Prospero and Love in ‘The Tempest’

From the Lecture Series: How to Read and Understand Shakespeare

By Marc C. Conner, Ph.D., Washington and Lee University

Prospero is a sorcerer aided by a spirit-angel, casting spells on the island he lives in and trying to fulfill his plans. He loves his daughter so much that he protects her from all men and their potential dangers. However, his daughter’s love for a man called Ferdinand is at the heart of one of his plans. Why this contradiction?

A painting of a young woman sadly looking at a storm in the sea.
In order to block his daughter’s love, Prospero, a sorcerer, creates a storm. (Image: John William Waterhouse/Public domain)

Shakespeare’s The Tempest is best understood by reading and considering all the elements of romance, tragedy, and comedy in it. He breaks many conventions in The Tempest and, in general, his last four plays. These plays are called tragicomedies. To understand The Tempest, recognizing and understanding elements of comedy are also essential.

Learn more about The Tempest-Shakespeare’s farewell to art.

The Block to Young Love in The Tempest

The most important element of comedy is the block to young love. In The Tempest, Prospero takes that role, but his importance as a character reaches beyond this block. He is a magician, and right at the beginning of the play, he reveals to his daughter that he has created the storm.

Miranda, his daughter, is saddened because of the suffering Prospero has imposed on the sailors with the storm. He tells her that he has done so with the sole purpose of protecting her. This is a very clear hint that Prospero will be the block to young love.

This is a transcript from the video series How to Read and Understand Shakespeare. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

The Suffering

Long periods of suffering are common in romances. Prospero tells Miranda the story of how he came to the island with her. Many years ago, his brother usurped his throne and put Prospero and Miranda on a boat to send them away. They finally landed on the island, and Prospero raised her alone and educated her over the intervening 12 years.

The 12 years was the period of suffering. However, the play is more than just this. It is also the story of a brother’s treason, outrage, and injustice. However, the romantic plot is not vengeance-oriented. When the story of the 12 years ends, the romance begins, where Miranda will play a leading role.

Plot of Vengeance in The Tempest

Prospero is still obsessed with revenge, and gets an opportunity because his enemies had just arrived on his island. He puts Miranda to magical sleep and commands his servant spirit, Ariel, to appear.

In the conversations between the two, Prospero reveals what had happened to the ship and how Prospero gained control over Ariel and Caliban, the half-human creature who also, quite unwillingly, serves him.

Ariel is not happy with Prospero because things that he has promised him have not come true yet, while he is a good servant. He wants his liberty, but Prospero raves and threatens him with imprisonment.

Young Love in The Tempest

A painting depicting Prospero and Miranda in The Tempest.
Prospero tries to protect and control his daughter. (Image: William Maw Egley/Public domain)

Ferdinand is the son of the King of Naples, who dies in the storm. He sees Miranda as he is lamenting the death of his father and instantly falls in love with her beauty. She also falls in love with him, and Prospero decides that he wanted the union to happen. His extreme demand for control wants the marriage to happen as he wants to bring his own dukedom of Naples and also the kingdom of Milan together.

For a start, he accuses Ferdinand of espionage and places him in bondage. When Miranda tries to defend him, Prospero threatens her, too. He wants the couple to get the love with difficulties and learn its worth so that they create a much stronger bond.

Learn more about comic tools in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Ferdinand’s Labor

When Ferdinand is bearing thousands of logs into a pile, he says:

This my mean task
Would be as heavy to me as odious, but
The mistress which I serve quickens what’s dead, And makes my labors pleasures.

The phrase “quickens what’s dead” refers to the part of him that died with his father’s death. He knows that Miranda can bring that part back to life as well.

Here, the suffering goes on for a long time but ends with the resurrection of hope and life. When Miranda and Ferdinand confess their love for each other, Prospero is watching them although he is invisible. He becomes very happy that his plan has worked out as bringing their love to fruition is a major reason why he is able to let go of his more sinister plan for vengeance on those who had wronged him.

Prospero eventually changes in the play, up to the point that he no longer wants to take revenge. Thus, the sentiment of forgiveness overtakes him and ends the romance as it should.

Common Questions about Prospero in The Tempest

Q: Who is Miranda?

Miranda is Prospero’s daughter. She falls in love with Ferdinand, and then he has to go through many tests to assure Prospero that he is a worthy son-in-law.

Q: Does Prospero create the block to young love in The Tempest?

Yes. Prospero has a daughter who falls in love with a man called Ferdinand as a part of Prospero’s plan. However, when they fall in love, Prospero is the caring father who wants to make sure Ferdinand is the right man for Miranda.

Q: Why is Prospero happy with Miranda and Ferdinand’s love?

Prospero has a plan at the heart of which is bringing Miranda and Ferdinand together. When they fall in love, he becomes happy as his plan is going well.