Conflict and Harmony in The Tempest
William Shakespeare describes a 'utopic' world saturated with supernatural images and ideas which works to create the mysterious island where The Tempest takes place. This is one of Shakespeare's best examples of how a natural harmony reveals itself through the actions of discourse and confusion. To illustrate this idea best one must examine the historical context upon which The Tempest is based. Because this play was published in the early 1600s, controversial cultural and political events undoubtedly surface. Furthermore, by analyzing the sub-plots in the play, the reader has a better understanding of Shakespeare's purpose for including multi-plots, which is to create conflicts that all have a different context but coexist to create a more natural harmony. Finally, one must recognize that the moral conflict that characters face in The Tempest is crucial in understanding the harmony that is created. For example, it is important to realize that although the play ends with reconciliation for most of the characters, it does not have the same effect on all of the characters. Therefore, by examining the effects of the historical context, the inclusion of sub-plots, and the importance of moral conflict the reader may take a more comprehensive approach in understanding how Shakespeare finds a harmonious closure in The Tempest.
In 1623, The Tempest made its debut in Shakespeare's First Folio of works (Hirst 36). Historically, this play is different from Shakespeare's later plays in that he divides it into acts and scenes and leaves the island nameless (Hirst 36). In other plays such as Twelfth Night and Merchant of Venice, where the same natural harmony is ultimately created and in some aspects at the expense of one least one character (Malvolio and Shylock), Shakespeare reveals the exact location of action. However, in The Tempest, Shakespeare never gives the island a name, and the exclusion of a name works to create a more imaginary and mystical atmosphere.
There are several historical sources and events upon which the play is based. According to Geoffrey Bullough, in his Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, The Tempest, undeniably, is founded upon William Strachey's "True Reparatory of the Wreck and Redemption" and Ovid's Metamorphoses (Vaughan and Vaughan 24). In terms of cultural history, The Tempest takes root from American colonization and African slavery. More recently, however, the treatment of Native Americans in this country has been equated with Prospero's treatment of Caliban (Vaughan and Vaughan 145). This victimizing image of colonization is manifested when Caliban first introduces himself:
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother
Which though tak'st from me. When thou camist first...
And then I loved thee