In a chapter of Machiavelli’s The Prince titled “Of Cruelty And Mercy, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared, Or The Contrary” he discusses if it is better for a prince to be loved than feared or vice versa. Machiavelli concludes that it is better to be feared because with fear the people will obey, but if the prince is loved the people will become disorderly because they will not fear retribution.
In The Tempest, it seems that Shakespeare takes Machiavelli’s writing into consideration and then tosses it to the side. In The Tempest Prospero is Ariel’s master. He has the power to set Ariel free, but he holds onto the power he has so that he may use Ariel to further his goals. He may have this power over Ariel, but he doesn’t try to make Ariel fear him. This becomes apparent in Act 1, Scene 2 when Prospero is giving Ariel orders:
Ariel: Pardon, master.
I will be correspondent to command
And do my spriting gently.
Prospero: Do so, and after two days
I will discharge thee. (1. 2. 298-301)
Prospero treats Ariel rather well, almost kindly sometimes. He gives Ariel incentive to do what he asks, rather than threatening. As such, Ariel does what is asked of them with little trouble. Unlike in The Prince where Machiavelli suggests that rulers need to be feared, Prospero uses incentives to get Ariel to do what he wants them to.
Compared to the relationship that Prospero has with Caliban, this is very different. Caliban is constantly threatened and yelled at. There is no loyalty for Prospero in Caliban. Instead there is anger and resentment and even fear brought forth by Prospero’s treatment of him. This evident in the first interaction that Prospero and Caliban have in the play:
Prospero: Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself
Upon thy wicked dam, come forth!
Caliban: As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed
With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen
Drop on you both! A southwest blow on ye
And blister you all o’er!
Prospero: For this, be sure, tonight thou shalt have cramps,
Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up. Urchins
Shall forth forth at vast of night that they may work… (1. 2. 323-330)
Prospero yells at Caliban and threatens him with “Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up”. He dislikes Caliban and as such, treats him horribly. This behavior rather fits in with Machiavelli’s opinion in The Prince because he seeks to make Caliban fear him, but this fear that he seeks to instill does not make Caliban listen to Prospero. In fact, he often lashes out and does not do as he is told.
Graff, Gerald, and James Phelan. William Shakespeare, The Tempest: A Case Study in Critical
Controversy. Palgrave Macmillan., 2009.
“Of Cruelty And Mercy, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared, Or The Contrary.”
The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, pp. 64–67.