I hadn't before realised to what extent this is a play about letting (things, people, places) go; its lines are full of references to releasing, drowning, setting free. My mother used to tell me that the play was about forgiveness, although it seems to me that the forgiveness only comes into it right at the end, because only after all has been said and done is Prospero in a fit state to forgive, and his "enemies" prepared to be forgiven.
Although I have seen many different interpretations of this play, another thing that only struck yesterday is that every character in the play, even the inhuman spirit Ariel, learns something from his exposure to the tempest, and matures, Miranda too, although it seems from her innocent remarks about the brave new world that's peopled by her father's former associates (How beauteous mankind is... ), that she still has some growing up to do.
Prospero, the engineer of the upheaval, must surely be the one who learns the most. It's almost as if he forces himself to recover from his anger at the way he was treated twelve years previously. It seems he has bottled it all up until now, and the moment when he begins to tell his daughter the story for the first time is the moment when his recovery, his catharsis, begins.
You have often
Begun to tell me … but stopped,
… Concluding, “Stay. Not yet.”
The hour’s now come.
The expression of his fury –– the storm and its aftermath –– is what heals him.
And I’ll be wise hereafter
And seek for grace,
By the end of the play the ship (the microcosm of human society) that we thought wrecked, is miraculously back on course.
Which, but three glasses since, we gave out split—
Is tight and yare and bravely rigged as when
We first put out to sea.
The storm has passed. The world has calmed down (for the time being). Hearts and minds have been pacified. There is hope of better life ahead or at least of a fresh start. Prospero has given up, or has let go of his troubles, whichever way you choose to look at it, and his life is coming to an end. Now it is the entranced audience who must be the agent of release and relief:
... my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.