The Tempest

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Ariel Character Analysis

A spirit and Prospero's servant. Prospero rescued Ariel from a prison in which he was placed by the dead witch Sycorax. Now Ariel uses magic to carry out Prospero's commands. Ariel wants his freedom, which Prospero has promised to grant someday. In the meantime, Ariel serves Prospero loyally, and seems to enjoy the mischievous tricks he pulls on Prospero's enemies. At the play's end, Ariel's compassion for those enemies moves Prospero to release and forgive them.

Ariel Quotes in The Tempest

The The Tempest quotes below are all either spoken by Ariel or refer to Ariel. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Tempest published in 2004.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.
Hark, now I hear them, ding dong bell.
Related Characters: Ariel (speaker), Alonso, Ferdinand
Related Symbols: The Tempest
Page Number: 1.2.476-482
Explanation and Analysis:

Ariel has explained to Prospero that he deliberately ensured that certain people aboard the ship washed up onto shore, and that Alonso's son Ferdinand is separated from his father. In this passage Ariel, who is invisible, sings to Ferdinand as he awakens from a deep sleep, convincing him through his subconscious that his father has drowned in the shipwreck.

This is an example of Prospero acting as a playwright by giving Ariel detailed instructions in order to control the events to come. The words of Ariel's song emphasize the fantastical quality of the play. Not only does Ariel magically persuade Ferdinand to believe his father is dead, the lyrical language describing Alonso's bones turning to coral and eyes turning to pearl heightens the impression that the play is like a folktale or myth. 

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Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
Mine would, sir, were I human.
Related Characters: Ariel (speaker), Prospero
Page Number: 5.1.26
Explanation and Analysis:

Thanks to Ariel, Prospero has gained control over all his "enemies"; as a result, he has promised Ariel his freedom. When Prospero asks how Alonso and his men are doing, Ariel replies that they are terrified and that if Prospero were to see them now his "affections would become tender," adding, "mine would, sir, were I human." This humble comment reveals the irony of the idea that Ariel is not human. Throughout the play, Ariel has acted with compassion, intelligence, and dignified self-restraint (indeed, these qualities set him apart from many of the human characters on the island!). His advice that Prospero will feel pity for Alonso and the others is accurate, and shows that he has a sophisticated understanding of the depth of human emotions. 

Despite this, Ariel still refuses to claim human status for himself, and obediently acquiesces when Prospero continues to delay his promise of freedom. In this sense, we can interpret Ariel as an ideal colonized subject, passively accepting Prospero's right to rule over him, silently putting up with bad treatment, and never claiming the right to be equal with those who have enslaved him. 

Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?
Related Characters: Prospero (speaker), Ariel
Page Number: 5.1.28-31
Explanation and Analysis:

Ariel has told Prospero that Alonso and his men are in a terrible state, and that if he were human, Ariel would feel sorry for them. Prospero is moved to sympathy by Ariel's words, and in this passage describes how Ariel has inspired him to be more compassionate. He says that if Ariel, who is only "air," can emphathize with the imprisoned men's plight, then surely Prospero himself should feel even more moved.

Once again, Ariel is presented in noble, anthropomorphized way, while still being treated as an "other," as decidedly non-human. Prospero's suggestion that the more similar you are to someone the more likely you are to feel sympathy with them contrasts with other evidence in the play. Antonio, for example, despite being Prospero's own flesh and blood, still acts with merciless cruelty against his brother. 

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Ariel Character Timeline in The Tempest

The timeline below shows where the character Ariel appears in The Tempest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 2
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Prospero summons his servant Ariel, who greets Prospero as his "great master," then gleefully describes how he created the illusion... (full context)
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Prospero thanks Ariel. Ariel reminds Prospero that he had promised to reduce Ariel's time in servitude if Ariel... (full context)
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
Nearby, the invisible Ariel sings a haunting song to Ferdinand, Alonso's son, who has awakened to find himself alone... (full context)
Act 2, scene 1
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Ariel enters, invisible, and plays music that makes Gonzalo and Alonso fall asleep. As they sleep,... (full context)
Power Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
...to go ahead with the plot, and Sebastian and Antonio draw their swords. Just then, Ariel enters again, and sings a soft warning. Gonzalo and Alonso awaken. Caught with their swords... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
Power Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
Ariel, invisible, enters just as Caliban begins to describe Prospero's ill treatment of him and to... (full context)
Power Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
...power. He entices Stephano by promising Miranda as a prize once the deed is done. Ariel listens in and makes plans to tell Prospero of the plot. (full context)
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
Colonization Theme Icon
...begin to sing loudly in celebration but cannot recall the tune they want to sing. Ariel supplies it, throwing Stephano and Trinculo into a fright. Caliban reassures them, delivering a lyrical... (full context)
Power Theme Icon
Colonization Theme Icon
...lord of such a wonderful island "where I shall have my music for nothing" (3.2.139–140). Ariel exits, still playing music, and the three men follow the bewitching sound. (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
Before any of them can eat, a clap of thunder sounds and Ariel appears in the form of a harpy. A flap of Ariel's wings makes the banquet... (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
Power Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
Prospero orders Ariel to gather his band of spirits to put on a celebratory masque, or performance, for... (full context)
Colonization Theme Icon
Prospero summons Ariel, who reports that he has led the drunken conspirators on a torturous walk through briar... (full context)
Power Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
Prospero and Ariel set a trap for the conspirators: they set out some flashy opulent clothing on a... (full context)
Power Theme Icon
Colonization Theme Icon
Ariel and Prospero send spirits shaped like hunting dogs to chase off the conspirators. Prospero orders... (full context)
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
Prospero says that all of his enemies are now under his control, and he promises Ariel that he will soon have his freedom. (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Prospero asks Ariel how Alonso and his men are doing. Ariel reports that he has confined them, spellbound,... (full context)
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
Ariel leads the courtiers onto the stage, still spellbound by Prospero's charm. Prospero addresses them—praising Gonzalo... (full context)
Power Theme Icon
Colonization Theme Icon
Ariel enters with the mariners. The Boatswain reports that the sailors awakened to find the ship... (full context)
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Prospero gives Ariel the final task of ensuring the ship a safe, speedy voyage back to Italy, then... (full context)