Poetic Faith In Shakespeare’s The Tempest

January 23, 2023 by Essay Writer

The phenomenon of creating magical creatures and implementing supernatural elements is not a new one in literature. However, the presence of magical issues in the text does not always mean a fairy tale pointing to the power of poetic faith that, following Coleridge, points to the willing suspension of disbelief for the moment. In other words, the reader allows the existence of particular magical elements as acceptable ones under the effect of the tools used by an author. Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a great example of such a piece that implements poetic faith for understanding the play’s significance and morale. Following the image of the main character, Prospero, his magical power based on scientific studies influences the audience’s perception of the supernatural throughout the whole plot that marks poetic faith as an important tool for realizing one of the primary messages of the play touching the issues of the extreme power of personal desires.

First of all, it is important to focus on the definition of poetic faith as the notion coined by Coleridge referring to the literature. Without a doubt, writing any piece of literature is based on the further interaction between the writer and his audience through poetic text. In this way, it requires additional techniques from the writer to involve all the attention and faith of the reader according to the plot of a particular story. Following Coleridge, he aimed to invoke faith in the audience by “transfer[ing] from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient” so that his “shadows of imagination” could enjoy the indulgence of “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment” (Phillips). In other words, suspension of disbelief can be defined as a conscious choice of a reader who, of course, does not believe in demons, but allows their existence in the poetic text plunging into the plot. Thus, such an ability to use the willing suspension of disbelief for the moment is defined as poetic faith.

Without a doubt, Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the richness of the plot with magic and illusions refer directly to poetic faith basing on Prospero as the image of the supernatural. According to the very first pages of the play, one of the main characters, Prospero, has a magical power that marks this piece of literature a fantasy:

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. (Shakespeare et al.)

The passage represents the description of Prospero’s power over nature that makes the audience deepen into the world of magic. Such an effect of immediate inclusion into the world represented through a piece of literature refers to the willing suspension of disbelief for the moment. It allows the readers an adequate perception of the magic images and events in the play for focusing on the message and morale of the story. Following the plot, Prospero expresses his endless power controlling everything on the island and forcing the spirits to act according to his commands:

My high charms work

And these mine enemies are all knit up

In their distractions; they now are in my power.


(Shakespeare et al.)

Providing Prospero with such an unlimited power that, actually, influences all the plot lines, the author makes the audience perceive magic as a key element for encouraging poetic faith for the further perception of the sense of the text.

According to the image of Prospero as a magician, it is important to admit science as the base for his magical power that becomes the platform for poetic faith, referring to minimizing possible risks regardless of the audience’s time. Tracing the plot of the play, it is not difficult to notice the references to science and studies when explaining Prospero’s power:

And Prospero the prime duke, being so reputed

Indignity, and for the liberal arts

Without a parallel; those being all my study,

The government I cast upon my brother

And to my state grew stranger, being transported

And rapt in secret studies. (Shakespeare et al.)

It is true to say that, following the XVII century, scientific studies transcended the limits of people’s understanding. Such a remark serves as an additional tool for marking the exceptionality and power of Prospero’s magic in the context of existing beliefs about science as magic. Referring to perceiving the significance of The Tempest in modern time, such a reference allows evaluating the reasons for the connection between magic and science, establishing strong poetic faith as well. According to Shakespeare, Prospero’s magic is rooted in science that alleviates its perception as something innate and supernatural. Thus, in both cases, magic is represented through the prism of already heard concepts and ideas about science and magic that strengthens poetic faith.

So, analyzing the play, one should admit that poetic faith plays an important role in understanding the play’s significance through the adequate perception of the metaphors that visualize the real-life power of personal desires. Magic in The Tempest and its right perception allows realizing the parallels between enormous power and personal freedom that is worth a lot more. It is true to say that magic and supernatural power are often perceived as a gift that makes a person extremely powerful and influential. This way, the examples of Prospero’s magical power are represented in such a way for both marking it a poetic faith and realizing its importance and exceptionality. The author represents a small island as a place where Prospero possesses an enormous amount of power. At the same time, he is enslaved by his power on the small island, referring to his limited abilities as a king in his native country. In other words, the play proves the fact that even those people with enormous power and control over others can be limited, referring to personal desires. As a result, the Epilogue represents Prospero asking the audience to set him free from the island and his magical power:

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands. (Shakespeare et al.)

This request can be understood only in case of adequate perception of magic and illusions in the play achieved through poetic faith. Both believing in the events happening in the play and assessing magic as an enormous gift to control, the reader can make conclusions about the endless power that directs a person on the way to fulfilling personal desires.

To sum up, Shakespeare’s The Tempest refers to the politics of Coleridge’s notion of “poetic faith” that makes the readers allow the existence of magical elements in the context of the piece of literature. Analyzing the image of the main character of the play, Prospero, it is important to admit adequate perception of the supernatural by the audience concerning its scientific explanation and impact on all the plotlines. In this way, poetic faith serves as a tool for understanding one of the messages of the play and realizing the significance of The Tempest itself.


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