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Myth and Archetype in Shakespeares The Tempest

Submitted to: Prof. Shereen Abou El Naga.

Submitted by: Marwa Hassen Mohammed Abdel Hameed Rabie

PHD. Student Program.


Department of English
Faculty of Arts
Cairo University

This paper studies how Shakespeare remakes or reshapes myths in
The Tempest. In fact, there is not only one myth in the play, but he remakes
many myths like the myth of Medea, the myth of Demeter and Persephone
and that of Medusa. He has used these myths to give more depth to the
analysis of the psychology of his characters. He also uses myths in his plays
because the Elizabethan were very familiar with classical myths, hence they
would understand the meaning Shakespeare implies by referring to one myth
or another. Thus, the paper is built on the mythological critical approach as
advocated by Carl Gustav Jung, Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell.
However, before applying mythological criticism on The Tempest, it is
important to know what it is and why it has been chosen in this paper.
Introduction: Archetypal or Mythological Criticism:
Archetypal or mythological criticism is a type of critical theory that
interprets a text by focusing on recurring myths and archetypes in the
narrative, symbols, images and character types in a literary work. The
importance of archetypal or mythological criticism lies, according to the
psychologist, Jung in the importance of myths. According to critics of
mythological criticism, myths are the culturally elaborated representations
of the contents of the deepest recess of the human psyche: the world of
archetypes (Walker 4).
However, in order to understand the relationship of mythology to
literature and to human psyche, it is important to refer to Jungs On the
Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry, in which he articulates the
theory of literature. According to him, the art has its source not in the
personal unconscious of the author or the artist, but in the collective
unconscious of the human kind as a whole. Elaborating this viewpoint
further, Jung writes:
Great poetry draws its strength from the life of mankind, and
we completely miss its meaning if we try to derive it only from
personal factors. Whenever the collective unconscious becomes
a living experience and is brought to bear upon the conscious
outlook of an age, this event is creative act which is of
importance for a whole epoch. A work of art is produced that
may be truthfully called a message to generation of men. (Jung,
Psychology and Literature CW15, 153/98)
Thus, the collective unconscious as Jung defines it, contains the
whole spiritual heritage of mankinds evolution, born a new in the brain

structure of every individual (CW 8, 342/158). Hence, as he claims, it

contains a treasure-house of primordial images (CW 9i, 518/286; 7,
110/70). Nevertheless, Jung argues that this primordial experience is dark
and amorphous and requires mythological imagery to give it form (CW 15,
151/96). This form Jung is referring to is the myth, or mythological images.
Hence, he states that these primordial images which exist in the collective
unconscious are called archetypes. Understanding the meaning of these
archetypes lies in realizing the role of the myth. As Jung states, myth is
essentially a product of the unconscious archetype and is therefore a
symbol which requires psychological interpretation (CW 10, 629/39). Thus,
a knowledge of mythology is needed in order to grasp the meaning of a
content deriving from the deeper levels of the psyche, because myths seek
to translate natural secrets into the language of consciousness and to declare
the truth that is the common property of mankind in short, myths reveal
the nature of the soul(CW 8, 309/148; 13, 395/301; & 9i, 716) [quoted in A
Jungian study of Shakespeare 44-45]. Thus, myth can be used as symbols to
elaborate psychological characteristics in a certain character in the literary
work. Hence, when images are personified as mythical characters in
literature they are archetypal figures as Jung calls them. Also they become
what Northrope Frye means when he considers them to be communicable
It is actually very relevant to use mythological analysis as a tool of
analysis in this paper not only because Shakespeare uses archetypes in the
play, but also to grasp quite a psychological understanding of the characters
of the play and how Shakespeare tends to present them. Also, it is relevant
because it will help us see how Shakespeare has reshaped and tailored
certain myths in his play to send certain messages to his audience.
Reshaped Myths in Shakespeares The Tempest:
Throughout The Tempest, Shakespeare refers to many Greek and
Roman mythologies and reshapes them for his purposes.
Myth of Medea and Jason:
One of the most important myths which Shakespeare has deployed in
his play is the myth of Medea. In The Argonautic Myth as Subtext of
Shakespeares The Tempest, Mary Frances Williams writes:
The myth of Jason and Medea provides a paradigm that
illuminates Shakespeares The Tempest. It is accepted that
Prospero (5.1.33-57) quotes Medea in Ovids Metamorphoses.
But the play also contains elements of the myth: a hero who
voyages on a quest, a heroine, magic, theft, love, monsters,

