Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest represents without question the quintessential Renaissance Master of the Mystical Arts (either Prospero, or the most recent significant innovation in Shakespearean interpretation, Prospera, the female version of the Magick-Worker without parallel, exemplified by Helen Mirren in Julie Taymor’s film of The Tempest). Prospero (Prospera’s) expertise in Magick is seen in his (her) control over storms and winds, and is symbolized by his (her) Magickal servants Ariel (representing Air and Fire), and Caliban (representing the more tangible elements of Earth and Water). With the aid of his Magickal robe, book, and staff (all credited in the play with being essential to Magick-Work), Prospero casts a Magickal Circle in Act V, scene 1 (lines 33-57) to set into motion the events of the play’s conclusion. Unlike the extremely Ceremonial Circle cast by Faustus in Marlowe’s play, Prospero’s Circle is purely of the Natural variety, summoned out of an invocation of the natural elements:
“Ye Elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves, and ye that on the sands with printless foot do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly Him when He comes back; you demi-puppets that by moonshine do the green sour ringlets make whereof the ewe not bites; and you whose pastime is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice to hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid, weak masters though ye be, I have bedimmed the noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds, and ‘twixt the green sea and the azured vault set roaring war; to the dread rattling thunder have I given fire, and rifted Jove’s stout oak with His own bolt; the strong-based promontory have I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up the pine and cedar; graves at my command have waked their sleepers, oped and let ‘em forth by my so potent art. But this rough Magick I here abjure, and when I have required some heavenly music, which even now I do, to work mine end upon their senses that this airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound, I’ll drown my book.”
Unlike Faustus, who generates his Magick Circle by creating a microcosm of the Macrocosm through astrological signs, sigils, and protective names- Prospero (or Prospera, if a female) casts a Circle of Power by calling upon the Spirits (“Elves”) of Nature: the Spirits of “hills, brooks, lakes and groves,” as well as the Spirits of the sea and beaches of his tropical island, that chase the tidal waters of Neptune washing ashore.
Prospero (Prospera) refers to the Spirits (“demi-puppets”) that make circles of mushrooms grow in fields at night (“midnight mushrooms”), eschewed by sheep, during the anarchic time after the evening curfew is sounded, summoning persons to home, bed, and sleep (circles of mushrooms growing in fields were the subject of much superstition in Faerie mythology during Shakespeare’s time).
Prospero boasts of the powers that he has acquired through the aid of such Spirits (whom he characterizes as “weak,” meaning that his powers grant him mastery over them): he has dimmed the noon sun; called riotous winds; and generated storms at sea (“twixt the green sea and the azured vault of sky” has he “set roaring war”). He has joined lightning to “rattling thunder,” and assumed the power of Jove in even blasting apart oak trees, with Jove’s own lightning bolts; he has shook the “strong-based promontory” of earth, generating earthquakes that uproot pines and cedars; even “by his so potent art,” has he assumed the final God-like powers of awakening the dead, opening graves, and allowing the spirits of the departed to roam freely. In essence, through his use of Natural Magick, Prospero (Prospera) can assume the most destructive and awe-inspiring control of the Natural Elements.
This final bit of Magick-Working, however, Prospero says will be his last: he means to “abjure this rough Magick,” and when he has finished “charming” his enemies through the use of the “circle which he has made” (according to the stage directions following the speech), he announces his intention to break his Magickal staff, bury it deep within the earth, and plunge into the ocean, “deeper than did ever plummet sound,” his Magickal book. It might be a certain sop to Jacobean convention, to end the play with a swearing-off on the Magickal Arts (officially not approved of, in the Jacobean era): but the significant point is Prospero’s (Prospera’s) command of Magick and the Magickal Circle through the elements of earthly Nature.