Throughout Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” fantasy does more than reality in curbing a character’s decisions. Nearly all realities change following the story’s climax due to fantasy replacing reality. The love between Ferdinand and Miranda is the only relationship in the work not totally reliant upon magic for its existence.
Prospero’s fake tempest begins the story not only textually, but also chronologically. The rest of the story flows from this one act of magic. This storm allows for the circumstantial positioning of the characters so that Prospero may have his way with them. While Prospero purposefully separates the stranded men into preconceived groups, reality still has its way through Miranda and Ferdinand’s intense love-at-first-sight. There is no evidence pointing to Prospero’s knowing beforehand that Ferdinand and Miranda would fall in love.
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The most pressing issue on Prospero’s agenda is his reinstatement as the Duke of Milan. To achieve this end, he takes advantage of perfect circumstances and uses magic to convolute reality beyond his initial fantastic storm.
By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune
(Now, my dear lady) hath mine enemies
Brought to this shore; and by my prescience
I find my zenith doth depend upon
A most auspicious star, whose influence
If now I court not, but omit, my fortunes
Will ever after droop. (I.2 178-184)
Through an unnatural apparition, he uses his sorcery to drive his foes, (Antonio, Sebastian and Alonso), to madness, as explained by one of King Alonso’s trusted advisors.
All three of them are desperate: their great guilt,
Like poison given to work a great time after,
Now ‘gins to bite the spirits. I do beseech you,
That are of suppler joints, follow them swiftly
And hinder them from what this ecstasy
May now provoke them to. (IV.1 105-109)
Once Prospero eventually releases them from this horrible trance, they all become repentant for their crimes against him, and he willingly forgives them. King Alonso then reestablishes him as the Duke of Milan.
Thy dukedom I resign and do entreat
Thou pardon me my wrongs. (V.1 118-119)
Sorcery is not the only magic used in the work. A drunken Stephano accidentally stumbles upon his ability to use alcohol as a means to be a god. Stephano and Trinculo use the washed-up barrel of sherry as a means to cast their own type of spell over Caliban. Under a drunken daze, Stephano moves to murder a fully informed Prospero in order to become King of the isle.
Monster, I will kill this man: his daughter and
I will be king and queen, save our graces! and Trinculo
And thyself shall be viceroys. (III.2 106-108)
Their plan eventually runs aground, and Prospero runs them into hiding.
The only exception to this fantastic theme is Miranda and Ferdinand’s love for one another. Shakespeare may be commenting on man’s inability to direct love even upon his being able to control the elements. Sorcery only supplements their passion for one another. While it does appear that Prospero arranged for Ferdinand and Miranda to find one another, he is taken by surprise at how deeply they fall in love with one another.
So glad of this as they cannot be,
Who are surprised withal; but my rejoicing
At nothing can be more. (III.1 92-94)
Fantasy plays a major role in controlling the reality within “The Tempest.” First, the shipwreck would never have happened were it not for Prospero’s sorcery. Also, Prospero pushes the King of Naples into admitting his wrongs with his magic. Caliban’s delusional devotion to drunken Stephano arises out of a mistaking of reality. Ferdinand and Miranda’s falling in love is one of the only actions in the work that springs out of a supernatural force belonging to reality. Shakespeare creates a delicate working between reality and fantasy in “The Tempest,” which fantasy seems to dominate.
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