Lesson 14: Is Shakespeare Innocent?


The Tempest

  • Among the shortest, simplest of all Shakespeare's plays.
  • Sweet and romantic¡Xprince, princess, island, magic, fairies
  • Romance genre¡Xnatural setting, marvel, wish fulfillment.
  • But, also political, racial, social.


  • One-woman cast!
  • Prospero's absolute control of Miranda.
  • Prospero's mentioning of his wife (the absent mother in Shakespeare).
  • Prospero's contempt for Sycorax.
  • Caliban's monstrous lack of a father (while it is perfectly ok for Miranda to lack a mother).


  • Legitimacy¡Xwhy is Antonio not the appropriate ruler, if Prospero has abandoned his dukedom for his study anyway?
  • Witchcraft¡Xwhat is the difference between white and black magic? If it is right to banish Sycorax, why not Prospero?
  • Tyranny¡Xwhy is Prospero not a tyrant, if he behaves exactly like Sycorax, enslaving all spirits on the island?
  • Noble blood¡Xwhat is the difference between Ferdinand and Caliban (prince of the island)? Prospero indeed compares the two.
  • Righteous ruler¡Xwhat is the difference between Stefano and Prospero?


  • Prospero and Sycorax as mirror images¡Xwitchcraft, exile, invader-colonizer, single-parent of a different-sex child.
  • Prospero projects his own dark side onto Sycorax¡XSnow Whilte's stepmother.
  • Prospero and Stefano¡Xalien master.
  • Caliban and Ferdinand¡Xboth male force to Miranda.


  • Prospero's desire for power¡Xsuperhuman power, power of knowledge (// Faust), political power, patriarchal power.
  • Lesser desire for power¡XAntonio, Sebastian, Stefano.
  • By comparison, Caliban and Ariel's desire for freedom is so humble.


  • Mira = wonder, angelic, naive, pure good and beauty, "cherub"
  • Only a myth!
  • Not wholly innocent¡Xshe shares Prospero's values and bias.
  • Wu Hsing-kuo makes her more of a feminist rebel, but not in Shakespeare.

The Forbidden Planet

  • Does not address the issue of colonialism¡XAriel is a robot!
  • Does address the issue of patriarchy¡Xthat daughter is an idiot, an object for whose control men fight.
  • Most importantly, the desire for power (// Faust, Prospero's Books).
  • Desire for power is destructive.
  • Freudian id¡Xself-destructive.



Shakespeare's Romanticism

  • Ending¡Xreinforcement of political authority and patriarchy (not romantic love, but political alliance).
  • How does Prospero escape the fate of the protagonist in The Forbidden Planet?
  • Love, forgiveness, conscience¡Xself-deceptive lies!
  • How do we solve our problem? Love, forgiveness, conscience?

Shakespeare as Prospero

  • Shakespeare // his characters (Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard III, Duke in Measure for Measure, etc.) as designer, playwright, director.
  • Shakespeare // Prospero¡Xcreator, magician, manipulator, power center.
  • Why does Prospero apologize?
  • Why does Shakespeare apologize?
  • How progressive is Shakespeare? Not!
  • Literature is not innocent! Shakespeare is guilty!
  • Throughout his dramatic and literary career, he has served the bad ideology, the oppressors.

© 2005 by Bi-qi Beatrice Lei. All rights reserved.