Ariel to Iron Man
Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 are two works that meet the three criteria that make good literature for me, that of informing, inspiring, and entertaining the audience. Shakespeare’s play informs us in the here and now about attitudes towards various cultures and peoples in Shakespeare’s times, with no clear-cut “yes” or “no” answer, it addresses issues of controversy, and it delivers an undercurrent of mysticism and wonder to the audience, making the work fun and balancing out the heavy-hearted moral issues it addresses. Likewise, Iron Man 3 gives us a deep character study, it takes an interesting spin on the subject of terrorists and the media, and it has some of the most innovative action sequences for its type of film. The Iron Man suits behave and operate more like actual machinery (much like Tony himself), functional but temperamental, and they also provide a bang-for-your-buck action climax that just leaves you giddy, once again balancing out but never overshadowing the serious character study of the film. But what makes these two works similar and worthy of each other’s company is the fact that Ariel in The Tempest could be seen as a template for the character of Tony Stark in Iron Man 3.
Ariel, Prospero’s devoted spiritual aid, is yearning for freedom not just from Prospero’s command, but also from the island and from her paradoxically sheltered spirit-life. Ariel wants to do more in human affairs than just manipulate circumstances for Prospero’s enjoyment or whimsy. She wants to matter, she wants to use her magic and technology to augment her power and effect on human goings on in order to be a better person for society, to show Prospero that there is more to her than his wishes being fulfilled.
“Do you love me, master? No?” asks Ariel of Prospero (Shakespeare IV.1.48), showing that she does indeed exhibit emotion, and perhaps a desire to experience love as humans experience it: physically and emotionally. This is something that Ariel feels she can never explore because of her nature. She feels powerless and small after what Sycorax did to her, and the only one she has as guidance in the realms of humanity is Prospero, the very person from whom she wants to escape. Ariel is personified throughout the play as humble and as obedient, but there is also an obvious sense of entrapment and a stated desire to be free.
Yet she is also compassionate to the point where she is one of the only compassionate people in the play, far more than her human companions. Ariel says of Prospero: “Your charm so strongly works ‘em, / That if you now beheld them, your affections / Would become tender… Mine would, sir, were I human” (V.1.17-19, 20). And if only she were human, for as she is now she has nothing to work Prospero or her other human companions save for magic and guile. Her humanity, such as it is, can never be fully explored because she’s a spirit, a mere shadow of what a human can be. Yet she is so capable here that she is able to show emotions such that Prospero is guilt-tripped. Ariel is so desiring of being human, of interacting on a human level with the rest of the world, that even in her state of spirituality, she is able to express compassion and pity.
I see Ariel as a spirit who has no other choice than to do what Prospero wants because she doesn't know what to do with herself; her allegiance to Prospero is a coping mechanism, perhaps because she is afraid of what the rest of the world, of those who may not be as lenient to her as Prospero has been, those like Sycorax for example, might do to her.
Tony Stark, like Ariel, has an understanding of the world that revolves quite literally around technology; the Iron Man suit is what fuels Tony. Tony is akin to Ariel in that he feels very small, alone, and unprepared to face this new world that The Avengers introduced to him. The things that Tony experienced in The Avengers had a real human effect on him. In this film, Tony has been continuously working on the Iron Man suits, because even with all his gadgets and intelligence, he feels powerless and small after what he saw in New York in The Avengers, and he feels that building and building the suits is the only way to protect the people he loves, even though the forces that are out there still might be too much for him. Ariel’s desire for love is reflected here in Tony in that he is so hellbent on wanting to protect those he loves that he is isolating himself from those very people,
“Nothing’s been the same since New York. You experience things, and then they’re over, and you still can’t explain them. Gods, aliens, other dimensions- I’m just a man in a can…. Threat is imminent, and I have to protect the one thing that I can’t live without: that’s you [Pepper Potts]” (Iron Man 3). This fear and this realization of not being able to contend with so much power that is clearly out there in the world is affecting his life, it’s affecting his sleep, and it’s affecting his relationship to the point where he is forgetting about what is most important to him. Tony loves Pepper, but their relationship is strained because Tony is invested far more in Pepper’s protection than his love for her. Tony’s character is unique among his fellow superheroes because he has what few other heroes have: he has an ego. He loves the attention that Iron Man gives him, and he’s not always a great guy, but he does try to do the right thing. Like Ariel’s attachment to Prospero, Tony’s attachment to the suits is a coping mechanism for how he wants to protect those he loves.
Technology (magic) gives Ariel the means to exercise a power of which she is otherwise bereft; her lack of humanity grants her little pleasure or staying power in society, and so with her use of her magic she is able to gain a fraction of her satisfaction. Her capacity for love (Shakespeare IV.1.48-49), her desire to live life to the best of her ability (V.1.93-94), and her compassion throughout the play is strengthened, perhaps even caused by her use of magic. Magic plays up her heavy emotional function in the play, and it provides a means for spectacle, something akin to the Iron Man armors of Tony. The Iron Man suits give Tony a way to escape from his anxiety and stress by fueling his obsession to protect people. His past demons in the film come back to haunt him, and in the end, Tony destroys his enemy by trapping him in one of the Iron Man suits, blowing it up. Thus, Tony has defeated the villain and rid himself of his obsession, realizing that his life with Pepper is far more important than his life as Iron Man.
Both Ariel and Tony Stark benefit from technology, and their circumstances of feeling alone and powerless next to those similar to them (humanity for Ariel and superheroes for Tony), make the two compliment each other in a great way. Zooming out of that, The Tempest and Iron Man 3 both have strong scripts, excellent thematic follow-through, and above all, great characters with humanity pushing through each and every one, even those who are spiritual and armored.
Iron Man 3. Dir. Shane Black. Perf. Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don
Cheadle. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, 2013. DVD.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Peter Holland. New York: Penguin,
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Peter Holland. New York: Penguin,