A Jungian Interpretation of the Tempest
Shakespeare’s Tempest lends itself to many different levels of meaning and interpretation. The play can be seen on a realistic plane as a tale of political power and social responsibility. It can be seen as allegory examining the growth of the human spirit. The Tempest investigates marriage, love, culture. It is symbolic of man’s rational higher instincts verses his animal natural tendencies. This is a play of repentance, power, revenge and fate that can also be seen as fantasy, dream, imagination, metaphor or magic.
The Tempest should be allowed to represent many points of view, even those that the author was not consciously or unconsciously aware when he wrote it. One outlook does not invalidate the others. I propose to illustrate The Tempest as a play about what is occurring in the protagonist’s mind. To be more specific, it is the growth, maturing and individuation of Prospero. Shakespeare, in a sense of which he could not be conscious, was anticipating Freud and Jung. His servants, Ariel and Caliban, are the agents of synchronicity. By synchronicity, I mean meaningful coincidence; an acausal principle relating inner mind to the external world; a vehicle whereby the ego, if it is open, can glimpse the Self. In Jung’s terms, it is strongest when an emotional attachment exists and when there is an element of risk or death. When the subject is ready to learn, the unconscious mind can affect physical reality. By individuation, I mean, “becoming a single homogenous being …. Becoming one’s own self …. Coming into selfhood.” 1
To begin showing how this process takes place in Prospero, I would like to take issue with some traditional views of the character. Many critics see Prospero as completely in control of everything that takes place on his island. He is seen as all-knowing, having a perfect plan in place, often seen as calm, as good, as the main force of reason and logic and Man’s highest qualities. I do not dispute all of this. Prospero is an amazingly talented, wise, mature man in control of himself and his environment, but he is not perfect. This is a play showing growth and education in its characters, but most of all, the growth and education of Prospero himself. At the outset, he is a man in struggle, an embittered man, a vengeful tyrannical man; not God, unless it is the cruel anthropomorphic God of the early Old Testament.