Ariel (The Tempest)
Ariel /ˈæriəl/ is a spirit who appears in William Shakespeare's play The Tempest. Ariel is bound to serve the magician Prospero, who rescued him from the tree in which he was imprisoned by Sycorax, the witch who previously inhabited the island. Prospero greets disobedience with a reminder that he saved Ariel from Sycorax's spell, and with promises to grant Ariel his freedom. Ariel is Prospero's eyes and ears throughout the play, using his magical abilities to cause the tempest in Act One which gives the play its name, and to foil other characters' plots to bring down his master.
The source of Ariel's name and character is unknown, although several critics have pointed out his similarities to the Ariel mentioned in Isaiah chapter 29 in the Bible. The name means "Lion of the Lord", in this sense. Ariel may also be a simple play on the word "aerial". Scholars have compared him to sprites depicted in other Elizabethan plays, and have managed to find several similarities between them, but one thing which makes Ariel unique is the human edge and personality given him by Shakespeare.
Since the stage directions in The Tempest are so precise, critics and historians are better able to see how this play may have originally been performed than with other Shakespearean plays. Several of the scenes involving magic have clear instructions on how to create the illusion required, causing critics to make connections and guesses as to exactly what sort of technology would have been used in Shakespeare's troupe to stage Ariel's role in the play. Also, a line by Ariel in Act IV brings other scholars to ask questions as to whether the original actor for Ariel played the part for Ceres as well, due to a shortage of boy actors.
Ariel is widely viewed as a male character, although this view has wavered over the years, especially in the Restoration, when women played the role, for the most part. Ariel has also been involved, though lightly, in the debate over the colonialist nature of the play, as scholars have tried to determine how he compares to the more rebellious Caliban in terms of service to the European Prospero.
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