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Explore the Ways in Which Shakespeare Presents Men in Power in the Tempest Showing How Your Understanding Is Illuminated by Your Study of the Presentation of Men in Dr Faustus

In: English and Literature

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The Tempest written during the 1600s by one of the most influential writers of his time, William Shakespeare, takes us deep in to the Renaissance, in which questions of religion and man’s place in the world were the cause of much conflict. There are many insinuations that the character of Prospero is a cover for Shakespeare himself and through the protagonist, Shakespeare voices some of his views about the world he was living in. Along with themes of power, men and control, colonization also seems to be a main focus of Shakespeare throughout The Tempest, as almost every character ponders upon how he would rule the island on which the play is set if he were its king. Dr Faustus was written during the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth I by Christopher Marlowe. It focuses on the main character, Dr Faustus, selling his soul to the devil in exchange for all the luxuries the world has to offer “twenty-four years of all voluptuousness.” Both plays present men questing for power and have left their mark on the modern world of literature.
Shakespeare highlights the dominant themes power and control through the characters of Prospero and Antonio. Throughout the play many of the characters are in constant battle for power and freedom sometimes resulting in them succumbing to malevolent deeds. Prospero personifies the imperialist omnipotent ruler as he enslaves Caliban son of Sycorax and rightful ruler of the island. He uses the informal pronoun and pejorative phrase “thou most lying slave” to demonise and demoralise Caliban. The play explicitly portrays relationships between a man who possesses power and a man who is subject to that power. Shakespeare presents these characters to us to convey the innate nature of men and contest their way of thinking in a Patriarchal society.
The relationship Prospero has with Caliban is full of hatred, anger and malice which we experience through lexis with violent pejorative connotations “thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself.” The audience experiences the malevolent side to Prospero that reflects the Medieval belief that if you are born into power you have the right to wave your wand of superiority over anyone you think as "lowly."They both come from two very different worlds as does Dr Faustus. Prospero is educated and civilized whereas Caliban is seen as uncivilized, which was the way the audiences during the Renaissance would have viewed him, yet, both Prospero and Caliban speak in blank verse “for every trifle are they set upon me; sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me and after bite me.” In the audience’s mind Caliban was perceived as inferior and had no place in the Elizabethan world order yet, he spoke in blank verse which only aristocrats in plays used as it is considered to be one of the most poetic and rhythmic forms of spoken language. Interestingly, Caliban only speaks a hundred lines in the whole play which are the most memorable lines that Shakespeare ever wrote.
At the time Shakespeare was writing the universe was seen as hierarchal chain of being. God at the top, followed by spirits then humans then animals. Shakespeare questions this ideological construct subliminally, suggesting that Prospero and Caliban are equal according to the chain of being as they are both humans, yet is it considered acceptable for Prospero to continually treat him like an animal. Prospero often insults Caliban with the use of pejorative noun phrases such as
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"Abhorred slave" and "a thing most brutish." Shakespeare's intention here is to highlight Prospero's malevolence whilst using Caliban to represent the victims of European imperialism and colonization. They were also exploited and subjugated. They were forced to take on the language of their conquerors and were torn between the indigenous culture and the culture imposed on them. Shakespeare highlights and questions the baseless ideologies that were adopted by the men during the medieval time period.
The Father, daughter relationship between Prospero and Miranda is at the centre of the story. The controlling nature of Prospero is emphasised when he asks Miranda with interrogatives “dost thou attend me?” three times. It is shown clearly here who has more authority in the relationship. Prospero continues to dominate Miranda, in Act IV, scene I, Miranda doesn't get the opportunity to join the discussion between her father and Ferdinand about her marriage. “Silence! One word more shall make me chide thee, if not hate thee.” The imperative exclamation is used to assert authority. This can be interpreted in two ways, either Prospero is overly protective of his daughter and wants to keep her away from danger or, like every other man during Medieval times thought that women were inferior. The minor role that women play in this production is arguably a metaphor for the role women played in society then and their subservience to men.
