Importance Of Environment In Shakespeare's The Tempest

2000 words - 8 pages

Importance of Environment in The Tempest


   The island is full of noises; Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight,” says Caliban. The responses which the characters in The Tempest offer to their immediate surroundings reveal much about their individual traits, at the same time they allow the audience glimpses of Prospero's island as different parts of the island are isolated in the play. The island itself and the sea that surrounds it may be seen as encompassing elemental nature and throughout the play, the elements are used to emphasize the inherent nature of characters (notably Ariel and Caliban) as these elements to an Elizabethan audience possessed "primarily certain qualities attributable to matter" (Tillyard's Elizabethan World Picture). The imagery of clouds dissolving and melting, or reason that had ebbed flooding back, and in changes of state between sleeping and waking all draw on images from the natural environment that extend the main thematic concerns in The Tempest. Analogies may also be drawn between the macrocosm and microcosm and how disorder in one corresponded to disorders in the other.

            Prospero places the characters in different parts of the island in an attempt to illicit responses that would reveal their characters. There is suggestion that the portion of the island in which the court party is placed is rather barren and hostile. Despite Adrian's objective comments in Act II of the island as being "desert", Gonzalo in responding to the island as "here is everything advantageous to live. How lush and lusty the grass looks" reveals clearly his constant optimism and fervent belief in hope, his response is offered in contrast to Sebastian's and Antonio's response that "the ground, indeed, is tawny with an eye of green in'it", they prefer instead to see the worst in all and serve as an antithesis to Gonzalo's goodly and generous character.

            In placing the court party in an environment which is in stark contrast to the elaborate court from which they came and also the source of Antonio's treacherous behavior, their barren surroundings are an apt setting for change to be initiated and recognized, most notably in Alonso.  As the rest of the court party sleeps, Antonio is placed in a situation where Prospero may observe Antonio's genuine lack of repentance for his past sins. Similarly, he deliberately places Caliban with Trinculo and Stephano, which affords Caliban the opportunity to gain more valuable self-knowledge. Caliban has been shown to be highly passionate in his response to stimulus, as seen in his lustful intent on Miranda, but does not know the reason why this is wrong, Prospero creates an opportunity where he could possibly become a better judge of people.

            The atmosphere surrounding a character often reflects his state of mind. Alonso's barren surroundings reflect the infinite loss and sadness over the presumed death of Ferdinand. The temporary respite, from the...

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