To be able to answer this question we must first understand why Prospero can be seen as good or evil. It is fair to say that Prospero is a main protagonist to the plot of Shakespeares Tempest. It is due to Prospero’s role as a key figure in the play that has put him under so much scrutiny. Many different Shakespearean critics have their own view of Prospero and those that read or see the play also have their own opinion of the way in which Prospero may be seen. To be able to support either argument there must be evidence that backs-up each of the analysis of Prospero’s character and why he is seen in such a way.
Having been usurped and wrecked on an Island Prospero and his young daughter Miranda have to settle. It is here in Prospero’s past that it first clear to see where any confusion about his character may appear. As a learned and powerful man Prospero is able to take direct control of the island, he frees a trapped and tortured spirit (Ariel) and befriends the inhabitants (Caliban). Prospero ‘helps’ Caliban, he tries to educate him and teaches him to communicate, in exchange Caliban helps Prospero to survive on the Island. But in taking power of the Island Prospero is committing the same act that happened to him as Duke of Milan, now Prospero himself has become the usurper. In this act of goodness Prospero has unknowingly shown his evil side.
Prospero having been trapped on the Island with his daughter has bring her up alone. He tries to do this in as fair a way as he sees possible teaching her right from wrong and educating her in the ways of the world, however Prospero does not inform Miranda of their past until Miranda, he feels is old enough to understand.
‘Thy father was Duke of Milan and a Prince of power’ (A1 Sc2 Ln57) But with Prospero informing Miranda of this at such a late stage in her life is this Prospero as a control freak only allowing his daughter Miranda to know the truth when he feels it is time or is it Prospero being caring keeping this information from Miranda until she is of an age when she can fully understand who she is and where she came from?, again it is not clear to see if Prospero’s intentions are for his own good or the good of his daughter.
Through out the play Prospero it seems is seeking revenge for what has been done to him in the past. It appears that Prospero sees himself as an ‘instrument of judgement’, being able to pass sentence on those who have done him harm in the past. Prospero, with the aid of Ariel, is able to reach anyone he wants and cause them the most terrible pain, be it physical or mental torture.
In act 2 scene 2 it is clear to see that Caliban the native that had helped Prospero to survive on the Island has now become Prospero’s slave. Caliban is tortured by Prospero to such an extent that he is scared when he sees Stephano and Trinculo and mistakes them for Prospero’s magic spirits that have come to torment him again, ‘Do not torment me prithee. I’ll bring the wood home faster’ (A2 Sc2 Ln73) Prospero created the Tempest in order to wreck the Royal ship on ‘his’ island. In doing so he split the party up and the King of Naples believed that his son Ferdinand had been killed.
‘My son is lost’ (A2 Sc1 Ln105) Prospero is totally uncaring towards the feelings of other in these situation and it clearly shows his evil side. However he has what seems valued reasons for doing such things. In Caliban’s case Caliban had tried to have sex with Miranda and Prospero was just punishing Caliban for the crime which he had committed. For Alonso the King of Naples, his son was not lost Prospero was using him in another ‘game’ on the other side of the Island and Prospero had reason to let him suffer for a while as Milan and Naples had always been enemies and Alonso had helped Prospero be usurped.
Prospero uses people to get the end result that he wants. In the case of Miranda and Ferdinand Prospero is playing them off against each other in order to get them to act how he wants them to. Prospero strictly orders Miranda not to tell Ferdinand her name knowing that she will just to disobey his commands.
Prospero want Miranda and Ferdinand to end up together but by trying to force them together he knows that they would rebel in the opposite way and not go. By spying on them Prospero is able to keep track of the young lovers as they come together ‘Miranda – o my father I have broke your hest to say so’ (A3 Sc1 Ln37) ‘Fair encounter of two most rare affections’ (A3 Sc1 Ln75) Prospero creates this ‘love’ between the couple in order to get them to fall in love with each other. This shows how he is able to manipulate peoples minds to get what he wants from them. However in bringing the two together he is guaranteeing the future peace between Milan and Naples as one, he is also making sure that the man that marries his daughter is good enough for her and willing to give her the love that she deserves.
It is hard to pin Prospero down to one characteristic. As a main protagonist of the play he has many. It appears that one characteristic can bring out another – such as the case of helping Caliban but yet taking his Island away, by doing this was Prospero evil for usurping Caliban or good for teaching him? In a case such as this it is almost impossible to determine, it will always be an individuals choice of the character in question.