"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep" (IV, I, 56-8)

It is not surprising, then that we can so readily align Prospero with his creator: supreme artist controlling and constructing the island like Shakespeare with his Globe theatre. Traditional readings of the play interpreted Prospero's control of its events and characters as entirely benign; he was often seen as representative of Art itself. Also, because The Tempest is almost certainly Shakespeare's final play, people have been keen to see it as Shakespeare's graceful retirement from this "insubstantial pageant faded" (IV, I, 155) and interpreted as resignation and the end of a career:

"I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than ever did plummet sound
I'll drown my book" (V, I, 50)

We should not be put off by the convenience of this assumption but sceptical of reading the play only along these lines. It is worth considering Prospero the playwright of Shakespeare's characters, but then we must also see Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream in the same light (although Puck is youthfully inept rather than old and fading). It is more useful, perhaps, to see The Tempest as another experiment following on from The Winter's Tale in taking a primarily tragic central character and making him amusing. Notice the similarities in the language used by Prospero here, by Leontes in The Winter's Tale and by King Lear. All three ageing 'heroes' are losing control of their mental faculties. However, where Lear reduces his life to nakedness and screaming at the gods, Leontes and Prospero try to manipulate their way to resolution, and due to their lack of actual control they both start to become the agents of fate. This is the fate of the romances: a mixture of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream: one of magic, sleep and dreams where nothing is ever quite real, nobody gets hurt, and everyone ends up seeming absurd and powerless.

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