling which suggest that his sense of his own identity is still incomplete (135). In her article, ‘When No Man Was His Own’: Magic and Self-Discovery in The Tempest, Ellen R.
Belton explains, in detail, the way Prospero’s magic helps characters find their true identities (128). Belton gives descriptions from other literary pieces to compare to The Tempest and states that Prospero’s ability to put his victims in a trance-like state is similar to other magicians, but no other magicians can parallel to The Tempest. Belton believes the most significant self-discovery of all characters in The Tempest is that of Prospero. Analysis: In the article, ‘When No Man Was His Own’: Magic and Self-Discovery in The Tempest, Ellen R.
Belton explains, in detail, the way Prospero’s magic helps characters find their true identities (128). Belton ultimately uses her article to show that the most significant self-discovery of all characters in The Tempest is that of Prospero. Many critics, including Belton, say magic is the weapon Prospero used against his victim, but another, just as important weapon he uses, is language, and Prospero is not the only character to use this weapon. Throughout most plays, magic effects would normally be written in the stage directions, but in The Tempest, when Prospero casts a spell, he announces its effects aloud.
In his first onstage spell in Act 1, Scene 2, he tells Miranda “Thou art inclined to sleep. ” She is suddenly drowsy and after this, Prospero repeats the spell on Ferdinand and the same happens to him. He states the change in condition, and it happens. Prospero not only uses this effect on Miranda and Ferdinand, but on his slave as well. Prospero is never witnessed hurting Caliban, but Caliban is threatened time after time. Prospero only announces his threats in exact detail and Caliban dares to challenge Prospero’s power over characters with his mastery of language.
Although Prospero certainly uses language as a weapon the most in The Tempest, others use this method as well. Ariel, Prospero’s servant spirit, uses language sometimes in the form of songs. In Act 2, Scene 1, Gonzalo is woken with the song “If of life you keep a care / Shake off slumber and beware / Awake! ” Then, Antonio and Sebastian are stopped from murdering Alonso. This is only a small example of Ariel’s use of language as a weapon. In Act 3, Scene 2, Ariel uses his language more deliberately by imitating Trinculo’s voice and calls Caliban a liar. This causes a ‘fight’ among the characters who wished to overthrow Prospero.
Because of this use of language, the overthrowing of Prospero is derailed and in this scene, Prospero’s source of power is seen to be in his books. Later, when Ariel visits as a Harpy, Alonso and Gonzalo draw their swords to defend themselves. Ariel says “your swords are now too massy for your strengths / And you will not be uplifted. ” Caliban also attempts to use language as a weapon against Prospero just as Prospero used it against Caliban. Caliban tells that he tried to rape Miranda, but instead of saying he is sorry for it like most would, he says he wishes he would have finished the act so that he could have “peopled . . . This isle with Calibans” (I. ii. 353-354). He insists over and over again that Prospero stole the island from him with flattering words. When Prospero lists all of Caliban’s shortcomings, Caliban can only reply with curse words. If words are a source of power as we believe, then Prospero’s ability to overpower Caliban is only through words. Caliban sees this and he believes that if he outdoes Prospero in this cursing match, then his freedom is closer to being achieved. In the end, Caliban only gives up because he fear Prospero’s magic, which he says is so powerful that it would enslave even his witch-mother’s god, Setebos.
Throughout The Tempest, the inhabitants and visitors of the island are all subject to Prospero and his magical allies. The source of their ‘magic’ is really in their language. Language is not only Prospero’s magic, but his key to power on the island. Language and the use of words for power is something Shakespeare and Prospero both value above all else. Shakespeare uses this play to show that words, no matter big or small, have an effect on all human race and can change the way we perceive reality.