Marc-Joelitza Montgomery is a columnist for BardVERSE. She is the recipient of the 2018 Achievement Award in Literature.
During a recent discussion in world literature, I was struck by my classmates’ observations about independence, anger, and healing in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Izraa Rosa, for example, noticed the theme of independence, especially with regard to Prospero’s daughter Miranda. I connected this idea to Dr. Bagocius’s comment that Prospero may feel unloved because people tend to disregard him, including his own daughter.
These two ideas — independence and feeling unloved — make me realize how complicated it can be when we focus on ourselves too much and try to be independent. When we do these things, we risk hurting other people.
We usually see independence as only a good thing. But what needs to be remembered is that some people are not comfortable with being on their own. Some people do not like the idea of being independent, because they may feel as if they miss something without the presence of somebody else, which causes them to feel empty.
Maybe Prospero does not want to be independent. Maybe he wants a community.
Lack of love or attention can make somebody feel so empty. Yet these empty people have loads of emotion like anger that eventually builds up inside of them. Prospero, for instance, is forced to be independent when the people he loves do not show him love and exclude him. This absence causes him to feel empty. His emptiness soon turns into anger.
Loneliness, emptiness, and anger within a person can create a domino effect that is capable of hurting others in a negative way. Prospero becomes so lonely and angry that he enslaves his own spirit, the spirit Ariel, as well as Caliban, a native inhabitant of the island.
But anger is not the last word in The Tempest. Shakespeare also narrates working through anger toward healing. I learned this idea from my classmate Adelina Martinez’s comment about Ariel bringing Prospero and his brother Antonio together again for a reason. Ariel might be working to heal these two brothers’ anger toward one another.
Adelina’s idea leads me to wonder if Ariel’s role in the book is a mediator. Although Shakespeare introduces us to Ariel as an unhappy spirit since he is trapped by Prospero, I feel like this situation allows him to observe Prospero closely leading him to possibly understand the cause of Prospero’s negative emotions. Ariel’s understanding may cause him to take pity and pull somebody close to Prospero so that the missing spot in Prospero’s life can be filled. Even though Ariel suffers as Prospero’s slave, he nonetheless wants Prospero to be happy. Ariel enriches Prospero’s life by reuniting Prospero with his brother.
Prospero works through his broken relationship with his brother and heals his anger. Only then does he set Ariel free.
As a spirit, Ariel is wise. He knows that those who enslave others are broken inside. To create social justice and free humanity, Shakespeare says, we must work to heal our own broken hearts. We are then better equipped to recognize the freedom of others.
Perhaps the most enslaved character of all is Prospero. He was enslaved to his anger. Releasing his anger toward healing, he becomes free.