Opposition Between Art And Reality In Shakespeare's The Tempest

1181 words - 5 pages

Opposition between Art and Reality in The Tempest

    The Tempest is a self-reflexive play that explores the boundaries of art and reality. Shakespeare's island is a realm controlled by the artist figure; where the fabulous, the ideal and the imaginative are presented as both illusory and palpable, and where the audience is held in an indeterminate state, a "strange repose". The juxtaposition of the world of art with political and social realities explored by representative characters is the central contrast of the play, and is foregrounded by the use of non-verbal techniques. These techniques allow the audience to appreciate the art that facilitates the spectacle they watch, as well as understand that the ideal remains an illusory state impinged on by concerns of the real world. This contrast does not resolve itself; rather, it remains inconclusive and leaves us, according to Russ McDonald, in a "marginal condition between expectation and understanding, affirmation and skepticism, comedy and tragedy".


The opening storm scene represents the collapse of all the civility and social order of the known world. The effectiveness of the storm is made possible by the opening "tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning" which pre-empts the events to come. The storm immediately catapults the reader into an understanding of the characters on board the ship. It exposes us to the way in which the characters' social assumptions capitulate when they are exposed to adversity; and leads us to expect that on their arrival on the island they will be reformed. However, quite the reverse is true - in the second act we are presented with men who appear even More zealously political now that they are free of having to maintain the façade expected in their society. Antonio and Sebastian plot almost immediately to murder Alonso, considering political gain despite the predicament in which they find themselves. Additionally, Stephano, Trincullo and even Caliban have their own political plot - to murder Prospero. These subplots of usurpation are presented in a mimetic style and their sheer number has the effect of giving The Tempest its characteristic density and brevity. Brought about by Prospero's art, the storm is the first non-verbal technique to which the audience is exposed; giving us the opportunity to understand the way in which the characters of the play are archetypes who are representative of their society.


The initial reactions of the characters when arriving on the island are important representations of the ideologies they have carried with them from their society. Ferdinand scarcely notices his surroundings, absorbed instead by the sight of Miranda. Antonio is morose and cynical, remarking that it is as if the island "'twere perfumed by a fen" and has everything "save means to live". The most interesting reaction is from Gonzalo, whose comic vision of an impractical but ideal commonwealth "t'...

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