To Conspire or Not: Prospero’s Forgiveness

Conspiracy theorists should love Shakespeare. So many juicy plots are formed in secret. Conspiracy is daily bread. It’s how people live and how they die in Shakespeare’s dramatic world. In the Tempest, we have a series of conspiracies that unfold, and it is ultimately Prospero’s deception that leads to resolution if not redemption. 

In a world full of dishonesty and betrayal, where conspiracies are everywhere, it becomes a kind of test of survival to form conspiracies. To exist, you must conspire, and you must do it better than the parties who are against you. Prospero learns this lesson the hard way, after miraculously surviving an attempt on his life. 

He washes up ashore an island with his daughter and some books. It is not merely a stroke of good luck or divine intervention that saves their lives, but it is the secret decision of Gonzalo to help them to survive. Prospero is conspired against, and he only survives because he manages to solicit empathy from a double agent. Gonzalo betrays his orders and conspires with Prospero out of sympathy for his situation.

The timeline of the play, however, is ruled by conspiracies shaped by Prospero himself. Having lived on the island with his daughter, the spirits he controls with his spells, and the slave that he has do his bidding, Prospero has achieved a mastery of his situation. He uses this advantage to create an extravagant false reality to manipulate his enemies and to create new relationships with allies. 

The most interesting thing about the character of Prospero is that he forgives. He contrives this elaborate situation to regain his rightful place of power and to potentially punish his enemies, but when the time comes where he can have his revenge, he chooses forgiveness instead. Prospero becomes a figure of self-realization and actualization. He becomes bigger than an emotional need, more generous than his detractors.