The Epilogue of the Tempest by William Shakespeare is an excellent-if not the best-example of Shakespeare’s brilliance. In 20 lines Shakespeare is able to write an excellent ending to his play, while speaking through his characters about Shakespeare’s own life and career. Even more amazingly, he seemlessly ties the two together.
In the context of the story Prospero’s monologue makes perfect sense. He has lost his magical power, so his “charms are o’erthrown, and what strength Prospero have’s his own, which is most faint.” He is now “confined” on the Island, for his other choice would be to go to Naples and reclaim his dukedom, but he doesn’t want to do that because he has already “pardoned the deceiver” who took his position many years ago. Prospero then says something a little strange, but it makes sense in the context of the story, he ask us to “release him from his bands with the help of your good hands.” In other words, clap so that the sails of the boats his friends are riding in will be safely returned and Prospero can be “relieved by prayer” of the audience.
All of what Prospero has said is very nice cute, but the most interesting part of this monologue is what Shakespeare himself is saying. “Now that my charms are all o’erthrown, and what strength I have’s mine own” means, now my plays are over, and it’s no longer my characters speaking. The “Island” or stage Shakespeare is on is now “bare” and it is time for “you” the audience to release Shakespeare and his actors from this play with the “help of your good hands.” Shakespeare was not only being released for the performance of the play, he was being release from his career as a playwright. But there are more reasons to clap besides the obvious reason that the play is over, Shakespeare could not allow his final play to be bad, his project “was to please.” He reiterates this point by saying “and my ending is despair unless I be relieved by prayer”, or the clapping of the audience and it frees “all faults” and allows Shakespeare to indulge the clapping and joy of the audience.
Finally, after we seperate the two different perspectives, we can step back and see how Shakespeare magically works them together. The first such pun is on the word “faint”, in the third line. Prospero uses faint to describe his strength, but Shakespeare makes it a pun on the pun he is making! Let me explain, faint means light (amoung other things), which means light hearted, or fun. As if you thought this wasn’t confusing enough already, you could put a pun on the pun on the pun! Again, let me explain, faint can also mean hard to see, like the pun on the pun! That might be pushing it a little, though. The thing about Shakespeare is anything is possible. Another, less obvious but more significant double meaning is on the word “please” on line 13. Prospero is literally saying his goal was to make the people on the Island happy, Shakespeare is saying his goal was to please his audience. Shakespeare was without a doubt is one of the greatest authors of all time, this Epilogue clearly shows us that.