Summary and Analysis
Act V: Epilogue
Prospero, who is now alone on stage, requests that the audience free him. He states that he has thrown away his magic and pardoned those who have injured him. Now he requires that the audience release him from the island, which has been his prison so that he might return to Naples. The audience's applause will be the signal that he is freed. Prospero indicates that his forgiveness of his former enemies is what all men crave. With the audience's applause, Prospero leaves the stage.
The Epilogue is often used to tie up loose ends and clarify any issues that remain unresolved. However, this epilogue does not provide the answers that the audience might expect. For instance, the audience never learns what is to become of Caliban or what will happen to Antonio and Sebastian. Few scholars ponder such questions. Instead, there has been a great deal of speculation on whether Prospero's farewell to magic is intended to announce Shakespeare's retirement from the stage. When Prospero asks the audience to free him from his imprisonment, is it instead the voice of Shakespeare asking the audience to free him from his craft?
Certainly, there are parallels between Prospero and Shakespeare to consider. Both are manipulators; Prospero manipulates everyone on the island, and Shakespeare manipulates the characters he creates and the plots he devises. Both create entertainment, Prospero the masque and Shakespeare his plays, and both are intent on retiring. It is easy to look at Prospero's words and imagine Shakespeare mouthing them as he retires from the stage. But such parallels do not necessarily reveal how the author was, could be, or wants to be. The words on the page, or now spoken before an audience, do not tell the author's intentions or tone. To attribute Prospero's words to Shakespeare's own life may be a fallacy. After the completion of Prospero's story, Shakespeare did continue to write, composing parts of three more plays. It would be unwise to focus solely on The Tempest as somehow representative of Shakespeare's farewell to the stage and thus overlook the many other important strengths of the play.