The Tempest is a political play

After learning about politics in Shakespearean England from the lecture on Monday, it isn’t surprising that Shakespeare’s writings would be heavily influenced by the times he lived in.

The Tempest can be interpreted as a ‘play of plays’ and a commentary on colonization, and evidence of both views can be found in the play.

There’s so much to The Tempest. The play is reeking of plots, plots of usurpation (Prospero’s right as duke of Milan, the king was almost usurped by his men), plots to kill and to deceive (Antonio and Sebastian almost usurping the king, Caliban wanting to kill Prospero, Prospero deceiving pretty much everyone). There’s also comedy, romance, and more.

Evidently, the king’s men has plenty of time to tell jokes (2.1), even when they’re about to drown (1.1). Also, Prospero has a hard time getting Miranda to listen to his woeful tales. Miranda comments, “Your tale, sir, would cure deafness” (Act 1.2,  107), after Prospero’s multiple attempts to get her attention. Then there’s Trinculo and Stephano, the party animals of the play, who bring a lot of rowdiness and drunkenness to the island. The beginning of The Tempest with shipwreck resonates with the shipwreck in Twelfth Night. In The Tempest the father and son are separated and in Twelfth Night the twin brother and sister are separated, and both situations are resolved happily in the end.

The bitter part of the play is where Caliban gets verbally abused by Prospero and Miranda, tricked by Trinculo and Stephano, believing that they’re ‘the men in the moon’, but nevertheless realizing that he’s been tricked in the end. Although Shakespeare doesn’t give any solutions to the colonization issue, he does show the human condition and problems involved, therefore raising awareness, which is good.

Aside from The Tempest, Shakespeare seems to have written a lot of political plays: Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet has a political backdrop/civil mutiny. Probably all of his plays have something to do with politics, now that I think of it. After all, it is a writer’s job to respond to the society he/she lives in through writing.

2 Thoughts.

  1. I agree that there’s a conspicuous amount of plots going on in the play. I think the setting is an important reason for this- on an island with no formal government or rules, anyone is able to run with whatever ambitious whims they desire. Such an attitude was probably common during times of early colonization (e.g the wild west).

    • Hey, that’s an interesting point about the setting on a remote island–that there is no set, agreed-upon authority or rules, so it’s free rein to anyone who wants to take over. Of course, Caliban argues that the island really belongs to him, that he should be ruler of it due to inheriting it from his mother (but do we really know that he has this right b/c do we know if she had the right to rule it? Was anyone else there before them?). And Prospero claims to be and acts like the proper ruler on it, but what is the source of his authority? Just bare power and threat of pain. One begins to wonder if there is any legitimate source of authority in the play, and if so, what that might say about Shakespeare’s possible views on legitimate authority in “real life.” That’s one thing I’m interested in, anyway!

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