violence and marriage. Prospero is both Aeetes, an isolated

king, and a Jason who attempts to regain his realm. Ferdinand is
another Jason, and Miranda is a Medea who loves a stranger.
Verbal echoes link Ovid and Apollonius Rhodius to the main
characters and important scenes: Jason, Medea, Prospero,
Caliban, the masque, classical divinities, and magic.
Shakespeares changes to the myth highlight morality and
forgiveness; a happy ending is achieved because Prospero
rejectsa the Golden Fleece: greed, lust and Violence. (192)
According to, Mary Frances Williamss, it is obvious that Shakespeare
knew the Argonautic myth and this is clear in the way Prospero extensively
quotes it in one of his speeches (5.1.33-57). Hence, many scholars relate the
storm upon which the play opens to the original myth. According to
Williams, the myth of Jason and the Argonauts is very similar to the
underlying pattern of the play (193). There are many parallels between the
myth and the play. These parallels are exemplified in involving deities like
Venus and Cupid, Iris, Hera and Demeter. They also exemplify in names like
Harpies and in the descriptions of Jason and Medea. As Williams states,
Shakespeare draws on some events from the original myth like the meeting
between Jason and Medea, Jasons contest and Medeas sudden love (193).
Moreover, many critics argue that Prospero assumes two rules from
the Argonautic myth. He plays Aeetess role, the king of an isolated land as
well as the father of a daughter. Similar to Aeetes, he is alarmed by his
daughters infatuation with Ferdinand. The other role that Prospero assumes
is the role of Jason. Like Jason, Prosperos brother has stolen his kingdom
and forced him to travel to an isolated island where he tries to regain his
position and dukedom again. Like Jason, Prospero has to struggle against
wind and sea to reach his island. In fact, Prosper and Jason have the same
aims. Jason wants the Golden Fleece to help him regain his kingdom and
Prospero wants to regain Milan. Jason has to overcome many obstacles and
so is Prospero. He has to control Caliban, prevent Stephano and Trincular as
well as Antonio and Sebastian from carrying out their plots.
According to Williams, Ferdinand is another Jason, a prince who is
shipwrecked onto Prosperos island (193). Like, Jason, he has to undergo
two trials exemplified in carrying wood and playing chess all thy
vexations/Were but my trials of thy love, and thou/Hast strangely stood the
test (4.1.5-7). Also Miranda is like Medea. She is the daughter of the ruler
of an isolated island. She loves Ferdinand and she helps him to win her
fathers trials. Eventually, they are engaged. Furthermore, there are a lot of

