Prospero is the central character in the play The Tempest. Indeed, he dominates the play from the beginning to the end. The entire action of the play, barring some of the deeds of Antonio, Sebastian, Alonso, Gonzalo, Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo is manipulated by Prospero.
Prospero is not an ordinary human being. Indeed he is an exceptional kind of man. He is a man possessing supernatural powers and because of these supernatural powers, he may be regarded as a demi-god. He is a magician who can control even the forces of nature. Prospero has achieved these powers by means of his continuous study of books dealing with the force of magic and sorcery, by means of prolonged meditation and mental concentration, and through the development of his will-power.
Prospero’s love for her daughter Miranda is perhaps the most striking aspects of his character, apart from his exercise of his supernatural powers. We see him as a loving father in the very beginning when he gives her an account of his past life and the injustices which he had suffered all hands of his own brother Antonio and who had been helped in his evil designs by king Alonso. Prospero always uses terms of affection and love for Miranda. He calls her a beloved darling dear heart, a rich gift, and in “Third of his own life.”
Prospero’s whole treatment of Miranda throughout the play shows Prospero’s essentially gentle and affectionate nature, though he has a harsh and stern side of his nature also. Again, it is in his treatment of Caliban that Prospero reveals his harsh and stern side, though he is never unjustly harsh to anybody. Though Prospero is basically a soft-hearted man, he is not unduly passionate and not over-sympathetic. Caliban has an inherently evil nature and Caliban retains this evil nature in spite of the gentle and kind treatment which Caliban has been receiving from Prospero in the past. Thus, through the characterization of Caliban and using Prospero as his mouthpiece, Shakespeare gives us a moral that “Nurture can never stick.”
According to some critics, the portrayal of Prospero in this play is a kind of self-portrayal by Shakespeare. He guided and controlled the world of the enchanted island, can be identified with Shakespeare himself thus as Prospero can perform wonder with magic so Shakespeare can perform great wonder by his artistic power.
Prospero’s enemies are drawn to the island of great poetry by means of a tempest produced by him with the help of Ariel and there he renders them harmless. He wrecks and saves teaches through disaster, entices and leads by music, getting them under his power and finally forgives them. The island is an imaginary island which symbolizes an ideal land washed by the purifying sea. It is shipwreck around the island that brings Ferdinand to the island where true love has grown between him and Miranda. The island is the Garden of Eden, with Prospero’s God-personality in a change to prevent Satan. Miranda is the symbol of mercy and purity who is going to leave the island of Paradise to test her virtue in the wicked world. This island can be compared to Garden of Eden which transforms a wicked into a good man. The wicked Antonio, Sebastian, and Alonso are corrected at its touch as Duke Junior in As You Like It is corrected when he comes to touch of the Forest of Arden. It has been said that there are parallels between the character of Prospero as depicted in the play and the character of Shakespeare himself as he is found in his life. According to this view, Prospero in this play represents Shakespeare’s maturity during the final period of his dramatic career.