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Prospero is the rightful Duke of Milan, who (with his then three-year old daughter, Miranda) was put to sea on "a rotten carcass of a butt [boat]" to die by his usurping brother, Antonio, twelve 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," which Prospero states
"it was mine Art, When I arrived and heard thee, that made gape The pine and let thee out." The Tempest, Act 1, scene 2.
Prospero's sorcery is clearly powerful enough to control Ariel and other spirits, as well as 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, he 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 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 even his "retirement speech".[who?]
In popular culture
- 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.
- 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 short story "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe.
- In the Dan Simmons Ilium and Olympos novels.
- T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land".
- In John Bellairs's 1969 novel The Face in the Frost, Prospero is one of the protagonists.
- In Tad Williams' 1995 novel Caliban's Hour, 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.
- In Yury Olesha's 1924 novel Three Fat Men, one of the main characters is armorer 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 Frank O'Hara's "A Prayer to Prospero".
- In Erin Morgenstern's novel The Night Circus, one magician's stage name is "Prospero the Enchanter".
- In Elizabeth Willey's novel A Sorcerer and a Gentleman, which is a retelling of the story from The Tempest. There are also a pair of books that pre and post-date the story, The Well Favored Man, and The Price of Blood and Honor, respectively.
- In the book series "The Horus Heresy" several books take place on a planet called Prospero.
Film and television
- The 1956 film Forbidden Planet has similarities to The Tempest.
- In a 1960 television production of The Tempest, 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 1983 film, "Tempest" 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 1989 film The Journey to Melonia, which is loosely inspired by The Tempest, Prospero is the ruler of the island Melonia.
- In Peter Greenaway's 1991 film Prospero's Books, 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, a magician betrayed and abandoned on a deserted island by her followers
- Melon Cauliflower by NZ playwright Tom McCrory. The play 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. 
- On 7 October 2001 BBC Radio 3 broadcast a production of The Tempest 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.
- Loreena McKennitt sings a slightly altered version of the epilogue speech on her 1994 album The Mask and Mirror.
- Eric Gill's sculpture (1932), Prospero and Ariel.
- R. Juha's sculpture (2004), Prospero.
- The Economist has a blog on books, arts and culture that is called "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.
- One of the AIs of Digital: A Love Story is called Prospero and was created to research the *Reaper's weaknesses.
- 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.
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