The Role and Significance of Ariel in the Tempest

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Prospero’s spirit helper. Ariel is referred to throughout most criticism as “he,” but his gender and physical form are ambiguous. Rescued by Prospero from a long imprisonment at the hands of the witch Sycorax, Ariel is Prospero’s servant until Prospero decides to release him. He is mischievous and ubiquitous, able to traverse the length of the island in an instant and to change shapes at will. He carries out virtually every task that Prospero needs accomplished in the play. Ariel is constantly attending to Prospero’s every need. However, we learn early on that Ariel is not a servant by nature; he primarily wants his liberty, but knowing that it will come, he serves Prospero wholeheartedly and happily. That he attends well to Prospero’s requests shows that Prospero’s magic is not black at all, and is really more of an art. In act 3, Ariel shows his notable use of white magic in the play when he torments Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio before their dinner. Ariel performs all of his services with great skill and presentation. From showing up as fire on the ship to his appearance as a great harpy to the three traitors, Ariel treasures the aesthetic. He tends to speak in beautifully poetic verse, even about the silliest things, without ever seeming foolish. Even as he pulls on Prospero’s robes, he sings a beautiful little song. Ariel stands in for all that is delightful and good in the natural world, having loyalty where he should, but still cherishing the freedom of the natural world. Ariel is Prospero’s spirit servant. Unlike Caliban, Ariel has a warm and loving relationship with Prospero, even if his master is still prone to harsh words. Ariel is constantly attending to Prospero’s every need. However, we learn early on that Ariel is not a servant by nature; he primarily wants his liberty, but knowing that it will come, serves Prospero wholeheartedly and happily.
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