The Tempest

Painting With Words: Language as Art in The Tempest

In Shakespeare's romance, The Tempest, Miranda instructs Caliban, "I endowed thy purposes / With words that made them known" (I.ii.357-8), affirming the power of language to transform the insubstantial into a forceful and purposeful entity. As Prospero conjures up tempests, masques, and spells, Shakespeare creates a linguistic pageant of lush imagery, tense staccato exchanges, straight-forward narration, and lyrical songs to intensify different moments in and expose major themes of the play. The Tempest begins with an abrupt, monosyllabic exchange between the Boatswain and Master that evolves into a series of confused, frenzied conversations tempests of language that convey the helplessness, fear, and consternation faced by the crew. The play moves toward elevated poetry delightful music, and masques of mysticism, all of which converge in Prospero's poignant valedictory speech in which he surrenders his magic powers after asserting his authority as an artist and proceeds to accomplish the prescribed reconciliations that resolve the drama:

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves,

And ye that on the sands with printless foot

Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him

When he comes back; you...

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