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Shakespeare’s The Tempest is much more than a mere fantastical magical story about a castaway father and daughter—it is an exploration of the depths and reaches that man can achieve through the power of his mind. In the play, magic can be seen as the weapon of one’s mind. Through it, the characters such as Prospero and Ariel are able to achieve whatever means they desire, from creating tempests to conjuring spirits. When viewed through a technocritical lens, the way magic is used in the play can be interpreted as the equivalent of how technology is used today. Magic is used as a powerful tool of both positive and negative manipulation, creation, and transformation—much like modern-day technology. Prospero’s magic is his technology. By analyzing three specific instances in which Prospero utilizes his magic in different ways, we can see the ways in which magic parallels modern uses of technology and has enabled man to achieve far greater than was ever conceived.

Prospero’s magical “art” (1.2.291) is his technology, thereby making him both an artist and a technician. In the opening lines of Act 1, Scene 2 of the play, Miranda asks, “If by your art, my dearest father, you have / Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them”. This is the first of many instances in the play where Prospero’s magic is referred to as his art. This is also the first instance where we see that magic is used to create something out of nothing—in this case, a storm out of thin air. Here, Prospero uses his specific skills to demonstrate the magnificent potential of his art. He admits how carefully calculated his actions are: “The direful spectacle of the wrack…I have with such provision in mine art / So safely ordered that there is no soul—/ No, not so much perdition as an hair / Betid to any creature in the vessel” (1.2.28-32). Prospero demonstrates his skills as a craftsman of magic through careful technical treatment of his art. Through “provisions” and calculations, he is able to raise a tempest in exactly the manner that he wants it to be, with not a single wind amiss. Similarly, modern-day technology requires many specific calculations and craftsmanship of a practiced hand in order to achieve the means it is meant to achieve. For instance in war, there are now countless technologies designed to capture enemies. Engineers can spend years figuring out the exact measurements, physics, and calculations behind every weapon used in the war. Miscalculations can cause huge accidents which can endanger innocent lives and kill civilians in an unintended manner, which is the precise situation that Prospero seeks to avoid through his detailed provisions. Here we see that the negative, destructive use of magic is already paralleling the negative use of technology. Both come into prominence through calculation in order to create and perfect a new object, thing, or being. Prospero uses magic as a form of self-defense and to seek revenge, while nowadays we use technology to achieve these same means.

In many ways, magic exists to create what the normal human being cannot within their existing parameters and limitations. It also brings to life things that one would never fathom or never even knew existed. This is also true of technology, which enables humans to achieve far beyond what anyone imagined even a few decades ago. In another instance in The Tempest, Prospero makes a masque appear complete with goddesses for Ferdinand and Miranda. He resolves, “I must bestow up on the eyes of this young couple some vanity of mine art” (4.1.39-41). Within an instant, he brings to life spirits “which by mine art / I have from their confines called to enact / My present fancies” (4.1.120-123). Ferdinand describes it as “a most majestic vision” (4.1.118) and begs to live with such joys forever: “Let me live here ever; So rare a wondered father and a wise / Makes this place paradise” (4.1.123-125). Such a wonderful vision appearing out of nowhere before Ferdinand’s eyes stupefies him into wonder; however, making such a show appear in today’s world is very easy with technology. In fact, it happens every day at the movie theatres. With creations such as projectors, laser shows, and cameras, it has become easy to conjure up stupendous images right before one’s eyes. Prospero’s technical mastery of magic creates a scene that modern technicians have been able to duplicate. While Shakespeare was writing this scene he must have never thought of such a spectacle becoming possible in everyday life, but it has become so. What is most interesting is that Prospero’s purpose of creating this show is for “vanity” (4.1.40) and enjoyment. This is also a common purpose of technology now, which enables people to bide away their time in activities that are of no real importance. Technology has become a way of showing off and asserting the impressiveness of its technicians. In this way, the technology of today has replaced the magic of yesterday as a means of pleasure and exhibiting one’s vastness of skill.

In the third instance, the use of magic parallels technology in the most somber way. At the end of the play, Prospero has a moment of recognition about how he has used his art thus far:

I have bedimmed

The noon tide sun. called forth the mutinous winds

And twixt the green sea and the azured vaults

Set roaring war; to the dread rattling thunder

Have I given fire, and rifted Jove’s stout oak

With his own bolt. (5.1.41-46).

