The Tempest

by

William Shakespeare

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The Tempest: Imagery 2 key examples

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Imagery
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... read full definition
Act 1, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—The Sea :

The Tempest contains many images of the sea that evoke the senses of sight, sound, and touch. In Act 1, Scene 2, Miranda begs Prospero to stop the storm:

If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,
But that the sea, mounting to the welkin's cheek,
Dashes the fire out. 

Here, Miranda tries to evoke the violence of the storm by describing how "wild" the sea looks. She also uses auditory imagery to describe its sound, talking about the "roar" of the water. Finally, she describes the storm's terrible smell of "stinking pitch."

In the same scene, Prospero accuses Ariel of being ungrateful. Ariel has just demanded his freedom, but Prospero reminds him of how he must stay and repay his debt:

Thou dost, and think'st it much to tread the ooze
Of the salt deep,
To run upon the sharp wind of the north,
To do me business in the veins o' the earth
When it is baked with frost.

Prospero still wants Ariel to "do [him] business" by bending the elements to his will. Soon after their discussion, Ariel strives to fulfill Prospero's wishes and sings a song to Ferdinand with striking imagery of a drowned father:

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.

The visual imagery of coral bones and pearl eyes creates a fantastic picture of Ferdinand's father drowning at sea. Despite Ferdinand's belief that he is dead, Alonso is alive and well. But Ariel's powerful song deceives Ferdinand into believing that he will never see him again.

Ariel employs not only visual imagery but also alliteration; the repetition of the /s/ and /f/ sounds enhances Ariel's song. Throughout the play, characters employ this kind of evocative language along with vivid imagery to draw the audience further into the plot. This demonstrates both the power and the enticing magic of language itself.

Explanation and Analysis—The Storm:

Shakespeare uses visual, auditory, and tactile imagery to convey the overwhelming power of the tempest. In Act 1, Scene 2, Prospero describes how Antonio and Alonso abandoned him to the storming seas in a rickety boat:

In few, they hurried us aboard a bark,
Bore us some leagues to sea, where they prepared
A rotten carcass of a boat, not rigged,
Nor tackle, sail, nor mast; the very rats
Instinctively had quit it. There they hoist us
To cry to th' sea that roared to us, to sigh
To th' winds, whose pity, sighing back again,
Did us but loving wrong.

Here, imagery creates sympathy for Prospero and Miranda. The most striking visual image is that of the "rotten carcass" of a boat abandoned by even the lowliest creatures. Auditory imagery of the sea that "roared" and "sigh[ed]" gives the audience a good sense of the storm's terrible power. The combination of these elements shows that the tempest overwhelms every sense.

Prospero's detailed descriptions also indicate that Miranda is not simply a daughter or a young woman but a worthy audience who deserves to hear the whole truth. This excerpt is part of a larger dialogue that establishes how Prospero and Miranda were stranded on the island; Shakespeare employs imagery to inspire the audience's imagination and get them emotionally involved in the first few scenes of the play.

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