similarities between the intersections of Jason and Medea and Ferdinand and
Miranda. Medea has fallen in love with Jason because he was as beautiful as
a god and so has Miranda. When Miranda sees Ferdinand for the first time,
she thought that he is a spirit, I might call him/A thing divine for nothing
natural (1.2.412-414).
However, Williams argues that Shakespeare has followed the
chronology of the myth to a point Shakespeare only adheres to the pattern
of myth until violence threatens and the potential blood shed itself is a link
to the Argonautic myth (198). Shakespeare does not want to echo the
violence that exists in the original myth. As the play is a romance, he wants
every thing to end happily. Hence, he avoids Prospero, his main character,
Aeetess vengeance. Prospero is not cruel or vengeful, he is forgiving. He is
willing to forgive all those who have harmed him like Antonio, Sebastian
and Alonso, Yet with my nobler reason against my fury/ Do I take part: the
rarer action is/ In virtue than in vengeance (5.1.26-28). Unlike Aeetes, he is
not so aggressive in the way he treats Jason. He did assign to Ferdinand
brutal trials as Aeetes has done. Rather he pretends to be harsh with
Ferdinand. He assigns him not very hard work so that it wont seem that he
has won Miranda easily, lest too light winning/Make the prize light
(1.2.453-455). Also, while Medeas love to Jason was a one -sided love,
Mirandas love is mutual. Jason loves her to the extent that he sees her as a
goddess and a wonder (1.2.424, 429). Unlike, Jason he declares his love
to Miranda.
One of the other aspects in which Shakespeare derivates from the
original myth is that though he mentions Venus and Cupid in the masque, yet
he asserts their absence from the island [Lest] they to have done/some
wanton charm upon this man and maid (4.1.86-101). While in the original
myth, both Aphrodite and Eros were responsible for Medeas violent and
uncontrollable love for Jason, in the play, Prospero will allow his daughter to
love and marry Ferdinand, but he will not allow her to experience the same
uncontrollable love of Medea which has led to all the death and destruction
in the original myth. Prosper will allow Miranda to sit and get acquainted
with Jason Sit, then, and talk with her; she is thine own (4.1.32). Though
Miranda has disobeyed her fathers orders and talked to him, yet unlike
Medea, she wont sneak out at night to secretly meet him and definitely she
wont flee with him. Moreover, Ferdinand promises to avoid lust and agrees
to a chaste love affair. Hence, Venus and Cupid have no place here. The play
will end in holy matrimony. One of the other differences between the play
and the original myth exemplifies in the character of Miranda. Unlike Medea
who is a witch, who has derived her powers from Hecate, the goddess of the

underground and who uses herbs, charms and other witchy crafts, Miranda is
presented as an innocent, gentle girl who knows nothing about magic or its
One of the other most important issues that Shakespeare has avoided
in his revision of the Argonautic myth as Williams pinpoints is the negative
implications of the Golden Fleece (Williams 200). In Tempest, though
Shakespeare has avoided mentioning the Golden Fleece literally, yet he has
reflected the vices it stands for like greed, lust, ambition and violence.
However, though these vices really exist in the play because they are human
traits, yet Prosperos white magic managed to stop all the awful acts resulted
from these vices. Moreover, greed and ambition do not motivate the two
characters who stand for jasons character in the main myth. Prosperos sole
aim is to regain his rightful dukedom. Unlike, Jason whose aim is to steal the
Golden Fleece from Aeetes and who has manipulated Medea to achieve his
aim, Ferdinand does not want Prosperos island, all he wants is Miranda.
Thus, as Williams illustrates:
Shakespeare reveals that the main obstacle to the happiness of
Jason and Medea, and of Ferdinand and Miranda, are what the
Fleece represents: greed violence, treachery, ambition,
conspiracy, lust and a fathers lack of sensitivity towards his
daughters happiness. So Shakespeare counters the Fleece, and
the vices it symbolizes, with Prosperos magic, which isa only
used for good and which replaces those vices with their
opposites (love, marriage, forgiveness, non-violence, and
legitimate authority). (Williams 201)
Hence, it is obvious that Shakespeare has changed the Argonautic
myth and in doing that he has altered the lives of both Prospero and
Myth of Demeter:
As aforementioned, every time the loving couples are mentioned in
Shakespeares play and though both Aphrodite and Eros have played a great
role in the original myth by arousing Medeas controlled and extreme love to
Jason, yet in the play they have no real presence. Shakespeare chooses to
replace the appropriate goddess of love with Demeter, Goddess of grain and
fertility. In A Demeter, final analysis, Philip Ruch relates Shakespeares
choice of Demeter to the ideals she stands for, grain and fertility. Moreover,
Ruch argues that Shakespeare himself has illustrated his reason for not
including Aphrodite and Cupid in the play. In order to clarify his reasons,
Shakespeare let Iris clarify their absence to Demeter:

I met her deity [Aphrodite]

