Prospero’s Republic: The Politics of Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Paul A. Cantor, “Prospero’s Republic: The Politics of Shakespeare’s The Tempest,” in Shakespeare as Political Thinker, eds. Alvis and West, 24159


To talk about the politics of Shakespeare’s The Tempest may seem like a boorish intrusion upon the visionary and dreamlike mood of the play. And yet just as such an intrusion is dramatized within the play, if we consider the way in which Prospero’s masque is interrupted in Act IV. Prospero is absorbed in the beautiful visions he has created, when he suddenly remembers the “foul conspiracy” that has been organized against him. Cutting his entertainment short, he is forced to turn to the very practical concern of dealing with the rebels against his rule. In short, The Tempest contains a play-within-a-play, and dramatizes how politics intrudes upon that seemingly self-contained play world. The way in which Caliban and his confederates disrupt the world of Prospero’s imagination is a good reminder that The Tempest takes up the story of a man whose original failure to be concerned about politics led to a disaster from which it took nothing less than a miracle to rescue him. Perhaps, then The Tempest is not a remote from down-to-earth political concerns as its light and airy poetic texture might at first lead us to suppose.

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