Comparing The Cultures of The Tempest and Ours in The Tempest by William Shakespeare
"All men are created equal" is one of the declarations that American
culture is built on. This declaration means that all men no matter of race,
religion, or creed are equals in the eyes of society, as well as the law. This
was not always true in history, especially not in Shakespeare's day and age.
During this time, society had levels of classification where men were considered
"superior" to other men. Shakespeare gives us a taste of this hierarchical
culture through his play The Tempest. He shows us how "superior" men perceived
themselves in contrast to lesser beings due to their race, financial status, and
gender. We also are shown those who had reason to feel superior yet treated
others equally and with the respect due to them.
The Tempest reflects Shakespeare's society through the relationship
between characters, especially between Prospero and Caliban. Caliban, who was
the previous king of the island, is taught how to be "civilized" by Prospero and
his daughter Miranda. Then he is forced to be their servant. Caliban explains
"Thou strok'st me and make much of me; wouldst give me Water with berries in 't;
and teach me how to name the bigger light, how the less, That burn by day and
night; and then I lov'd thee, And show'd thee all the qualities o' th' isle,...
For I am all the subjects you have, which first was mine own king."(I,ii,334-
354). We see he is treated as a lesser being because he is not of the same race
as Prospero and Miranda. Prospero describes him as "A freckled whelp hag-born -
not honour'd with a human shape."(I,ii,282-283) Clearly, the people of different
races were treated as inferior human beings in Shakespeare's time. In this
culture, because someone is different, they are less of a human than you.
Financial status also plays a major role in social classifications.
During the time of The Tempest, Dukes and Earls, who were among the nobles, were
considered to be superior even to other members of their own race. The nobles
had servants and commoners who worked for them. Shakespeare shows us an example
of this with the relationship between his characters of Sebastian and Antonio
and of the Boatswain and the sailors. Sebastian yells at the sailors "A pox o'
your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!"(I,i,40-41), implying
that they are inferior and are there to serve him. Antonio also shows he
believes himself superior by stating to the Boatswain "Hang, cur! Hang, you
whoresom, insolent, noise-maker. We are less afraid to be drowned than thou
art."(I,i,43-45) These men were of the same skin color, hair texture, and eye
color, but were treated inferior due to their financial status and "inferior"
Women had also fallen victim to this hierarchial society. During this
era women were considered to be objects and were treated as property.