In his play, The Tempest, Shakespeare poses a range of ethical questions to the readers. The most peculiar ones concern the use of people and the manipulation of their actions and emotions for the “greater good” of the other characters. Although the reasons behind these manipulations seem rather legitimate, Shakespeare makes it clear that the ends never justify the means.
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For example, Prospero uses Ariel in the course of the entire play instead of granting the spirit the long desired freedom, which is a rather mean thing to do.
Even though Prospero managed to accomplish much with Ariel’s help, the fact that he had been deceiving the latter makes the results look rather cheap. It would be much more ethically appropriate if Prospero granted the spirit his freedom and then asked to help him. However, Prospero prefers an easier and much more unethical method:
“Thou and thy meaner fellows your last service
Did worthily perform; and I must use you
In such another trick” (Shakespeare 194).
It is also important, however, to consider the situation from Prospero’s perspective. This leads to yet another ethical problem related to the use of people by convincing them in a specific idea. Prospero’s use of Alonzo after misinforming the latter about his son’s presumable death is the first problem that comes to mind.
Although the method that he used to take control over Alonzo is unreasonably cruel, the outcomes of this deception might actually prove worth Alonzo’s pain. In The Tempest, after the ship crashes, Ferdinand wakes up to see only its remnants and come to the conclusion that he was the only one left alive. Alonzo, on the other hand, never knew if his son stayed alive until Prospero came to announce that Ferdinand was dead:
In their distractions; they now are in my power;
And in these fits I leave them, while I visit
Young Ferdinand, whom they suppose is drown’d,
And his and mine loved darling. (Shakespeare 186)
That being said, it is clear that Prospero has no right to force Alonzo into following his directions by convincing him that his son was dead. While the given lie has served its purpose well, allowing Prospero to take control of Alonzo’s actions for a while and at the same time contributed to the development of Ferdinand’s relationships with his true love, the given lie came at the cost of the father’s emotional tortures and incredible pain of losing his only son.
Ferdinand also considered his father dead, and must have gone through the same emotional turmoil, suffering just as hard. However, in Ferdinand’s case, the emotional pain was the result of a misunderstanding – after the ship wrecked, Ferdinand came to the assumption that he was the only survival completely on his own. Therefore, no one was to blame in Ferdinand’s case.
As for Alonzo, Prospero was carrying a burden of considerable moral responsibilities. Despite the “happy ending” and the eventual reconciliation, Prospero’s deception of Alonzo was not worth the suffering that the latter had to go through, which once again proves that the ends never justify the means.
In general, Prospero’s ends never justify his means. As a result, it is not surprising that Prospero refuses to use magic in the end of the play:
Yet with my nobler reason ‘gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance: they being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. Go release them, Ariel.
My charms I’ll break, their senses I’ll restore,
And they shall be themselves. (Shakespeare 226)
The given excerpt shows how wrong the situation can get when too much power is offered to the wrong person. While Prospero possessed amazing magic skills, he failed to use them so that none of the people involved could get harmed. Thus, the wise decision that he makes at the end is the most reasonable step possible.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Washington, DC: Washington Square. 2004. Print.