Places: The Tempest

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1623

First produced: 1611

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: Fifteenth century

Places DiscussedEnchanted island

Enchanted Tempest, Theisland. Remote home of the rightful duke of Milan, Prospero, as well as his daughter Miranda and his slave Caliban. Presumably the almost deserted island is in the Mediterranean Sea, but it resembles the tropical islands of even more remote seas around the world that European navigators were beginning to discover during William Shakespeare’s time. Europeans were coming to expect far-off islands to be home to strange creatures and peoples, such as Prospero’s islander slave, Caliban. To the Europeans, remote tropical islands also seemed like earthly paradises, recalling myths of an original Golden Age or a new Utopia.

Such earthly paradises–or any new lands, for that matter–were starting to be occupied by Europeans without much regard for their original inhabitants. A microcosm of this developing colonial mentality exists in The Tempest, whose island originally belonged to Caliban, who is described as a “savage” and “monster.” After becoming stranded on the island with his young daughter, Prospero at first coexists peacefully with Caliban. However, when Caliban tries to mate with Miranda, Prospero takes over the island and enslaves Caliban.

What enables Prospero to enslave Caliban so easily is his knowledge gained from books (much superior to the black magic of Caliban’s mother, a witch). Through this knowledge, Prospero is able to torture Caliban’s joints and give him nightmares. Prospero uses the same knowledge to draw his European enemies to the island, stir up a storm that shipwrecks them, and harass them until they beg forgiveness. Prospero is an archetypal figure of the scientist, and his abilities to play music in the air, control the weather, and call on spirits to do his bidding make the island a science and technology museum.

BibliographyFrench, Marilyn. Shakespeare’s Division of Experience. New York: Summit Books, 1981. French sees the play as Shakespeare’s attempt to synthesize themes from his earlier works and finally propound a theory of justice that satisfies the hierarchical imperatives he had previously set out. An examination of gender roles plays a significant part in her attempts to explicate Shakespeare’s universe. Caliban is presented as representative of colonized peoples.Kermode, Frank. William Shakespeare: The Final Plays. London: Longmans, Green, 1963. Kermode sees this play as the most classically unified of Shakespeare’s late works, and finds a repetition of earlier themes including “guilt and repentance, the finding of the lost, forgiveness, the renewal of the world, [and] the benevolence of unseen powers.”Lindley, David. “Music, Masque and Meaining in The Tempest.” The Court Masque. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1984. Lindley examines the masque as a unique Renaissance art form and uncovers the role music plays in The Tempest to assert and deny power.Peterson, Douglas L. Time, Tide, and Tempest: A Study of Shakespeare’s Romances. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1973. Places the play in the context of Shakespeare’s romance plays. Explores the themes and motifs of redemption and natural order, which elaborated on Shakespeare’s earlier vision.Smith, Hallett Darius, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “The Tempest”: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. Provides viewpoints and interpretations of The Tempest by sixteen critics, including A. C. Bradley and Northrup Frye. Includes a chronology of important dates and a bibliography.
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