The Tempest explores themes of servitude and duty as we witness numerous characters either submit to or challenge Prospero’s position of authority. Prospero utilizes three henchmen with vastly different places in the social hierarchy to achieve his goals: Ariel, Caliban, and Ferdinand. Caliban is a slave reviled by the other characters, who rails against Prospero for stealing his native land. He refuses to be subjugated and enters a conspiracy to kill Prospero to regain his independence and control of the island.
Due to his swarthy description and expropriation, Caliban is thought to be a metaphor for Britain’s colonized population. He chooses to participate in a wild murder plot because he has nothing left to lose after being treated as a monstrous slave. His duty to Prospero is imposed externally against his will, and he abandons it without any compunction. Caliban represents the potential for direct resistance in the face of continual dehumanization and disrespect.
On the other hand, Ariel is a powerful spirit that was bound in a pine tree and freed by Prospero, promising one year of service in exchange for eventual freedom. His duty to Prospero depends on mutual benefit. Due to his abilities and their bargain, Ariel is regarded as a servant rather than a slave. Since he is working towards the promise of freedom, Ariel is much more outwardly loyal to Prospero. He achieves his goals through flattery and manipulation because he sees an easier way to get what he wants out of Prospero rather than outright rebellion. Ariel is a prime example of subversive disobedience within the confines of the system.
Ferdinand is the son of the current duke who falls in love with Miranda and happily submits to Prospero in order to gain his approval for marriage. He is indifferent to Prospero’s political machinations, happily moving logs and sticks at his behest as long as he gets Miranda. He thinks his duty to Prospero is self-chosen, but Prospero himself has actually orchestrated it. Ferdinand is widely accepted as an honorable, humble, kind protagonist, representative of the new generation that will not repeat the same mistakes.
However, his easy submission to Prospero is more reminiscent of people who are willing to become servants to any regime as long as they get what they want. Ferdinand is symbolic of the political indifference of the comfortable elite.
In conclusion, achieving power and subservience is far from a straightforward process. It is hard to predict how people will react to authority, but not impossible. Give them no choice, and they will rebel. Offer them a bargain, and they will remain externally loyal but still faithful to their own interests. Pretend it was their decision to do exactly what you wanted, and they will go along happily. Caliban, Ariel, and Ferdinand all ideally exemplify these three different responses to power.