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Prospero is the rightful Duke of Milan, whose usurping brother, Antonio, had put him (with his then three-year old daughter, Miranda) to sea on "a rotten carcass of a butt [boat]" to die, 12 years before the play begins. Prospero and Miranda survived and found exile on a small island. He has learned sorcery from books, and uses it while on the island to protect Miranda and control the other characters. Before the play has begun, Prospero frees Ariel from entrapment within "a cloven pine", about which Prospero states:
It was mine Art,
When I arrived and heard thee, that made gapeThe pine and let thee out.— The Tempest, Act 1, scene 2.
Prospero's sorcery is sufficiently powerful to control Ariel and other spirits, as well as to alter weather and even raise the dead: "Graves at my command have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth, by my so potent Art."- Act V, scene 1.
On the island, Prospero becomes master of the monster Caliban (the son of Sycorax, a malevolent witch) and forces Caliban into submission by punishing him with magic if he does not obey, and of Ariel, a spirit who is beholden to Prospero after he is freed from his imprisonment inside the pine tree.
At the end of the play, Prospero intends to drown his book and renounce magic. In the view of the audience, this may have been required to make the ending unambiguously happy, as magic smacked too much of diabolical works; he will drown his books for the same reason that Doctor Faust, in an earlier play by Christopher Marlowe, promised in vain to burn his books.
Now my charms are all o'erthrown, And what strength I have's mine own, Which is most faint: now, 'tis true, I must be here confined by you, Or sent to Naples. Let me not, Since I have my dukedom got And pardon'd the deceiver, dwell In this bare island by your spell; But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands: Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill, or else my project fails, Which was to please. Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant, And my ending is despair, Unless I be relieved by prayer, Which pierces so that it assaults Mercy itself and frees all faults. As you from crimes would pardon'd be, Let your indulgence set me free.
In it, Prospero states his loss (magic) and his continuing imprisonment if the audience is not pleased. Many feel that since The Tempest was the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone, Prospero's feelings echo Shakespeare's own, or perhaps may even have been his "retirement speech".[who?]
In popular culture
- In Fables by Bill Willingham, Prospero is a recurring character, one of the "Thirteenth Floor Fables" (i.e., one of Fabletown's resident sorcerers).
- In the comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, Prospero appears as a founding member of the first such grouping in 1610, alongside his familiars Caliban and Ariel.
- In The Sandman, the title character has William Shakespeare write The Tempest.
Film and television
- The film Forbidden Planet (1956) has similarities to The Tempest.
- In a television production of The Tempest (1960), Prospero was played by Maurice Evans.
- Sir Michael Redgrave played Prospero in a BBC Play of the Month production in 1968.
- Heathcote Williams played Prospero in Derek Jarman's 1979 film version of The Tempest.
- Sir Michael Hordern played Prospero in a 1980 production for BBC television.
- A Stratford Shakespeare Festival production was videotaped and broadcast on television in 1983, starring Len Cariou as Prospero.
- Paul Mazursky's film, Tempest (1983), features a Prospero-esque character portrayed by John Cassavetes who is an exile of his own cynical discontent, ego and self-betrayal and who abandons America for a utopian "kingdom" on a secluded Greek isle.
- In the Swedish animated film The Journey to Melonia (1989), which is loosely inspired by The Tempest, Prospero is the ruler of the island Melonia.
- In Peter Greenaway's film Prospero's Books (1991), Prospero is played by John Gielgud.
- In Julie Taymor's 2010 film adaptation of the play, Prospero is played by Helen Mirren and is now named Prospera.
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Emergence" begins with Data playing Prospero.
- Based on the manga by the same name, the anime series Blast of Tempest includes a main character whose setup is similar to Prospero's, a magician betrayed and abandoned on a deserted island by her followers
- TNT's The Librarians features Prospero as the main antagonist of the second season. He is aided by Professor James Moriarty, a fictional character like himself, and seeks to reclaim the power he lost at the end of The Tempest.
- In the Divinity: Dragon Commander video game by Larian Studios, the five political counselors are named after Shakespeare characters: Yorick the undead, Falstaff the dwarf, Oberon the elf, Prospera the lizard, and Trinculo the imp.
- Paul Prospero, the protagonist of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014), is named after Prospero.
- In the table top war game Warhammer 40,000 by Games Workshop, one of the Chaos Space Marine traitor legions; The Thousand Sons' original homeworld was called Prospero.
- In J.G. Ballard's short story "Dream Cargoes", the chemical waste ship marooned on the World War II garbage island is called the Prospero.
- In John Bellairs's novel The Face in the Frost (1969), Prospero is one of the protagonists.
- T. S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land" references Prospero.
- In the The Horus Heresy series, several books take place on a planet called Prospero. The citizens of the planet are versed in sorcery and psychic powers, earning them the suspicion and ire of the rest of the Imperium of Man.
- One of the AIs of Christine Love's visual novel, Digital: A Love Story (2010), is called Prospero and was created to research the *Reaper's weaknesses.
- In Erin Morgenstern's novel The Night Circus, one magician's stage name is "Prospero the Enchanter".
- Frank O'Hara's "A Prayer to Prospero" references Prospero.
- In Yury Olesha's novel Three Fat Men (1924), one of the main characters is armorer Prospero
- Dan Simmons' novels Ilium and Olympos reference Prospero.
- Elizabeth Willey's novel A Sorcerer and a Gentleman is a retelling of the story from The Tempest. Her books The Well Favored Man and The Price of Blood and Honor pre- and post-date the story, respectively.
- In Tad Williams' novel Caliban's Hour (1995), the story of The Tempest is told through the point of view of Caliban with Prospero portrayed as the villain of the story, being shown as manipulative, prejudiced with colonialistic attitudes (especially towards Caliban) and capable of murderous violence.
- Loreena McKennitt sings a slightly altered version of the epilogue speech on her album The Mask and Mirror (1994).
- The Economist blog on books, arts, and culture is called Prospero.
- Melon Cauliflower, by NZ playwright Tom McCrory, is about a man Prospero, in his late sixties, who struggles to come to terms with the death of his wife and has mistreated his daughter Miranda.
- BBC Radio 3 broadcast a production of The Tempest (7 October 2001) adapted for radio and directed by David Hunter, starring Philip Madoc as Prospero, Nina Wadia as Ariel, Josh Richards as Caliban, Catrin Rhys as Miranda, Andrew Cryer as Ferdinand, Rudolph Walker as Gonzalo, James Laurenson as Alonso, Christian Rodska as Sebastian, and Ioan Meredith as Antonio.
- David Warner played Prospero in the BBC Radio 3 Drama on 3 production of The Tempest, broadcast (on 6 May 2012) as part of the Shakespeare Unlocked series on the BBC. The production included Carl Prekopp as Ariel, Rose Leslie as Miranda, James Garnon as Caliban, James Lailey as Antonio and Peter Hamilton Dyer as Sebastian, and was adapted for radio and directed by Jeremy Mortimer.
- "On The Vanishing of Ethan Carter's Ending (EXTREME SPOILERS)". Retrieved 2015-10-07.
- "Prospero Burns publisher summary". Retrieved 2015-10-17.
- McCrory, Tom. Melon Cauliflower (PDF). RadioNZ.
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