The Theme of Power and Control Within The Shakespearean Play The Tempest Contrast Across The Marlowen Play Doctor Faustus

A short 1,500 word essay depicting instances and cross-over themes of power and control.

Power and control have dominant influences within The Tempest, as well as in Doctor Faustus, master/servant relationships being one of the main themes throughout. The interesting thing about The Tempest and Doctor Faustus is the William Shakespeare was known to have studied the play by Christopher Marlowe and this can be seen easily through the relationship of power and how in particular power is wielded and controlled throughout the play, mainly focusing upon magic; much like Doctor Faustus.  For example, Caliban and Ariel are subservient to Prospero and even though the relationship between Prospero and Caliban and the relationship between Prospero and Ariel are conducted differently, both characters are more than aware of how subservient they are to Prospero. In Dr. Faustus Wagner is subservient to Faustus, but not in the same manner as Prospero and Caliban as Faustus does not tend to treat Wagner badly. In fact Wagner is able to access Faustus’ books and learn magic himself and at some points in the play it is felt that Wagner may even be better at magic than Faustus, because he can so easily summon demons. Overall, in The Tempest play, many characters are locked in a power struggle for their control of the island which in turn causes abuse of power by some characters, for example with Prospero offering Ariel freedom but constantly taking it back as well as treating Caliban as if he is extremely superior to him in comparison to how he treats Ariel.

The dominant theme of power in the Tempest can be found even at the beginning of the play, in which the Boatswain ironically suggests “Use your authority” to Gonzalo. However the fact that the Boatswain can suggests orders to Gonzalo, who is an elderly, well respected lord in Naples and would usually not take orders from anybody, goes to show that it is in certain situations when people take power accordingly. Where as the Boatswain holds the position of power upon the ship, Alonso holds power over Naples and Prospero holds power over the Island.

In contrast to this, where the Tempest allows us to view people in positions of power, Dr. Faustus shows us people working to gain power through means that may damn them. Whilst Faustus attempts to find happiness with the power magic can bring him, Prospero is happy to abandon his magic and return to Milan as Duke; thanks to the happiness that his Daughter Miranda and Son of Alonso, Ferdinand, find in marriage. This can be viewed as a mature actions whilst under the influence of power, however Dr. Faustus uses the power that he has gained to commit childish actions, such as making the Pope look ridiculous. Not only this but, unlike Prospero, he is almost oblivious to the harm that his new power is creating to not only himself, but the people around him also. Even though Mephistopheles and demons appear to constantly warn Faustus of the damnation and the trouble that he is casting upon himself he chooses to ignore them, right until the end.

Prospero and Faustus both enjoy the power that they are able to wield over other equally, or more, powerful people as they become power hungry. Much like Mephistopheles works to warn Faustus of what his power is doing to his self circumstances and other people around him, Miranda works to warn her father, Prospero, from using his magic and to attempt to make him feel well towards those whom he is harming with magic, right from the beginning of the play from when we reach the Island, in the opening line by Miranda, immediately setting the tone and assuring the audience that this play is about magic and power. “If by your art, my dearest father, you have put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.” ‘art’ referring to the art and practice of magic, Miranda wishing that if Prospero has used his power to create the tempest then he should stop to save the “fraughting souls within her”.

Prospero follows his path of power, in which he witnesses the drama of the play unfold before him, and his ‘transformation’ because of this is that he becomes more forgiving and learns to understand that he does not constantly have to control everything; this is the reason why he decides to let Ariel go. However Faustus does not follow a path of redemption, rather destruction in which his path of power leads him towards the hell in which Mephistopheles serves the Devil. Faustus witnesses the drama of the play unfold before him just like Prospero, but instead of beginning a path of redemption and losing his power like Prospero, Faustus decides he enjoys the drama that his power causes and simply becomes closer and closer to his own hell, of which Mephistopheles (although being a demon) attempts to warn him away from in the first instance.

Mephistopheles works as a guide to Faustus, as with his power Faustus gained him and it is as if Mephistopheles only survives because of Faustus’ new link between himself and the Devil. However, whilst during the Tempest Miranda is the one who is most close to Prospero and Miranda works to remove Prospero from his power trip and his search to control and use his art to do deeds, in Doctor Faustus Mephistopheles works to help Faustus to continue along the path of power that he is following so that Faustus can become more and more powerful or at least allow him to become more deluded by the power. It can be argued that Mephistopheles exists simply as a cause of Faustus’ search for power and the more delusional Faustus is able to become by his new sense of power the stronger Mephistopheles hold over his soul and stopping Faustus from repenting increase. Where as on the other hand you can see Miranda as becoming weaker in the relationship towards her father Prospero as his use of the art and power increases and that it is not until Prospero learns forgiveness that the bond between him and Miranda becomes stronger again.

Power and the intoxication that a lot of power can hold over a human being is such a strong influencing theme within Doctor Faustus that the whole idea of there being a power and dominance relationship and force is condensed into the poem at the very beginning of the play which depicts the very last moments of Faustus’ life and how at the very end, when it is too late and he has lost everything under his intoxicated spell, he decides that he is able to repent and abjures his magic, but by then it is too late and he is screaming out for Mephistopheles, the very demon that has twisted his deluded mind in to damning himself in the first place.

Here again, in the beginning poem of the play Doctor Faustus, we can find the way in which Shakespeare has created a link between Marlowes play and his own, where the soul of Faustus is sucked up into a “labouring cloud” a temptous cloud that then spits Faustus’ evil back against those on the ship in The Tempest play, the spreading of power and the allowance that Prospero is able to reject the sin of the magical arts, in a time of being engulfed by the control and intoxication of power, when Faustus was not able to by the guide of a demon when Prospero stands guided by an angel, his daughter, Miranda.

However, even in the tempest, the controlling side of Mephistopheles is spread over by the influence of Ariel over Prospero as Fasutus is able to control another being that may do his magical bidding, Prospero can do so with Ariel and refuses many times to free Ariel even though he has made promises to do so. This can be contrast to the fact that it was Mephistopheles in a position of power within the Faustian relationship, and that when Ariel was finally freed by decision of Prospero, Faustus could have been freed by Mephistopheles with more than a warning or a few, he could have abandoned Faustus and not done his bidding if he had really needed to. 

This makes more sense when you understand that it can be seen that Mephistopheles and Faustus seemed to share a bonding that was more than just a male friendship, in the fact that there seems to be some sort of caring involved from the side of Mephistopheles towards Faustus, even though he was a demon working for the Devil. Just as Prospero cared enough to allow himself to forgive and freed Ariel, Mephistopheles had more power than simply verbally trying to free Faustus from his self destructive search for power and this is why it is Mephistopheles that appears to Faustus before any other demon, for the love of power.

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