The Tempest : Theme of Illusion Vs. Reality

 The Tempest:  Theme of Illusion Vs. Reality

Question : How is the theme of appearance and reality carried out in”The Tempest”.

Answer:  In ” The Tempest”, illusion vs reality is another very important theme which runs through the play. Throughout the play, Prospero uses his magic to create illusions, to control situation and to resolve the conflicts. At nearly every point in the play, Prospero’s magic gives him total control over the situations.

        In the play, Shakespeare makes use of two contrast worlds of illusion and reality. The reality behind every scene is quite different from what appears to the audience as  well as the characters.

     The main setting of the play is on an island over which Prospero has full control through his magic. Through his various spirits and their leader Ariel, Prospero generates most of the action of the play. In this way Shakespeare creates the world of illusion. However there is a total different reality hidden under this illusion which is very difficult for the characters to find out.

        The opening scene portrays a violent storm which appears to drag the ship into grave danger. But the reality of the situation is that there is no danger from the storm at all.  The passengers even the ship reach safely on shore. 

      Prospero, by means of Ariel, separated all the passengers into groups and made it appear to them that they are the only survivor of the shipwreck but in reality they all survived, nobody is harmed in the shipwreck. 

       The king, Alonso is separated from his son, Ferdinand and he is lamented for the supposed death of his son by drowning. Ariel’s song to Ferdinand about his father seem to state that the king is drowned but the reality is that he is alive and transformed to a better state.

        In the final scene, prospero tells Alonso that he has lost a daughter , just as the king has  lost a son. Alonso takes this to mean that Miranda has died, while in reality it simply denotes that the fathers have lost their children to love and marriage.

       Sebastian and Antonio show that they are loyal to  the king, Alonso, while in reality they are plotting against his life. Antonio himself is only an illusory duke as he has stolen the offices, and does not possess it by divine right. 

        Caliban worships Stephano as a god although Stephano’s power is no more than a drunken illusion. At the same time, he spurns Prospero, who is the real controller of his fate.

      All these illusions created by Prospero’s magic, give him control over situation to manipulate his enemies. At one point, Prospero even suggests that all of life is actually an illusion that vanishes with death:

     “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

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