Cutting the clouds towards Paphos and her son
Dive down with her. Here thought they to have done
Some wanton charm upon this man and maid
Whose vows are, that no bed-right shall be paid
Till Hymens torch be lighted: but vain;
Mars hot minion is returned again;
Herwaspich-headed son has broke his arrows.
Thus, Shakespeare uses Iris to create an alibi for the absence of the
gods of love. As Iris informs Demeter of a contract of love to celebrate; and
some donation freely to estate on the blest lovers (4.1. 91-93), she is
implying to Demeter that as goddess of fertility, she has to bless the union of
the two lovers. Thus, as Ruch stresses, the reason of including Demeter is
to reinforce the laws of the old and strengthen a marriage, which Aphrodite,
a goddess of love and desire, would not perform (Ruch 2).
In elaborating the way Shakespeare has changed the original myth of
Demeter, Ruch pinpoints that the main difference between the original myth
and Shakespeares revision of it is the point concerning the rape of
Persephone. Though in the original myth Hades sees Persephone and
immediately he falls in love with her, yet in The Tempest, Shakespeare
claims that it was Aphrodite and her son who has led to her rape. Moreover,
he adds that due to the role they have played in Persephones rape, Demeter
despises them. Since they [Aphrodite and Cupid] did not plot the means
that dusky Dis my daughter got, her and her blind sons scandald company I
have foresworn (4.1.96-99). Throughout these lines along with the absence
of Aphrodite and her son, it becomes obvious that, Shakespeare is
purposely playing out this negative relationship between Demeter and the
love goddess (Ruch 2). In fact, he uses this negative relationship between
the two goddesses to send a certain moral message to his audience,
Shakespeare is not telling his audience to forego love, but actually to
practice abstinence (Ruch 3). For him, the goddess of desire and sexual
pleasure has no part in the marriage blessing. Shakespeare shows Demeter
and this young couple as a model for his audience. Do not marry for sex and
do not have sex before marriage (Ruch 3).
Myth of Medusa:

Though there is rarely any mention of the character of Sycorax in the

play, yet she is mentioned every now and then by Prospero, Ariel and
Caliban. We first learn about Sycorax when Prospero manipulates her
memory to maintain power over Ariel, whom he uses to perform his magical
will. When Ariel shows annoyance with Prosperos continuous demands,
Prosper angrily reminds him of Sycorax, Dost thou forget/From what a
torment I did free thee? (1.2.250-1). He goes on reminding him, I
must/Once in a month recount what thou hast been,/which thou forgetst. this
demand witch Sycorax, / For mischiefs manifold, and sorceries [too]
terrible/To enter human hearing, from Algiers, / thou knowst, was
banished (1.2.262-266). Prospero goes on illustrating Sycoraxs evilness.
He insists that he cannot describe the specifities of her evil behavior that
have led to her banishment. Moreover, he associates her wicked behavior
with her knowledge of magic and implies that her horridness is connected to
her obscene sexuality. Moreover, Prospero reminds Ariel, And for thou was
a spirit too delicate/ To act her earthy and abhorred commands,/ refusing her
grand hests, she did confine thee (1.2.272-74). Moreover, describing her as
a powerful witch, he adds, a witch, and one so strong/ That could control
the moon, make flows and ebbs, / And deal in her [the moons] command
without her power (5.1.269-71).
The other main character who speaks of Sycorax is her son Caliban.
The first time he mentions her is was when he invokes his mothers
presumably wicked witchcraft to curse Prosper and Miranda for enslaving
him. In his lengthy speech, Caliban also invokes Sycorax to accuse Prospero
of theft this islands mine by Sycorax my mother, / which thou takst from
me (1. 2. 331-332). He also mentions her when he laments that
Prosperos magical power is stronger than her power I must obey. His art is
of such powr/It would control my dams god, Setebos (1.2.371-72).
Throughout the previous, it is obvious that though Sycorax is
presented as somebody who does not exist in the play, yet every now and
then some one would recount her character. According to them, she is a
witch, she is blue eyed. She can prison her victims in stones and trees.
Moreover, she is an Algerian. Mostly, she is very horrible and extremely
ugly. One way or another, Sycorax seems to resemble Medusa. Though there
is no direct mention of the myth of Medusa in the play, yet there are a lot of
similarities between Medusa and Sycorax. They are both related to North
Africa. Medusa head was taken to Libya and Sycorax is from Algeria.
Sycorax can prison her enemies in trees and Medusa can turn her enemies
into stones. Though no body has ever mentioned that Medusa is a witch, but
surely she possesses certain supernatural powers. According to Prospero,

