The Tempest

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Loss and Restoration Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon
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Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Tempest, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Loss and Restoration Theme Icon

Prospero's attempt to recover his lost dukedom of Milan drives the plot of the Tempest. But Prospero isn't the only character in the play to experience loss. Ariel lost his freedom to Sycorax and now serves Prospero. Caliban, who considers himself the rightful ruler of the island, was overthrown and enslaved by Prospero. By creating the tempest that shipwrecks Alonso and his courtiers on the island, Prospero strips them of their position and power, and also causes Alonso to believe that he has lost his son to the sea.

Through their reactions to these losses, the play's characters reveal their true natures. Reduced to desperation and despair, Alonso recognizes his error in helping to overthrow Prospero and gives up his claim to Milan, returning Prospero to power and restoring order between Milan and Naples. Though he desperately wants to be free, Ariel loyally serves his master Prospero. Prospero, meanwhile, gives up his magic rather than seeking revenge and frees Ariel before returning to Milan. In contrast to Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian never show remorse for overthrowing Prospero and prove to be ambitious killers in their plot to murder and overthrow Alonso. Stephano and Trinculo, in their buffoonish way, likewise seek power through violence. And Caliban, as opposed to Ariel, hates Prospero, and gives himself as a slave to Stephano in an effort to betray and kill Prospero. As Gonzalo observes in the last scene of the play, the characters "found ... ourselves, when no man was his own" (5.1.206-213).

Loss and Restoration ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Loss and Restoration appears in each scene of The Tempest. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Loss and Restoration Quotes in The Tempest

Below you will find the important quotes in The Tempest related to the theme of Loss and Restoration.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
What cares these roarers for the name of king?
Related Characters: Boatswain (speaker), Alonso
Related Symbols: The Tempest
Page Number: 1.1.16-17
Explanation and Analysis:

The play opens on a ship caught in the middle of a fearsome storm. Alonso, Gonzalo, and Antonio have attempted to speak to the Boatswain, who has pleaded that they stay below deck while he attempts to navigate the ship through the storm. When Gonzalo urges the Boatswain to bear in mind that Alonso is the King of Naples, the Boatswain responds that the storm doesn't care "for the name of king"––meaning that human hierarchies of status have no significance in the face of the almighty power of nature.

The boldness with which the Boatswain speaks to Gonzalo and the others emphasizes the way that the physical upheaval of the storm has created social upheaval among the characters. Additionally, the Boatswain's words serve as a reminder that, outside of a given political context, manmade structures such as rank and codes of behavior are made meaningless. Just as the storm itself will not distinguish between kings and ordinary people in its destructive might, so will the consequences of the storm throw these distinctions into disarray. 

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Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer! A brave vessel,
Who had no doubt some noble creature in her,
Dashed all to pieces.
Related Characters: Miranda (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Tempest
Page Number: 1.2.5-8
Explanation and Analysis:

The storm has caused the ship carrying Alonso, Antonio, Gonzalo and others to disintegrate. Meanwhile, on the island, Miranda watches the ship be battered alongside her father, Prospero, who she suspects is causing the storm with his magical powers. Miranda exclaims that she feels sympathy for those on the ship, imagining that there must be "some noble creature" aboard. Her observation reflects Gonzalo's statement in the previous scene that the Boatswain should remember who is onboard the ship (meaning in particular he should remember that there is a noble person, Alonso, the King of Naples). Miranda thus appears to possess a kind of prescience about the characters who will soon arrive on the island.

Miranda also feels a connection to the passengers on the ship because, like them, she was the victim of a shipwreck, which is how she ended up on the island. As this passage shows, Miranda is a kind, compassionate person, who feels sympathy when she encounters the suffering of others ("I have suffered / with those that I saw suffer"). This puts her in contrast to other characters who are embittered by their experiences (like Caliban) or who are selfish and power-hungry (like Antonio). 

Thy false uncle...new created
The creatures that were mine...set all hearts i'th'state
To what tune pleased his ear, that now he was
The ivy which had hid my princely trunk,
And sucked my verdure out on't...
Related Characters: Prospero (speaker), Antonio
Page Number: 1.2.95-106
Explanation and Analysis:

Prospero has decided to tell Miranda the truth about their past, before they were shipwrecked on the island. Prospero has explained that he was once the Duke of Milan, but that he effectively allowed his brother, Antonio, to manage the state; Antonio then betrayed Prospero to take total control of Milan for himself.

In this quote, Prospero explains how Antonio used his cunning political skill to manipulate others into believing whatever "tune pleased his ear." Prospero emphasizes how he and Antonio were initially very close and that he loved and trusted him, but that Antonio used this proximity and trust to undermine Prospero. This description establishes Antonio as a clear villain within the play, motivated not by loyalty and compassion but by self-interest and the desire for power. 

You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse.
Related Characters: Caliban (speaker), Prospero
Page Number: 1.2.437-438
Explanation and Analysis:

Prospero has thanked Ariel for creating the storm, although he has failed to set Ariel free per his request. Meanwhile, Prospero's "poisonous slave" Caliban enters, who Prospero treats much more cruelly. The two fight, with Prospero arguing that in the past he treated Caliban with care, only to have Caliban retaliate by attempting to rape Miranda. Caliban resentfully responds that he wished he had been successful in his rape attempt. Caliban grumbles that Prospero taught him language, but the only value of this is that now he knows how to curse. This is a key moment that establishes Prospero's paternalistic attitude to Caliban, a feature that signifies their colonial dynamic.

While Prospero considers it a gift that he has taught Caliban language, Caliban refuses to separate this education from Prospero's overall imprisonment of him. Caliban implies that there is little use to having language fluency if he is not treated as an equal by the people he communicates with. Under these circumstances, the only value in being able to speak is to curse his oppression. This tension is symbolically significant when compared to the "education" that European colonizers imposed on colonized populations throughout the New World.

