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The Portrayal Of Justice In The Tempest By William Shakespeare
Justice is regarded as a universal virtue that every moral individual has the obligation to promote. The existence of laws to guide human behavior and relationships, as well as the use of punishment to avenge against wrongdoers, exemplifies the universal understanding and representation of justice. However, it is arguable that although all human beings desire justice, the notion of what is just or unjust is highly subjective. For instance, the notion that taking someone else’s property forcibly is unjust is not an innate human virtue, but a function of conditioning of human relationships by established laws and societal values. The urge to “possess” is a basic human instinct that is characteristic to the animal kingdom. It is arguable, accordingly, that objective justice is not possible because individuals have conflicting needs, since an act that is just to one person may not be just to another. This essay discusses the portrayal of justice as a subjective concept in William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.
Prospero, the protagonist of the play, believes that justice was breached when his brother Antonio conspired with the King of Naples to dethrone him from his position as the Duke of Milan. Whereas he perceives this act against him as unjust, Prospero is blind to the fact that he has unjustly enslaved Caliban and Ariel by making them his servants against their will. He uses his magic to control and use Caliban and Ariel to serve his self-interests Prospero’s act of enslaving Caliban and Ariel while complaining that Antonio had unjustly dethroned him not only reveals his hypocrisy, but also shows how individuals are biased in their understanding of justice.
The Tempest shows that justice is not that which is good for everyone, but that which satisfies a person’s self-interests. This inclination to be self-interested is seen is the legal justice system, whereby people describe a judge’s ruling as unfair if it goes against them. This tendency suggests that justice is not a common good, but whatever that serves one’s own interests. Shakespeare extends this idea by suggesting that the concept of justice is defined by those in power and imposed upon the masses. This is evident from the way Prospero uses his magic (power) to manipulate and punish his enemies as a means of achieving justice. He believes that justice has been served oncer he has regained his Dukedom and put everyone else where he thinks they belong.
In conclusion, Shakespeare’s The Tempest reveals the subjective nature of our understanding of justice. Through the character of Prospero, the author portrays justice not as a common good, but as any outcome that serves an individual’s self-interests. This is shown from Prospero’s satisfaction that justice has been realized after he has taken his revenge by punishing his enemies and reclaiming his position as the Duke of Milan.
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