Sycorax is deformed and so is Medusa after Athena has turned her into a
monstrous gorgon.
Myth as Archetype:
In defining Archetypes, Jung writes that archetypes are
primordial images or mythological figures (CW 15, 126-27/81) and that
they usually supply models for human behavior. Thus, archetypes reflect
something about the psychology of human nature. Archetypes help us delve
deeper into the psychology of characters.
Contemplating The Tempest, it is obvious that Shakespeare presents a
lot of archetypes in it. In other words, the characters of the play can be
regarded as personified archetypes. He presents the hero archetype
exemplified in both Prospero and Ferdinand. He also presents opposing
female archetypes. The Femme Fatale exemplified in Sycorax Vs Mirgin
Mary exemplified in Miranda. He also presents more than one aspect of the
human nature and psychology exemplified in the persona, the shadow and
the ego.
The Hero Archetype:
Many critics have agreed that Prospero exemplifies the hero
archetype. In Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell identifies the
hero as the protagonist who goes on a literal or figurative journey often from
childhood to adulthood, innocence to experience. Furthermore, he
emphasizes that the hero journey consists of three stages separation or
departure, the trials and victories of initiation and the return and
reintegration with society. A hero ventures forth from the world of common
day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there
encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this
mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man
(Campbell 30). As the hero gathers knowledge through his journey, this
knowledge will help him achieve both personal and social greatness.
Many critics agree that Prospero presents the hero archetype. His
forced departure from Milan represents the moment of initiation Campbell
has mentioned. However, Prosperos literal journey goes hand in hand with
his psychological journey. He is presented as a pompous, self-pitying and
unforgiving character. He is a person who is in total control of every thing
around him. This aspect of Prosperos character is what Jung calls the
Persona or the image we show to others. It is the mask we wear in front of
the external world. However, while Prospero was duke of Milan, he trusted
his brother Antonio too much; eventually he lost his life as well as his
dukedom. He has committed the same fault with Caliban, he trusted him
completely and brought him home, however, when he tries to rape Miranda,


Prospero goes to extremes and mistreated Caliban completely. It is also

obvious that Prospero is self-indulgent. At the beginning of the play, he used
to refer to himself as Poor man in his story to Miranda. He answers her
questions in very long self-pitying sentences. Throughout the play, Prospero
changes from an excessively trustful to tyrannical and finally to a forgiving
man. At the beginning of the play, it is obvious that his main purpose in life
is to avenge himself against his false brother. By the end of the play, he
manages to curb his desire for revenge and forgive all who have harmed
The Complex Relationship between the Characters of Prospero,
Caliban and Ariel:
Critics are interested in the way Caliban is presented in the play as
hostile, aggressive and deformed person. In fact, they concentrate on his
attempt to rape Miranda and to the natural excuse he presents for this awful
attempt I had people else this isle with Calibans (1.2.350-2) and assert that
he stands for natural instincts and follows them. They regard him as simple
and amoral. Hence, he symbolizes that earthy part of human nature that
human have learnt to control. According to them, he represents the id that
the psychologist Sigmund Freud insists it exists in all human beings. In fact,
there are other critics who argue that both Caliban and Ariel represent the
two poles of Prosperos central character. Thus, while Ariel represents the
intellectual side of Prosperos character or the conscious self that controls
the island, Caliban represents his id, his unconscious that he still cannot
control. Stressing this viewpoint in The Stranger in Shakespeare, Leslie
Fiedler argues that Caliban represents Prospero, especially when he tries to
rape Miranda; she relates this t\o the fact that Miranda is the only woman on
the island, Prospero tends to have feelings towards her. In fact, many critics
like Tom Sawyer in The Shadow in the Garden: Audens Junganian Quests
that Caliban stands for Prosperos shadow in Jungs terms. According to
The shadow cast by the conscious mind of the individual
contains the hidden, repressed and unfavorable aspects of the
personality the shadow has good qualities, normal instincts
and creative impulses. Ego and shadow, indeed although
separate, are inextricably linked together in much the same way
that thought and feeling are related to each other. (Jung, Man
and His Symbols 110).


