- Compassionate- "if you now beheld them, your affections/Would become tender"
- Submissive- "Pardon master/I will be correspondent to command"
- Ethereal, otherworldly- "I drink the air before me, and return/Or ere your pulse twice beat."
- Wistful, longs for freedom- "Merrily, merrily, shall I live now."
- Resentful of Prospero? "Thou did promise/To bate me a full year."
- Loving? "Do you love me master? No?"
- Eager to please? "What shall I do?" "Was't well done?"
- Dramatic effect- to facilitate the magic such as his transformation into a harpy, the account of the shipwreck
- To represent Prospero and his omniscience- the "thou liest" episode, "My master through his art foresees the danger"
- To represent to supernatural elements of the island- the music etc
- Foil to Caliban
- To teach Prospero how to rule through the "court" of Ariel, Caliban, Miranda
- To persuade Prospero to forgive the courtiers- "Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling/ Of their afflictions...shall not myself." (Prospero to Ariel)
- To narrate the "se-change" undergone by some characters in the play
- Some critics have suggested that Ariel functions as a personification of Prospero's imagination
- Some critics have suggested that Ariel's freedom represents Prospero's quest for emotional and physical freedom- from the island, from feelings of bitterness and the desire for revenge. Like Ariel, at the end of the play he is under the control of a superior power- the audience- "Let your indulgence set me free."
- The play is about change and transformation- but does Ariel change?
- Gains his freedom- productions play this differently. In one he spat in Prospero's face before leaving the stage- little change from the resentful servant he seems to be at the start.
- In another, an outdoor production in Oxford, Ariel ran across the surface of a lake in happiness- this suggests more change as Ariel finally becomes free of Prospero and the island.
- Ariel has plenty of physical transformations- a nymph, a harpy, Ceres in the masque. Melissa Petrescue says that Ariel articulates "the perfect bodily representation of transformation...to incite transformation in others."
- Ariel and Prospero's relationship is a puzzle which many critics have speculated over. One critic, Dr Fred Parker of Cambridge University, speculated that Prospero feels unreciprocated romantic love for Ariel and cannot bear to let him go, hence why he keeps promising him freedom but failing to deliver. Lines such as "Why that's my dainty Ariel. I shall miss thee" might suggest this view
- Is this supposed love unrequited? "Do you love me master?"
- The scenes between Prospero and Ariel often happen with just the two on stage (Prospero actually puts Miranda to sleep so he can talk alone with Ariel- why?) There's also the suggestion that only Prospero can see or hear Ariel at points in the play or even throughout- their dialogue therefore takes place in a kind of world of their own.
- In Shakespeare's time, it was standard practice to address your inferiors using the pronoun "thou" and its various forms (thee, thy) This would also be used to close friends and relations as a signal of affection. In the same way, you would address your superiors as "you" as a mark of respect- although a modern audience may not understand this today, Shakespeare's would all get this. Prospero addresses Ariel as "thou"- is this out of affection (he also addresses Miranda in this way) or as a master to a servant?
- Like Caliban, Ariel's use of pronouns to Prospero varies, which would seem to suggest the ambiguity of their relationship. While Caliban's address to Prospero as "thou" would stem from a lack of respect, what could Ariel's mean?