The Tempest

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Prospero's Cloak and Books Symbol Analysis

Prospero's Cloak and Books Symbol Icon
Prospero's cloak and books are the source of his power. He deliberately takes off his cloak at two points in the play: once when he tells Miranda of their history, and again at the end of the play when he gives up his magic. Gonzalo knows how much Prospero loves his books, and he arranges for them to be placed on the ship that removes Prospero and Miranda from Milan. Without the books, Prospero would not have had the power to summon the tempest and restore order to Milan and Naples. Caliban advises Stephano to seize Prospero's books when they make plans to murder Prospero and take control of the island. When Prospero relinquishes his magic at the end of the play, he says, "I'll drown my book" (5.1.57). If, as many critics suggest, Prospero is the voice of Shakespeare as he retires from the theater, the books might also represent the power of words and ideas.

Prospero's Cloak and Books Quotes in The Tempest

The The Tempest quotes below all refer to the symbol of Prospero's Cloak and Books. 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 4, scene 1 Quotes
A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick...
Related Characters: Prospero (speaker), Caliban
Related Symbols: Prospero's Cloak and Books
Page Number: 4.1.211-212
Explanation and Analysis:

Prospero has suddenly interrupted the masque, having remembered Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban's plot against him. He summons Ariel, who reports that he has led the three drunk men on a treacherous walk, and gives further details about their plans to kill Prospero and steal his cloak and books. Prospero is furious, exclaiming that Caliban is a devil "on whose nature / nurture can never stick." His words reflect a prominent debate among colonizers at the time about the nature of indigenous populations. Some argued that "savage" populations could be educated or "nurtured" to think and behave like Europeans––hence the "civilizing" missions that imposed Christianity and Western culture on colonized populations.

Others believed that it was impossible to "civilize" these populations, as Prospero claims in this passage. Like Prospero, many who held this view claimed that non-white people were not human, comparing their "nature" to animals or "devils." Note that both interpretations were deeply racist in that they cast the non-Europeans were seen as inferior to Europeans, although the second was more likely to be used as justification for enslavement and genocide. 


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Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
...But this rough magic
I here abjure...I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than ever did plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
Related Characters: Prospero (speaker)
Related Symbols: Prospero's Cloak and Books
Page Number: 5.1.59-66
Explanation and Analysis:

Having decided to set free Alonso and his men, Prospero conjures the spirits onstage and gives a lyrical speech about the many acts of magic he has performed in the past. He then resolves that, after this final act, he will break and bury his staff and "drown" his magic books, giving up his supernatural powers for good. Although Prospero is not a villainous character and (arguably) used magic mostly for good, this speech suggests that it is necessary for him to stop practicing magic in order to restore the natural order and balance of power––both on the island and back in Italy. 

This speech takes on a further level of significance if we read Prospero as representing Shakespeare. As Shakespeare neared the end of his life, perhaps he used Prospero's speech as a symbolic farewell to the theatre after a lifetime of creating "magic" and illusion on the stage. This analogy suggests that, while the power to create drama is akin to a supernatural gift, it is not possible for this to last forever, as even playwrights are mortal beings whose "little life" will inevitably come to a close. 

Epilogue Quotes
Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own—
Which is most faint. Now 'tis true
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples, let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island, by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair
Unless I be relieved by prayer
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
Related Characters: Prospero (speaker)
Related Symbols: Prospero's Cloak and Books
Page Number: Ep.1-20
Explanation and Analysis:

Prospero has scolded Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban for their plot against him, but has suggested that if Caliban follows a final set of orders, he may be freed. Meanwhile, the rest of the characters have made plans to spend one final night on the island before voyaging back to Italy the next day. Everyone exits except Prospero, who delivers a final speech addressed to the audience. Prospero reviews the fact that he has relinquished his magical powers, reclaimed his dukedom, and "pardoned the deceiver." In other words, the natural hierarchy of power has been restored, and there remain no outstanding plots or grudges. Prospero asks the audience to "release me from my bands / with the help of your good hands"––meaning that the audience's applause will set him free. 

Again, many critics interpret this final speech to be the voice of Shakespeare himself, proclaiming a final farewell to the theatre. The speech alludes to the importance of forgiveness, perhaps suggesting that the power of drama lies within its ability to evoke sympathy and to encourage people to treat one another with mercy and compassion. Prospero's request to be "released" and "set free" is curious, as he himself has imprisoned and enslaved various other characters throughout the play. Overall, whether within the world of the play or in the context of a farewell from Shakespeare, Prospero's speech emphasizes the continuation of life beyond the ephemeral presence of any one person. 

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Prospero's Cloak and Books Symbol Timeline in The Tempest

The timeline below shows where the symbol Prospero's Cloak and Books 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
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
...and says that it's time to tell Miranda about her past. He takes off his cloak, saying, "Lie there my art" (1.2.24-25). Prospero then reveals to Miranda that he was once... (full context)
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
...them with necessities like fresh water, clothing, blankets, and food, as well as Prospero's beloved books. (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
Power Theme Icon
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
...with they knife" (3.2.80-83). But it is vital, he says, for Stephano to seize Prospero's books, which are the source of his power. He entices Stephano by promising Miranda as a... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
...this last act he will give up his powers, breaking his staff and drowning his book of magic. (full context)