This critical moment in the play is when Prospero recognizes how amongst the many uses of magic, he has used it only for negative means. This is evident when he refers to it as his “most potent art” (5.1.50) and declares: “this rough magic / I here abjure” (5.1.50-51). This is a moment of important self-recognition and reformation in Prospero about the nature of his art, which is also a foreshadowing of the state of technology in the world today and how people have also used technology for negative or meaningless purposes. Although technology is intended for benefit such as the advancement of life and ease of living, it can also be easily misused for evil and detriment. Take, for instance, the creation of gunpowder. It has been used to hunt for food to provide for one’s family and it has also been used for cold-hearted murder. Prospero’s renunciation of his magic is an acknowledgment of this double-edged quality of technology and is a refusal to fall into the same dehumanizing trap. “Shall not myself, / One of their kind…be kindlier moved than thou art?”, Prospero asks Ariel when he first realizes that Ariel possesses mercy but he does not. When Prospero resolves, “I’ll break my staff, / Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, / And deeper than did ever plummet sound / I’ll drown my book” (5.1.54-57), he takes an extra step of seeking to prevent not only himself, but others from falling into the same harmful pattern that he has. By taking this step of prevention, Prospero is inadvertently recognizing that misusing power and art is not a trait unique only to him, but amongst mankind. Indeed, this trait did continue on much past Shakespeare’s time and is prevalent in today’s world. People may not be using Prospero’s book or his magical staff specifically, but are using modern day versions of educational books and advanced weaponry to create evil and destruction on their Earth.  Mankind may have stopped using magic as their art, but has replaced it instead with technology.

In The Tempest, the use of magic parallels the modern-day uses of technology in many ways, but particularly in the three scenes analyzed thus far. From obtaining revenge on enemies, putting on fantastical shows, or gaining power, humans continue to use different manifestations of technology to suit whatever purposes they have. Just as technology is used now, magic is used in the play to enable man to achieve far beyond their usual limitations. With his magic, Prospero is able to achieve what he would never be able to if he did not have his art. Today’s technologies require devotion of time to careful precision and calculations. Virtually nothing is created strictly by hand and used without some sort of intervention by a modern, advanced machine that was created with the precise calculations. Many of those objects created facilitate pleasure and vanity for its users and creators. The creators of the advanced technologies feel empowered by what they have created while the users relish in the frivolous pleasures now possible by that creation. This ability to accomplish great things through the power of human intellect and hand has created in some a sense of security, vanity, and power, which unfortunately has also led to a misuse of these art forms. As Prospero illustrates, the capabilities of technology are vast, penetrating into all aspects of human life from preservation to recreation. It has become so that the word ‘technology’ itself is an umbrella term, which has come to mean many different things for different people. While in the play, Prospero’s uses of technology are in isolated, purpose-driven situations, we see today that these isolated situations have merged to create a whole world of technology where purposes and uses collide. What is used for pleasure, such as film, can also be used for purporting hate, which is seen in how films are used for propaganda in the media. In this way, technology has now become a complex, never-ending web, full of infinite inner routes and branches that people embark on, only to lead them onto numerous other branches and roads. Only time will tell if those branches will ever end or continue to branch into ever after.

In Sharon Olds’ poem “Summer Solstice, New York City”, a point is made about the existence of technology and its close link to the sustainability of a human life. Technology, both in the form of “iron stairs through the roof of the building” upon which the man is standing and in the form of “tiny campfires we lit at night / back at the beginning of the world”, allows this man the opportunity to either escape from life or rediscover a vital human connection which enables him to keep on living. The “tiny campfires”, which is arguably a form of primitive technology, allowed the people “at the beginning of the world” to sustain their lives and give birth to generations and nations of humans. This same evolving technology led to the construction of the very building which this man thought to jump off of, thus ending his life and a generation of people after him.

Technology is crucial for the sustainability of human beings by creating advancements in the quality of life which leads to a greater of humans and healthier humans. But no matter how closely linked technology is to the human condition, however, at the end of the poem, it is ultimately not  technology that leads to the revitalization of this man’s life. Neither the tiny campfires nor the technology that created the building or even the “huge machinery of the earth” induce life in this man. It is rather the irreplacable, inconceivable human chemistry that ultimately rehabilitates this man’s recovery from his attempted suicide. The poet invokes images of motherhood when she mistakenly thinks “they were going to beat him up, as a mother whose child has been lost will scream at the child when it’s found”. A parallel can be drawn between the man as a child who was lost in the chaotic world of technology and is now found by reestablishing vital human connections. Olds describes how “they took him by the arms and held him up”, illustrating  human love, warmth, and affection. These are emotions that can only be felt by human interaction and cannot be reproduced through any sort of technology. These are the man-made (or even God-made, if you want to stretch it that far) emotions and connections that allow this man to rediscover his life and continue living.

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