Prospero: Haunted by His Former Self
In my series of posts on the theme of freedom in Shakespeare’s Tempest, I fear that with my speculations about the future love life of Ferdinand and Miranda, I have digressed well beyond the lines of the actors on Shakespeare’s stage. Let me therefore return to the actual text and see in what way the main character, Prospero, desires freedom.
In a certain respect, Prospero’s life is not too bad. He is master of an island—with few subjects, that is true, but fewer subjects also means fewer who give you trouble. Through his magical powers, spirits are serving him. All his basic needs are covered, and he even has some of his favorite books with him. Not to mention a daughter who loves him. Some people might actually like such a simple life of solitude. But Prospero is not content. He wishes to be freed from the island. Why? Because he is “more better than Prospero, master of a full poor cell.” He is not content because he remembers what he used to be, namely the Duke of Milan. And rather than give up that former identity and embrace his new life, he still sees himself as the Duke.
It is always more difficult to cut back than to expand, is it not? I used to be perfectly content not having my own home office but instead working at the kitchen table, in the living room or wherever I managed to carve out a little space for me and my laptop. But now that we no longer live in a tiny apartment and I have a room of my own, it is hard for me to imagine going back to a little corner in the kitchen. Should we ever have to move back into a smaller house, I might still see myself as entitled to the benefits of my own office, and consequently I might be discontent with my lack of freedom. “I am more better than Jacob, master of a poor kitchen corner,” I might say. “I am Duke of my own office.”
Or let us take another example. Surely everyone has heard of an older teenager who got along quite well with his parents, but then he went away to College or another country for a while, and there he got used to being free from parental supervision. Then, when he returns and has to stay with his parents once more, the former harmony is suddenly broken. The mere presence of his parents now makes him feel restricted, and the parents might be at a loss how to handle the son or daughter who they are used to have under their tutelage but who is no longer compliant.
Similarly, Prospero is haunted by his former self.