Elaborating his viewpoint further, in Archetypes and The Collective

Unconscious, Jung illustrates that, the shadow personifies everything the
subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting
itself upon him directly or indirectly. Thus, the more Prospero tries to
ignore Caliban as his Shadow in the play, the more he will try to cause more
damage to him. In fact, some critics tend to prove that the struggle going on
inside Prospero is reflected on the play as a whole. It has incarnated outside
Prosperos mind and hence the tempest occurs. Thus, the water represents
the spirit. The tempest reflects the psychological struggle the spirit is going
through. Life will not regain its usual order until Prospero manages to realize
this shadow, accept it and hence, becomes a complete self. As Jung believes
the first step towards individuation is to become conscious of the shadow,
the meeting with oneself is at first the meeting with ones shadow (Jung,
CW 9i, 20/44). Hence, it is when Prospero is ready to recognize the shadow
exemplifies in Caliban and embrace it that everything returns to normalcy.
This of darkness I acknowledge mine (5.1.275-76). The other step that
reflects Prosperos growth and individuation is his willingness to give up
magic. He is willing to retain his main role as the duke of Milan and get rid
of the thing that used to distract him from his mission as a ruler. He is no
longer a selfish person; he starts to sees others interests.
Throughout the characters of Prospero, Caliban and Ariel, it is
obvious that Shakespeare is very skilful in personifying the inconstancy of
human nature. Some times people are intellectual and reasonable as Ariel,
other times they are impulsive and cannot control their instincts like Caliban.
Other times, they suffer from inner struggles until they solve them and
become mature like Prospero.
Ferdinand as Hero Archetype:
Ferdinand represents the other hero archetype in the play. Like
Prospero, he was self indulgent. He is very young. He is about 20 years old.
He has to undergo the literal and psychological hero journey. However, the
trials he has gone through starting from the way his ship has sunk, how he
was led to imagine that he father and all the people on the ship have
drowned, then Prosperos harsh treatment of him and the trials he forced
him to go through all have helped him to mature. This is clear his agreement
to abide himself with the promise of celibacy until the wedding occurs. He
does not want Prosperos island, all he wants is to marry Miranda.
The Archetype of Femme Fatale Vs. The Archetype of Virgin
As mentioned before Shakespeare represents many archetypes in The
Tempest, one of the most important archetypes he presents in the play, is the


archetype of Femme Fatale exemplified in Sycorax in opposition with the

archetype of Virgin Mary exemplified in Miranda. Throughout Prospero,
Ariel and Calibans talk about Sycorax, it is obvious that she exemplifies the
archetype of Femme Fatale. She is an ugly witch, who has done horrible
deeds that eventually led her people to banish her to that isolated island.
However, even on the island, she goes on torturing the spirits living on it
whenever they refuse to carry out her vicious deeds. When Ariel refuses her
orders, she enchanted him and prisoned him in a tree. On the other hand,
there is Miranda who represents Virgin Mary. She is very compassionate,
caring, and full of pity and kindness and this is clear in her response to the
shipwreck. She tried to help Caliban and teach him English, yet when he
tries to rape her all that she has done is to try to keep away from him. She
never mistreats him. She is a virgin. She has never met a man before other
than her father. She thought that all men are as old as him. When she sees
Ferdinand for the first time she mistakes him for a spirit. She is an obedient
and very submissive daughter. Even when she falls in love with Ferdinand,
she promises her father to maintain chastity until their marriage.
Throughout the previous, it is obvious that Greek mythology was very
well known in the Renaissance period. It was so a common tool for writers
to use mythological entities as well as archetypes to convey to their readers a
deeper sense of the characters and themes they relay to them. The way the
author tailored the myth to his modern work could greatly alter how the new
works are received. References to Greek mythology give the story additional
Hence, it is obvious that Shakespeare uses archetypes to give more
depth to his characters. He always incarnated or embodied human traits like
evil, good, wisdom, carelessness. All these traits are embodied in the
characters of Prospero, Caliban, Ariel, Ferdinand, Miranda and Sycorax. He
never presents a shallow character. All his characters are rich and real.
Through these characters, he manages to tailor ancient mythologies for his
modern use and for sending certain messages to his audience. Hence,
Shakespeare is a great revisionist of classical myth.


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