Character Analysis – Ariel from The Tempest by Shakespeare

Ariel is a character in The Tempest, a sprite, or fairy, who serves the magician Prospero. Ariel is invisible to all but Prospero, whom he assists in the schemes that form the plot. He is capable of assuming fantastic disguises and of luring mortals with supernaturally compelling music. He is also something of a theatrical producer, arrangeing the spectacular tableaus that Prospero is fond of, including the magical banquet of Act III, Scene 3 and the betrothal Masque of Act IV, Scene 1. He performs in both, playing a Harpy at the feast and either Ceres or Iris in the masque.

Ariel is eager to please, asking, ‘What shall I do? say what; what shall I do?’ (Act I, Scene 2). To his question ‘Do you love me, master?’ (Act IV, Scene 1), Prospero replies, ‘Dearly, my delicate Ariel‘ (Act IV, Scene 1), and when Prospero returns to Milan and resumes his role in human society, he regrets departing from the sprite, saying ‘my dainty Ariel! I shall miss thee‘ (Act V, Scene 1). A cheerful and intelligent being, Ariel embodies the power of good and is thus an appropriate helper in Prospero’s effort to combat the evil represented by Antonio. In this respect he contrasts strongly with the play’s other major non-human figure, Caliban, whose innate evil complicates Prospero’s task.

Freed by Prospero from a magical imprisonment in a tree trunk, imposed by a witch before the time of the play, Ariel must serve Prospero until the magician releases him. But though he fulfils his tasks cheerfully, he yearns to be free again. Almost as soon as he first appears, he reminds Prospero of his ‘worthy service . . . without grudge or grumblings’ (Act I, Scene 2) and requests his liberty. Prospero—more of a grumbler than his supernatural servant—reminds him forcefully of his former torment, and Ariel agrees to continue serving and ‘do [his] spriting gently’ (Act I, Scene 2). He does so, but both he and Prospero frequently mention his coming release.

Ariel sings of the future: ‘Merrily, merrily shall I live now / Under the blossom that hangs on the bough‘ (Act V, Scene 1), and his mingling of nostalgia and fresh spirits is touching. In his last lines before the Epilogue, Prospero bids Ariel ‘to the elements / Be free, and fare thou well!’ (Act V, Scene 1). This theme, Ariel’s captivity in the human world—along with Caliban’s slavery and Antonio’s remorselessness— helps maintain a tragic undertone as Prospero’s schemes for a final reconciliation are achieved. Shakespeare does not ignore the inexorability of evil, even in a fantasy world, though he can create a charming sprite to combat it.

Some Important Quotes by Ariel in The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Ling'ring perdition - worse than any death
Can be at once - shall step by step attend

Tempest Act III Scene 3, ARIEL TO VILLAINS

They were red-hot with drinking;
So full of valour that they smote the air
For breathing in their faces.

Tempest Act IV Scene 1, ARIEL TO PROSPERO

This ditty does remember my drowned father.

Tempest Act I Scene 2, FERDINAND, listening to Ariel’s song

Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

Tempest Act V Scene 1, ARIEL’S song

To the elements
Be free, and fare thou well!

Tempest Act V Scene 1, PROSPERO’S farewell to ARIEL

ARIEL DO you love me, master? No?
PROSPERO Dearly, my delicate Ariel.

Tempest Act IV Scene 1

Where should this music be? i'th' air or the 'arth?
It sounds no more: and, sure, it waits upon
Some god o'th' island. Sitting on a bank,
Weeping again the King my father's wrack,
This music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air.

Tempest Act I Scene 2, FERDINAND, listening to Ariel’s song; for the song,

This rough magic
I here abjure; and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, - which even now I do, -
To work mine end upon their senses, that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fadoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.

Tempest Act V Scene 1, PROSPERO TO ARIEL, a great gesture of renunciation near the end of the last play Shakespeare wrote single-handedly; also, probably, a recollection of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, vowing at the close of the play to burn his books

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands.

Tempest Act I Scene 2, ARIEL’S song

Full fadom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Burthen: Ding-dong.
ARIEL Hark! now I hear them, - Ding-dong, bell.

Tempest Act I Scene 2, ARIEL’S song

Approach, my Ariel, come.

Tempest Act I Scene 2, PROSPERO, calling ARIEL

To fly,
To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride
On the curled clouds.

Tempest Act I Scene 2, ARIEL TO PROSPERO

My brave spirit!

Tempest Act I Scene 2, PROSPERO TO ARIEL

Now does my project gather to a head:
My charms crack not; my spirits obey; and time
Goes upright with his carriage.

Tempest Act V Scene 1, PROSPERO TO ARIEL

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