Published on April 15th, 2013 | by Thompson0
Some Props for Prospero
Last week I was rather critical of Prospero, who I felt was invasive and unsympathetic to Caliban and Ariel. I still believe this to be true, but Prospero does possess the most important of all qualities. He is aware of man’s fallibility and willing to forgive. This quality doesn’t come easily to him, however, as it takes 12 years of planning his vengeance and the guidance of Ariel to realize the folly of his ways.
They cannot budge till your release. The king,
His brother, and yours, abide all three distracted,
And the remainder mourning over them,
Brimful of sorrow and dismay. But chiefly
Him that you termed, sir, “the good old Lord Gonzalo,”
His tears run down his beard like winter’s drops
From eaves of reeds. Your charm so strongly works ’em
That if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.
Dost thou think so, spirit?
Mine would, sir, were I human. (Act V, Scene I)
Prospero requires Ariel to tell him how to treat his own kind. It would be like me asking a robot how to treat someone who had wronged me. Just another reason I have a problem with Prospero. In his 12 years of study you can’t tell me he came across nothing that allowed him to understand the human condition. What the hell was he reading? Obviously not too much literature, and since Ariel isn’t human, I think Shakespeare was trying to tell us more through Ariel than through Prospero. I see Ariel as a figment of fiction, a representation of everything Prospero was missing in his studies – art, music, literature – in a word, the humanities. He was exactly what Prospero needed to understand his people.
“Though with their high wrongs I am struck to the quick,
Yet, with my nobler reason, ‘gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance: they being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. Go release them, Ariel:
My charms I’ll break, their senses I’ll restore,
And they shall be themselves.” (Act V, Scene I)
I have delved into this question of “virtue over vengeance” and found some very relevant reading in Alina Tugend’s Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong. She writes, “Our response to errors grows out of deeply embedded cultural beliefs and values – beliefs and values we’re not even consciously aware of” (189). Prospero falls victim to his cultural beliefs and values, not even aware that he has erred in his treatment of his usurpers, Ariel, and especially Caliban. Prospero is remorseful for those errors only when Ariel tells him compassion will have a more positive effect on his enemies and revenge will only negatively affect himself. Prospero finally takes responsibility for Caliban saying, “this thing of darkness! / Acknowledge mine” (Act V, Scene I). It seems Prospero finally realized he had brought all this on himself in conducting his experiment on humanity, which is really all it is. The one thing he didn’t understand, humanity, couldn’t be found in the books he was reading, so he had to find another way to learn it – through a mistake.
Turgend quotes Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide, saying, “We need to learn from mistakes not just because it might be an emotionally healthier way to live, but also because, as Lehrer says, ‘expertise is simply the wisdom that emerges from cellular error. Mistakes aren’t to be discouraged. On the contrary, they should be cultivated and carefully investigated’” (25). It looks like I have plenty more reading to do regarding the benefits of mistakes and how Shakespeare was channeling this notion in his writing.