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A brief analysis of the character from Shakespeare's The Tempest

The following article is reprinted from A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

Ariel is an airy spirit in Shakespeare's Tempest. He first appears in act i. scene 2. He sings "Come unto these yellow sands" and "Full fathom five my father lives," in act i. sc. 2, and "Where the bee sucks, there suck I," in act v. sc. 1. "It is evident," says Gervinus, "that Shakespeare intended to give to Prospero's favourite messenger the united power of all elemental spirits. At one time he appears as a sea-nymph, swimming and careering on the sea; then as a fire-spirit who sets the ship on fire, and climbs like licking flame up the mast; then as a spirit of earth, buried for Prospero in the frozen veins of the earth; his ruling nature, however, as his name implies, is that of a sylph, a spirit of the air.... He was formerly in the service of the witch Sycorax, for whose 'earthly and abhorred commands' he was too delicate; he slighted her behests, and she confined him, 'by help of her more potent ministers,' in a cloven pine;... but, after twelve years' painful imprisonment, Prospero's magic power set him free. For this benefit, the restoration of freedom, the highest Ariel knew, he gave to Prospero a service more suited to his gentle nature" (Shakespeare Characters). "Shakespeare," says Hazlitt, "has, as it were by design, drawn off from Caliban the elements of whatever is ethereal and refined, to compound them in the unearthly mould of Ariel. Nothing was ever more finely conceived than this contrast between the material and the spiritual, the gross and delicate. Arial is imaginary power, the swiftness of thought personified. When told to make good speed by Prospero, he says, 'I drink the air before me.' This is something like Puck's boast on a similar occasion, 'I'll put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes.' But Ariel differs from Puck in having a fellow-feeling in the interests of those he is employed about." Longfellow tells us how

"Ariel in the cloven pine tree
For freedom
Groans and sighs."

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