Illusion is a key theme in the play as it is integral to Shakespeare’s fascination with and discussion of what is real and what is illusion, showcased in many scenes of the play. It is also as far as we know, Prospero’s one and ultimate power. The dramatic opening scene of the play which is the basis of its entire plot is later revealed to be a complete illusion created by Prospero’s main spirit, Ariel, on his orders. * Prospero throughout the play has a plan to try to regain his rightful position of Duke of Milan and reset the hierarchy which is immediately broken in this first scene.
Illusion is his key weapon in implementing this ‘plan’. All of the three subplots (Prospero, Miranda and Ferdinand, Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban and Sebastian, Alonso and Antonio) are resolved with Prospero’s use of illusion. This appears in the form of the banquet and the harpy for Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian, in the form of a masque for Ferdinand and Miranda and in the form of the spirit dogs chasing Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo into a swamp. In all of these situations Prospero uses his spirits to create a spectacle to try to reinforce the point that he is making.
The three illusions reflect parables, the first warning against gluttony, the second warning against sex before marriage, “Whose vows are that no bed-right shall be paid // Till Hymen’s torch be lighted” (Act 4 Scene 1) and the third parable warning against theft. Ariel’s illusion of music is pivotal to drawing characters in and fulfilling Prospero’s plans for them. Caliban, Trinculo and Prospero are lead through “Toothed briars, sharp furzes, prickling gorse, and thorns”. Here the illusion almost seems real as they cannot help but follow something non-existent.
Illusion on the island only seems to affect those who Prospero wants it to, enforcing his position as controller. For example, Gonzalo (a kind courtier) sees prosperous greenery, whereas Antonio and Sebastian (treacherous plotters) see a desolate and useless island.
Caliban seems the only character immune to Prospero’s illusions. He doesn’t care for the glitzy clothes whereas Stephano and Trinculo are instantly attracted to the idea of power obtained through the robes. This shows Prospero is regaining his power through his deceptive power.
This is very ironic as Caliban is the monster and stupid being, but he can see through the deception. The sunken ship illusion is the most important illusion in the play, as it sets the tone for the relationships and emotions throughout the play. Alonso wouldn’t be so distraught if he found out the illusion of the shipwreck was fake and that his son had not died. Sebastian and Antonio may not have decided to plot to kill Alonso if they knew Ferdinand was still alive. The Shipwreck is the illusion that sets the ball rolling for the themes and conspiracies in the play.
Despite the importance of Prospero’s illusions, he accepts their limitations as only illusions that influence the mind rather than body. He has to force Caliban to collect him wood, “He does make our fire, // Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices” and he states that he cannot influence the attraction between Miranda and Ferdinand. Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE The Tempest section.