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Explore the ways Shakespeare presents ideas of society in 'The Tempest'

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Introduction

Explore the ways Shakespeare presents ideas of society in 'The Tempest' 'The Tempest' was Shakespeare's last play written alone. He used it to express his thoughts on the structure of society, albeit through using certain characters as a mouthpiece. These characters include Gonzalo and Prospero. To begin with, the society on the island consists only of Prospero, Miranda, Caliban and the spirits, which only appear to Prospero. One theme in the play is the idea of usurpation, which is shown several times throughout. One of Caliban's reasons for hating Prospero is his idea that Prospero usurped him as ruler of the island. This is made clear as early as Act 1 Scene 2, when Caliban says "This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother, which thou tak'st from me". Antonio also usurped Prospero as Duke of Milan, Stephano wishes to be "king of th' isle" and Sebastian plots to kill Alonso to become King of Naples. On the island, it seems that all social restraints are removed. Antonio and Sebastian would never have dared to plot to murder Alonso back in Italy. The anonymity of the island means that the characters' genuine feelings are shown, rather than hidden. ...read more.

Middle

This is shown by the way in which he tells Miranda by delayed exposition that "those (his magic) being all my study, I cast government upon my brother". This quotation implies that Prospero knows he paved the way for his brother to take over. It also shows that he now knows he was a neglectful leader, which shows some humility, perhaps meaning that his character has changed since being marooned on the island. Gonzalo muses on creating a commonwealth on the island, with "no sovreignty", in the presence of the King of Naples. This is quite startling in its outspokeness, and starts to disabuse us of the notion that Gonzalo is just a kindly old fool. This gives us another parallel between Shakespeare and Gonzalo, as Gonzalo voices his commonwealth idea in front of the king, and Shakespeare is sending this message out in front of an audience that could very likely have included royalty. Also, I believe that Prospero presents some ideas of society too. He is a very dominant character, speaking the epilogue, which is unusual for a main character in a Shakespeare play. Prospero manipulates the characters and shapes the story, and is almost always totally in control. ...read more.

Conclusion

The way he rules on the island could, therefore be likened to the way we are told he ruled in Milan, where although it was actually him that was the Duke, his brother ruled the country. This idea of society that Prospero has created on the island is that of a single all-powerful ruler. Prospero is eager to return to Naples and the rigid social structure of Italian high society. I believe that this is because the small, relaxed society on the island did not satisfy his need for power over others. He does relinquish his magic, however, which was the main source of his power on the island. I feel that this is because he knows that when he is back in Italy he will not need magic powers to control people, as he will be the rightful duke, and this will be respected by members of Italian society. This also is another example of how important the theme of power is. In conclusion, I think that the island is a microcosm of society, and due to its size, and the small number of people on there, everything is concentrated. For example, Sebastian's desire to be King would probably have been suppressed back in Italy, but on the island it is not. ...read more.

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