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. 

Act 2, scene 2 Quotes
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.
Related Characters: Trinculo (speaker), Caliban
Related Symbols: The Tempest
Page Number: 2.2.40-41
Explanation and Analysis:

On a different part of the island, Caliban has delivered a speech about the ways in which Prospero torments him; noticing Alonso's jester Trinculo, he hides under a cloak, believing the jester to be one of Prospero's spirits there to punish him for doing his work too slowly. Trinculo, meanwhile, notices Caliban despite his attempt to hide, and at first speculates about bringing him back to Naples to show him off as an exotic oddity. Then, fearing lightning from a coming storm, Trinculo crawls under the cloak with Caliban, exclaiming that "misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows." Beyond the literal truth of the fact that Trinculo and Caliban are now lying under a cloak together, Trinculo's words also apply to the way in which the storm has brought an unlikely group of people together on the island and caused unexpected alliances. 

Trinculo is a comic character, and to some extent this scene is a brief humorous distraction from the serious matters of political scheming and assassination plots. On the other hand, Trinculo's treatment of Caliban represents the cruel, ignorant way in which European colonizers interacted with and exploited colonized populations. While Trinculo is comically unintelligent, his perception of Caliban as a "strange" creature is not unrelated to Prospero's opinion that Caliban is savage, ugly, and subhuman.

Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
There be some sports are painful, and their labour
Delight in them sets off. Some kinds of baseness
Are nobly undergone; and most poor matters
Point to rich ends. This my mean task would be
As heavy to me as odious, but
The mistress which I serve quickens what's dead,
And makes my labours pleasures.
Related Characters: Ferdinand (speaker), Miranda
Page Number: 3.1.1-7
Explanation and Analysis:

Ferdinand has been enslaved by Prospero, and has walked onstage carrying a heavy log. As he does so, he delivers a speech in which he claims that there are certain forms of work that are "nobly undergone," and that his love for Miranda makes his labor pleasurable. These words prove Ferdinand to be a righteous, worthy character; he happily performs acts of self-sacrifice in order to win Miranda's hand, thus proving his love for her is committed and sincere.

At the same time, Ferdinand's speech highlights how different his situation is from that of Caliban. Unlike Ferdinand, Caliban is imprisoned by Prospero completely against his will, and will not ultimately benefit from his captivity. Caliban's labor is thus meaningless and devoid of any dignity or satisfaction. 

Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
...The rarer action is
In virtue, than in vengeance.
Related Characters: Prospero (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.35-36
Explanation and Analysis:

Moved by Ariel's sympathy for Alonso and the other men who Prospero has ordered to be imprisoned, Prospero has reflected that he himself should be more sympathetic. He admits that he still feels hurt by their "high wrongs," but reasons that it is more rare to act virtuously than vengefully. The events leading up to this moment certainly support this theory; the play is full of characters seeking revenge on one another.

Yet Prospero's use of the word "rare" does not just refer to infrequency, it also refers to value. As he has observed to Ariel, acting with compassion and forgiveness toward others is admirable, and an important part of being human. Note that Prospero must be reminded of this fact, and of how to use his power for good, by Ariel, a non-human with very little power. 

...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. 

...O brave new world
That has such people in't!
Related Characters: Miranda (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.217-218
Explanation and Analysis:

Moved to compassion by Ariel, Prospero has ordered Alonso, Gonzalo and the others to be released and brought to him. He has praised Gonzalo and scolded the others, before revealing himself in the old attire of the Duke of Milan. Alonso grieves the presumed loss of Ferdinand, and at first Prospero continues letting him believe Ferdinand is dead, before revealing Ferdinand and Miranda together.

Seeing the new people, Miranda exclaims, "O brave new world!", astonished and delighted by seeing so many new people at once. However, Miranda's joy reveals how naïve she is as a result of having grown up on the island. After all, some of the men she is meeting are selfish, disloyal, and cruel, a fact that Prospero hints at immediately after her excited exclamation. 

...O rejoice
Beyond a common joy, and set it down
With gold on lasting pillars: in one voyage
Did Claribel her husband find at Tunis,
And Ferdinand her brother found a wife
Where he himself was lost; Prospero, his dukedom
In a poor isle, and all of us ourselves,
When no man was his own.
Related Characters: Gonzalo (speaker), Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand
Related Symbols: The Tempest
Page Number: 5.1.247-254
Explanation and Analysis:

All the characters on the island have been summoned together, which has led to many surprises, including the fact that Prospero, Miranda, and Ferdinand, all of whom were presumed dead, are in fact alive, and that Ferdinand and Miranda have fallen in love. In response to the happy scene, Gonzalo calls on everyone to rejoice, observing that while Ferdinand was lost in the storm, he in fact found a wife; meanwhile, Prospero has regained his dukedom "in a poor isle." Gonzalo's statement emphasizes how the upheaval of the storm and magic of the island have ultimately resulted in a restoration of the natural order of things. His final comment that everyone has found themselves "when no man was his own" highlights the importance of compassion, loyalty, and selflessness, traits that Gonzalo has unwaveringly embodied throughout the play. 

Gonzalo's speech emphasizes the way in which the characters have made instrumental use of the island; indeed, Gonzalo describes all the ways in which the storm will restore and improve Italian courtly society without mentioning the impact on the island itself, including its inhabitants. A postcolonial perspective – one that can see the faults in colonialism and the ideas and logic that supported colonial actions – thus allows us to identify a narrow, selfish underside to Gonzalo's triumphant declarations. 

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.