In William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest (1611), it is through unexpected and planned discoveries that individuals are forced to reassess their perception of themselves and others. This is also reflected in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Jekyll and Hyde) (1886), and in both texts, the confronting ramifications of individuals’ actions catalyse emotional transformations which provide them with the opportunity to view the world in different ways.
In The Tempest, characters encounter unexpected and planned discoveries that fundamentally challenge their character flaws and allow them to reassess their perceptions of themselves and their relationships with others. Prospero is a magician who concocts an elaborate scheme to inflict vengeance on his usurpers. He was initially a duke who was more preoccupied with knowledge than with the affairs of his kingdom. However, he becomes disillusioned after the unexpected discovery of his brother Antonio’s betrayal, depicted through the personification in “my trust,/ Like a good parent, did beget of him/ A falsehood, in its contrary as great”. This awakens Prospero a greater understanding about himself and his own naivety, and induces him to gain an appreciation of the necessity of control and manipulative power in his interactions with others, the metaphor in “mine enemies, are all knit up/… They are now in my power;/ And in these fits I leave them”, conveying his transformation into a man who derives pleasure from his enemies’ suffering. However, Prospero’s unexpected discovery of Ariel’s compassion for the stranded characters, expressed through the emotive language in “the remainder mourning over them,/ Brim full of sorrow and dismay” results in his renewed understanding that even a non-human entity may be capable of human emotions, and catalyses a rediscovery of his own humanity and empathy. Furthermore, dramatic tension is created by solemn music and the dramatic symbolism of tracing out a circle before Prospero utters “I do forgive thee” to his usurpers. Evidently, once Prospero rediscovered empathy, he was able to transform his perception of his usurpers and forgive them, resulting in the potential for reconciliation. Thus, both unexpected and planned discoveries may be extremely valuable, prompting a renewed understanding of ourselves and others.
In Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, unexpected discoveries stimulate new ideas about the human condition, challenging assumptions about ourselves and our society. In Jekyll and Hyde, set in the Victorian era, Dr Jekyll sets out to separate the good and evil facets of humanity through a potion, yet succumbs to his dark alter-ego, Mr Hyde. Initially, like Prospero, Jekyll is preoccupied with the attainment of knowledge, his emotive language in “dwell with pleasure, as a beloved daydream… separation of [evil and good]… relieved of all that was unbearable” highlighting the possibilities that may arise from ridding humanity of its evil nature. However, after Jekyll unexpectedly transforms into Hyde, he reaches a renewed understanding that he enjoys moral freedom, conveyed through the grotesque imagery in “with glee, I mauled the unresisting body, tasting delight from every blow”. Despite his indulgence in these evil deeds, he soon discovers the ramifications of Hyde’s cruel actions as a result of his lack of empathy for others, recognising his own flaws, and thus like Prospero, feels remorse for the suffering he has inflicted on others. This emotionally transformative discovery is highlighted through the Biblical allusion in “Jekyll… with streaming tears of… remorse, had fallen upon his knees and lifted his clasped hands to God”, and signifies his recognition of the need for empathy in all of humanity.
Furthermore, Stevenson’s paradox in “the two natures that contended in my consciousness… only because I was radically both…” and his use of epistolary format convey Jekyll’s shocking discovery and warning that baser human vices are just as intrinsic to humanity as empathy. This transforms his perception of society as he comes to understand that a balance between good and evil is needed. Thus both Shakespeare and Stevenson convey how unexpected discoveries may result in a transformation in individuals’ views on themselves and society.
In The Tempest, provocative and challenging discoveries allow individuals to reassess their perceptions of themselves and their world. Shakespeare utilises dramatic irony to highlight how Prospero’s own scheme forces himself to recognize the suffering he causes his usurpers, and his epiphany that his actions are immoral is evident through the rhetorical question in “shall not myself, [as a human] be kindlier moved than thou art?”. He consequently reassesses the necessity of empathy and reconciliation in himself and others, and as a result, provides others with the potential to form new understandings of their world. The stage direction of “Here PROSPERO discovers FERDINAND and MIRANDA playing at chess” symbolically emphasizes the far-reaching impact of Prospero’s planned discovery, paralleling Prospero’s role with that of a chess player strategically moving his pieces. Indeed, Prospero’s orchestration of this scheme results in Miranda’s discovery of a new world of people, her speculation of future possibilities and the potential of others encapsulated through the tone of awe in “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world”. Prospero’s scheme also results in Alonso’s confronting discovery of the loss of his son, and his subsequent realization that Ferdinand is still alive induces in him an emotional transformation, which allows him to reach the understanding that his ambition and desire for power are flaws which have negative consequences. His reference to the restoration of the Chain of Being in “Thy dukedom I resign, and do entreat/ Thou pardon me my wrongs” emphasises his genuine atonement as well as his intensely meaningful discovery that it is relationships rather than power that brings true fulfilment. Thus Shakespeare conveys how confronting discoveries provide individuals with the opportunity to see themselves and their world from fresh perspectives.
In Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, challenging discoveries lead to individuals’ re-evaluation of their perception of themselves and their world. Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde leads to an emotionally meaningful yet shocking discovery that evil is intrinsic to humanity, and his renewed understanding of himself and others is conveyed through the personification in “shook the doors of the prison-house of my disposition… my evil, kept awake by ambition, was alert and swift to seize the occasion”. This imagery of entrapment, along with the metaphor in “drinking pleasure with bestial avidity from any degree of torture”, underscores Jekyll’s reassessment of his view of the world as he reaches an unexpected epiphany that self-satisfaction is maximised through immoral rather than good deeds. However, the shocking ramifications of Jekyll’s wicked deeds challenge his own perception of himself, evident through the epiphany in “I was… plunged into a kid of wonder at my vicarious depravity”. Like Alonso who reassesses his beliefs about power after the traumatic discovery of his son’s death, Jekyll undergoes an emotional struggle to reconcile his moral values with the unexpected freedom of immorality, conveyed through the melodrama and suspense in “the insurgent horror… caged in his flesh… felt it struggle to be born”. Thus both Shakespeare and Stevenson, by portraying confronting discoveries and warning about the dangers of misusing discoveries, highlight their role in offering new understandings of ourselves and others.
Thus, the aforementioned texts highlight how provocative, unexpected and planned discoveries may stimulate individuals to reassess their perceptions of themselves and others. Many discoveries have far-reaching impacts on broader society and induce intensely meaningful discoveries in individuals.