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  • Print publication year: 1991
  • Online publication date: March 2007

The Latter End of Prospero’s Commonwealth

Summary

In the first act of The Tempest, near the conclusion of Prospero's story of their past, Miranda asks an all-important question: 'I pray you, sir . . . your reason / For raising this sea-storm' (1.2.176-8). Prospero's reply is enigmatic:

Know thus far forth.

By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune,

Now my dear lady, hath mine enemies

Brought to this shore; and by my prescience

I find my zenith doth depend upon

A most auspicious star, whose influence

If now I court not, but omit, my fortunes

Will ever after droop. Here cease more questions.

(1.2.179-85)

The answer to Miranda's question is left to be inferred from the play's ending, or filled in according to each reader's expectation of how Prospero might deal with his enemies through the power that has enabled him to raise the storm. It is partly this absence of clearly stated intention that often leads commentators to express dissatisfaction at his perceived failure to achieve what they understand him to have set out to do: achieve revenge, for instance, or assure himself of his enemies' full repentance before he forgives, or (in the terms of a recent psychoanalytic approach) complete himself by working through his oedipal past.

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Shakespeare Survey
  • Online ISBN: 9781139053204
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521395291
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