The Tempest illustrates Shakespeare’s idea of power and how it is exercised. In the island where all the characters were brought together by the tempest, their individual desire for power and how they plan to achieve it shows how man constantly struggles to possess power and rule over others. This characteristic of man is explained in Friedrich Nietzsche’s view of power, which states that it is the Will to Power that drives man to desire control and achieve it. He explains that life is a plurality of forces striving after an increase in the feeling of power, until Superman, the highest status of human achievement in power, is achieved (Copleston 185). Once power is achieved, man rules by controling others in order to remain in power. It is this control that man finds himself locked in a struggle for freedom from the constraints of the good and evil that power possesses; the ruler from the strong desire to remain in power, and the subject from being ruled. This gives way to the question, “As man continues to struggle for power, does power give man control over power, or is it power that controls man?”
Prospero’s struggle to reclaim power illustrated the importance of exercising power properly for it to be effective. Although Prospero was already able to achieve power in the island, he wanted to get back the power that he once had in Milan. However, Prospero failed to realize that even with the power he already possessed, it was his method of exercising it that posed problems. According to Michael Foucault, “power is exercised rather than possessed” (26). Unlike the reason behind the characters’ struggle to possess it, Foucault points out that power is not a property that is owned, rather, it is only seen if it is exercised by some agents such as individuals or institutes. Foucault’s philosophy stresses out the importance of properly exercising power for it to be effective. In the story, it was Prospero’s cruel and deceptive exercise of power over Caliban and Ariel that pushed them to struggle for their freedom. It was also this struggle that compelled Stephano, with encouragement from Caliban, to want to kill Prospero and take over the control of the island.
Shakespeare demonstrated power in The Tempest through master/servant relationship. Caliban came to be Prospero’s slave when he arrived in the island with his daughter and enslaved everyone inhabiting it. This marked the beginning of colonial control. Sycorax, the original ruler of the island, was mother to Caliban, which made Caliban came ownership of the island. Prospero, wanting to take control of the island, asserted his power over Caliban through cruel and inhuman measures. This made Caliban despise Prospero, pushing him to want to end his enslavement by plotting his death. In Act III Scene II, Caliban offered Stephano a chance to kill Prospero, “With this half hour will he be asleep. Wilt thou destroy him then?” (Shakespeare). Even though by aiding Stephano in killing Prospero would mean that Caliban would still be a slave, he still went on with it but ended up failing.
Ariel, the sprite that was also Prospero’s slave, was also a victim of Prospero’s assertion of power. Despite being promised to be freed, Ariel was forced to do Prospero’s evil biddings. It was through Ariel’s magical powers that the tempest was made, which lead Alonso and his company to get stranded in the island. However, after completing Prospero’s orders, he was still not set free as Prospero still had tasks for him to complete. Ariel complained, saying “Remember I have done thee worthy service, Told thee no lies, made thee no mistakings, serv’d Without or grudge or grumblings.” This sacrifice, according to Nietzsche, is necessary for the pursuit of power. His view, a contradiction to the hedonist belief that life is merely pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. Nietzsche describes pleasure as the feeling of increased power, while pain is the feeling of hindrance to the will to power. Ariel recognizes that in order for him to be free from Prospero’s controls, he had to fulfill his last wishes. His freedom, a representation of power, lies on his sacrifice or pain.
Although Foucault describes freedom as both the condition and the effect of power, an idea that is parallel to Ariel gaining freedom from Prospero’s control, the belief that he was under Prospero’s power was first and foremost not possible. Foucault states that “no one can exericse power without freedom, nor can power be exercised on beings that are not free” (Dalgliesh 179). He further explained that the assertion of power can be likened to a game of chess, wherein “such power is not only the function of the capturing of the chess pieces but also the result of the possible resistance from the opposed set” (Dalgiesh 180). Thus, with Ariel’s enslavement, as well as that of Caliban, both possessed freedom. In Caliban’s case, this could be explained by his collaboration with Stephano in killing Prospero. This could also be liken to the insrugencies that have occured in history, such as that of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna against dictator Francisco Francos, The Communist Party of Peru and the North Caucasus Insurgency in Russia, to name a few. Despite being under the control of Prospero, Caliban still had the freedom to oppose and try to overpower him by seeking the help of someone who also has power.
Prospero’s assertion of his power was best described when he orchestrated the tempest that had Alonso and his company to be stranded in the island. In doing so, he also exploited his power over Ariel, Fernando and Miranda. It was his plan to marry his daughter Miranda to Fernando, Alonso’s heir to the throne, in order for him to regain his power in Milan. This he did without Miranda’s knowledge, an exercise of power through deception. According to
In the island, Sebastian and Antonio showed how their struggle for power controlled their behavior to do evil an evil deed, which was to kill Alonso while he slept. In this scene, Sebastian persuaded Antonio to kill Alonso for him to become King of Naples as Ferdinand, Alonso’s son whom they believe to be already dead, would not be there to take over the throne, and Claribel, Alonso’s daughter, was too far away to claim the throne. This situation is reinforces Niezsche’s belief that “rank is determined by quanta of power” (Copleston 223). According to him, the mediocre majority may at times possess greater power than those individuals who are not mediocre. When Alonso started to agree, Sebastian asked him if he feelt guilt over his treachery in sending away his brother Prospero. Alonso replied that he did not, “Ay, sir, where lies that? If ‘twere a kibe, ‘Twould put me to my slipper”. This sentiment also mirrors Nietzsche’s belief that one’s tremendous power to use and exploit the environment and to create forms from within is a way of achieving power. In killing Antonio, Alonso will be able to overcome the obstacle to power that Antonio represented. This desire was reinforced when he indicated his discontent about having Alonso king who replaced Prospero, when it was both of them who got rid of his brother.
The characters in the story showed the different ways of struggle for power. Although some were moved to do evil deeds such as killing, some were forced to obey orders in order to gain power. Despite the differences in focus in Nietzsche and Foucault’s view about power, both acccept the universality of the will to power. It is human nature to seek power, and the charactes in the story attested to this. However, in these cases, it was clearly shown that it was their great desire for power that made them do such things. Caliban plotted with Stephano to kill Prospero to take control of the island and for Caliban to be free, Antonio and Sebastian almost killed Alonso to be king in Naples, Prospero abused Ariel in order to fulfill his revenge on Alonso and Antonio and designed for Miranda and Ferdinand to get married in order to regain power in Milan. The struggle for power took different forms, but the motivation behind their desire to gain it took its roots from power itself. It can be concluded that as man develops the will to power, it is not man that ends up controlling power but it is power that controls man. This belief is parallel to that of Schopenhauer, who stated that “will makes the burden out of one’s existence” and that “will is the source of evil” (Copleston 220). As people continue to struggle for power, power takes control of people. However, as Tsao’s vision stated in Dreams of the Red Mansions: man forever tries to secure power and increase power by exercising power, hardly knowing that any struggle with power for power is but a dream at last.”
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Harvard Classics. 1909-14. Web.
Copleston, S.J. Frederick. A History of Philosophy. New York: Doubleday, 1994.
mail.ftbbs.com. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.
Dalgliesh, Bregham. “Critical History: Foucault After Kant and Nietzsche.” Parrhesia.
Vol.18. (2013): 68-84. Web.
Cavalier, Robert. “Understanding Nietzsche’s Will to Power.” Carnegie Mellon University.
Web. 2 Mar. 2014.