William Shakespeare's The Tempest Essay

3428 words - 14 pages

William Shakespeare's The Tempest

Generally acknowledged as one of Shakespeare's final plays, 'The
Tempest' may be described as a romantic tragi-comedy - where love and
contentment prosper despite the threatening presence of evil forces.
However, beyond the almost 'fairy-tale' like exterior lies a seemingly
direct approach to a greatly topical debate at the time. This was the
supposed contrast between civilised and uncivilised persons, brought
to the fore as a result of recent expeditions overseas. Although
pioneering voyages of discovery were not a recent commodity since the
travels of Christopher Columbus, almost a century earlier, it wasn't
until the early sixteen hundreds that such voyages became more common
and with an intent not just to discover new land, but to claim it for
the traveller's own country. For example, just four years before the
opening performance of 'The Tempest' (1611), the first English
settlement was established in Virginia, America and named after the
reigning monarch, James I. This process, later termed as colonisation,
clearly provoked much thought and consideration on behalf of
Shakespeare. His play's remote island setting, previously inhabited by
a single native and now amok with men of supposedly more civilised
nature, was a suitable compendium with which the playwright could
explore his fascination and consider the popular beliefs of the time.
Some may argue that Shakespeare's immense personal interest in the
subject is demonstrated by the apparent mirroring of both events
overseas and contemporary viewpoints in the play. The title, from the
Latin tempestus meaning storm, may have been derived from an incident
off the island Barbados, one year previous, where a particularly
violent storm shipwrecked a crew of colonists who were fortunate to
survive and flee the island after a short while. Furthermore, it would
appear that Shakespeare was also inspired to explore the intricate
relationship between 'natural man' and 'civilised man' as a result of
a range of popular contemporary theories. Advocates of civilised man,
customarily supporters of colonialism, presented natives of newly
discovered land as savage, intemperate and brutal in contrast to the
alleged nobility and self-control of themselves. Such a view was
demonstrated by the theorist Sandy in his essay, 'Nature is Vile'. On
the other hand, contemporaries such as Rousseau and Montaigne opposed
this viewpoint. Montaigne's essay 'Des Cannibales', which discussed
the value of societies unaffected by civilisation, was evidently
familiar to Shakespeare who echoed the Frenchman's phrases extensively
throughout the play. Hence, we can assume that foreign affairs and
popular contemporary theories in the seventeenth century inspired
Shakespeare to explore the notion that civilisation was superior to

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