Unlike Miranda, many of the men in The Tempest are generally presented as being on a quest of power. Power is also presented through Antonio and Sebastian. Antonio who is Prospero's brother is a power hungry fool. When Antonio uses the imperative “let's all sink with king" and Sebastian echoes this with "let's take leave of him.” The syntactic parallelism shows that neither of them have any loyalty as they form an axis of evil against authority figures. They embody the Machiavellian principles which were rising to prominence in some men in this period. Antonio also persuades Sebastian to kill Alonso while he is sleeping using the imperative “draw thy sword.” He then goes along with the story about actually trying to save Alonso when they are caught. Sebastian is aggressive and cowardly. He is so greedy for power that he is ready to kill his own brother. Antonio’s self-proclaimed lack of conscience and his attitude towards anyone in power possibly suggests that Shakespeare is influenced by Machiavelli who held the view that power should be given to those who earn it instead of inheriting it. Antonio’s numerous attempts to seize power were one of the things that Monarchs feared especially when there was political turmoil throughout Europe during the Renaissance.
Like Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe presents men in and power in Dr Faustus through the character of Dr Faustus. He is an arrogant protagonist with high ambitions rejecting any form of knowledge other than magic. He is also egotistical and deluded; using the imperative phrase he is convinced that through magic he can command “spirits [to] fetch [him] what [he] please[s]” This shows us that he believes he is “omnipotent” and that he wishes to possess godly powers. As a tragedy, the audience know that the opposite is, in fact, the case. Although Prospero comes close to aligning himself to necromancy he ultimately has the sense to “abjure” magic before it consumes him. Faustus however, has blinded himself to everything and made a deal with the devil to satisfy his obsession of achieving absolute power. He tells himself that "hell is a fable." Marlowe uses this abstract noun phrase to portray his opinions on religion, perhaps suggesting that heaven and hell are two abstracts that don't exist. Faustus rejects religion and pledges allegiance to the devil which in Medieval times was considered a grave sin. Marlowe’s intention here was question religion itself. Why isn’t religion strong enough to hold someone back from diving in to hell? Faustus is naive; despite the pleading of Mephistopheles “leave these frivolous demandes” he continues to reject God which will ultimately lead to eternal damnation, made clear by the use of the adjective “frivolous.” The bible clearly states that that god is all merciful and compassionate. All Faustus needs to do is ask for redemption which he does not do. Marlowe deliberately has Mephistopheles plead to Faustus which conveys that a supposedly highly educated man does not possess the basic knowledge to tell the difference between good and evil, whereas the devil’s trusted worker knows exactly who he is working for. We conclude that without Mephistopheles, Faustus is nothing. It is actually he that has the power and he has just been toying with Faustus by allowing him to believe he is in control which shows how powerless men in power truly are.
Faustus’s motives change from seeking knowledge to seeking sensual pleasures. The apparition of Helen of Troy brings out the desperation within Faustus. He is so taken by her appearance in the memorable iambic pentameter lines “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships/ And burnt the topless towers of ilium” that he doesn’t realise he has just crossed the point of no return. Marlowe’s explored the state as a body. Just as the physical body can be subjected to disease the mind or state can be riddled with corruption. Helen not only represents the fall from high minded intellectualism but also the seduction of the classical, pagan, world. Yet, the poetry with which Faustus praises Helen suggests that Marlowe was himself seduced by the latter.
Helen’s status of temptress is reminiscent of Eve in the bible who is the precedent for women’s subordinate status. At first men were considered more superior due to their physical strength and the need to protect women of child bearing age. Later a biblical precedent “to love, honour and obey their men” was taken as the will of god. Prospero presents himself as a victim who was usurped by his brother and forced to raise his daughter through adversity. However, Prospero’s actions throughout the play prove this to be untrue. Prospero causes the storm whilst manipulating Ariel, Miranda and the circumstances. Prospero thinks of himself as all powerful and yet in the epilogue he loses his magical powers when his “charms are o’erthrown.” Now that he has been stripped of his powers he is normal man. He no longer deserves the status of god that many people during the medieval times gave men. Shakespeare is suggesting that men are not all righteous but all have a malevolent side to them that comes alive when provoked. Why are men perceived as so powerful, if they are manipulative and selfish? Although Prospero frees Ariel at the end of play he is still not seen as the hero but as the anti- hero. This is the total opposite in Dr Faustus. Marlowe creates sympathy in the audience for Faustus.
He does not wish evil upon anyone as Prospero does yet still he is damned. Despite Prospero’s sins he is able to return to Milan and reclaim his Dukedom. Faustus realises his mistake too late and for this he paid the medieval price for pushing Renaissance boundaries. Maybe Marlowe was constrained by censure. He couldn’t save Faustus after he had joined hands with Satan. Both playwrights through their presentation of men reveal their multi-faceted nature and suggest that even though England was a very religious country, men still considered themselves to be equal to what they worshipped. Men in power can neither be admired nor trusted as they will do anything to reach limitless power. Even as far as selling their souls.

Bibliography http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/tempest/Tempest_Quotes.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tempest
http://www.shmoop.com/tempest/

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