Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Duke of Milan who neglected his duties for his studies in Occultism, and was deposed by his brother. So we understand from Shakespeare's The Tempest (performed, circa 1611; 1623) in which Prospero has been argued to represent the alchemist/mage John Dee. As mage, Prospero rules his island kingdom with Caliban and Ariel and his daughter Miranda (see Virginity) as subjects. Attracting his foes, he manipulates them towards a moment of revenge but at the last moment renounces his power, forgives his enemies and takes his place in the world.

Prospero is both type and example of Magus, exerting power through Glamour and the control of supercelestial powers, and using threat and persuasion to cajole his subjects. He can be seen in John Fowles's The Magus (1966) and Elizabeth Willey's A Sorcerer and a Gentleman (1995), and faintly in the many Wizards of Heroic Fantasy. As emblem of the writer, he is an interesting foreshadow of metafiction, questioning the nature of persuasion through words. His power is that of the Grand Designer; he discourses – sometimes garrulously – but he ends by violently rejecting the power of "his book". It is this element which is focused on in Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books (1991), which ironically is as much a paean of the image as it is of the written word. [AS]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.