Finding Discovery in Shakespeare’s The Tempest

30 November 2016
30 November 2016 The Alchemy Team

Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, is perhaps the most commonly studied text in the Area of Study. This means two things: firstly, that there are plenty of resources available for students, and secondly, that the competition is fierce!

I want to break down the Tempest a little bit, and discuss the main points of discovery that I see. Of course, your teacher may focus on other elements or characters, but as an English tutor I get to work with students from dozens of different schools, so it actually gives me the advantage of seeing what many different teachers focus on and therefore determining what most teachers are looking for!

Now I’ll be the first to admit, The Tempest isn’t one of Shakespeare’s most gripping plays. It is hard to beat the tragedy of Othello or Romeo and Juliet. Nor does it contain the complexity of Hamlet or Macbeth. But there are still plenty of discoveries to draw upon, and it contains perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most illustrated character transformations.

In my experience, this module is all about Prospero. Sure, there are other discoveries made. Ariel discovers independence. Miranda discovers love. But the most prevalent discovery is the self discovery made by Prospero as he realises his flaws, repents of his ways and releases his hold on the island. The best essays I see are those that take the marker on this journey of Prospero from bitterness to forgiveness.

At the start of the Tempest, Propero is fuming. He is telling his story of betrayal to his daughter (who like most teenagers keeps getting distracted). Prospero is proper angry; betrayed by his own blood – his brother. We learn that he caused the storm, marooning them on that island, and his mastery of magic is keeping every one under his rulership.

As the play progresses we begin to see him change. He discovers that his bitterness isn’t helping anyone – including himself. Eventually he lets Miranda get married. And then at the end of the play he relinquishes his use of magic, which is so wonderfully symbolic of his inner discovery.

But this rough magic
I here abjure, and when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

Him giving up magic is so much more than a physical act. He uses magic to cover up his own insecurities after his brother betrayed him, so giving up that mask represents that he has finally understood who he is. Discovery is totally connected to identity, and this is the strongest case for personal discovery in the text.

What I usually recommend to students is devote one paragraph to self discovery (Propero) and then the other paragraph to discovery of the world – this could be Miranda, Ariel, or any of the other characters that learn more about the world around them.

You then want to find a related text that shares the same ideas – a character who learns about themselves and another who learns about the world. You need to ensure you RT aligns with your thesis – too often I see students choose discovery related texts that don’t connect with their argument at all.

This is just a simple summary from a private tutor of how I would approach Shakespeare’s the Tempest. Ultimately if you know your text well and can string together a good essay, you’ll be fine. If not, one of our incredible English Tutors can help you! Get started with them today to get the competitive edge in your HSC!
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