to the theater, and while many of Shakespeare’s plays make reference to the
audience is viewing a show. Thus, in the play’s final scene (Act I, scene i., ll.148ff),
Prospero tells his prospective son-in-law Ferdinand that the revels at hand
are almost at an end, that the actors are
about to retire, and that the “insubstantial pageant” of which he has been
a part has reached its conclusion. It is, in fact, tempting to equate the
character of Prospero with that of his creator, the playwright
When Prospero sheds his magician’s robes in favor of his civilian attire
as the Duke of Milan, with the benefit of hindsight that this is
Shakespeare’s last work and his crowning achievement, we are disposed to associate the
learned sorcerer with the Bard of Avon. How far we are to take this
identification, however, is moot.
mature man with a daughter (Shakespeare, in fact, had two daughters, his
only son dying in childhood) at the height of his intellectual and
library that so absorbed him that it was, “dukedom large enough” (I, ii.
l.110). Prospero displays a tinge of regret for having neglected his
virtually all of Shakespeare’s biographers have observed, the Elizabethan
playwright’s knowledge was exceedingly broad, leading many to speculate
that he pursued a number of vocations before settling into a life in the
theater, and we know from textual correspondences that Shakespeare was broadly read
and that he continued to absorb knowledge from diverse publications until his
death. We can also speculate that Shakespeare regretted remaining away
years between his composition of that play and his untimely death at the
age of fifty-two.
itself. After the pageant of the goddesses who bless the union of Miranda
and Ferdinand, Prospero explains that the effigies which they have seen
are “Spirits, which by mine art/I have from their confines call’d to enact/My
present fancies” (IV, i., ll.120-121). Prospero underscores that what is
taking place in the play is under his control and is, in fact, his
shipwreck at the start of the play, her father reassures her that despite the
harmed in the least. Like the playwright/director/producer that
Shakespeare was, Prospero remains in the background. Rather than confront the “three
sinners” directly, he assigns the task of telling Alonso, Antonio, and
Sebastian why they have been brought to the island and of their need to
repent to Ariel, the magician remaining hidden from their view.
We gain the sense that Prospero performs multiple functions in the theater
of his own creation. Among these roles is that of critic. Prospero
repeatedly assesses the performance of his actors. Thusё in Act III, scene
iii, he says to Ariel, “Bravely the figure of this harpy hast
thou/Perform’d, my Ariel” (III, iii., ll.81-82), He also places Ferdinand
in the role of a traitor/lackey and judges the young man’s performance of
that part as a means of determining his worthiness to wed Miranda. To his
credit, Prospero also critiques his own direction, apologizing to Ferdinand for
inflicting punishments upon him that may have seemed too austere (IV, i.,
ll.1-2). Like Shakespeare, then, Prospero’s relation to the theater is
most spectacular scenes and its over-arching dramatic lines, he is the director
of others, and, lastly, he acts as critic of the performances turned in by
his actors and his own part in the play.
Shakespeare’s plays were performed on an outdoor stage without lighting.
Starting in the early afternoon, they had to be completed before sundown
Hamlet. That being so, both the amount of time elapsed and the occurrence
capacity as stage manager, Prospero is continuously concerned with time.
At the very start of the play, Prospero says to Miranda that “The hour is now
come/The very minute bids thee ope ear” (I, ii., ll.37-38) to the story of
beforehand. The reason that it is time for Miranda to learn of her
background (and it is remarkable that she has not asked about it sooner)
lies in dramatic circumstance: it is time for Miranda to be told who she
is because the miscreants who wronged her and her father are now in lace to
repent of their misdeeds. Prospero repeatedly alludes to the need to keep
instances coming at the start of Act V, when he proclaims to Ariel and his
audience, “Now does my project gather to a head,” (V, i., l.1).
making sure that the proceedings occur within the allotted time period, in
proper order, and at the exact moment in the story’s progression.
Nevertheless, the identification between Prospero and Shakespeare is not
exact. For one thing, Prospero on the Island and in Milan, is an
aristocrat, a noble bound by solemn obligation to rule over his subjects. Shakespeare,
on the other hand, while honored by royalty never rose above the upper
ranks of the Elizabethan middle-class. By the same token, Prospero has no
commercial life, no concern with money or material gain. The same cannot
be said of his creator, Shakespeare having extensive financial interests in
real estate, commodity trading, and, above all, the theater itself.