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October 4, 2010

The Affects of the Island in The Tempest

Filed under: Uncategorized — E. A. @ 5:53 pm

Elizabeth Arestyl

Professor Buell

English 399w

4 October 2010

The Affects of the Island in The Tempest

William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest the inhabitants of the unnamed island observing a temperamental storm at sea; however, throughout the play the most unpredictable setting becomes the island itself, influencing Prospero and other characters. The island and its elements can be viewed as a technological shift in the lives of the characters, which few use to further their own personal aims.

Gonzalo is the first of the nobles to use the island to his own and Alonso’s advantage. It is in their best interests to remain calm and together on this alien island even though it is highly probable that Prince Ferdinand is dead:

“Beseech you, sir, be merry. You have cause

(So have we all) of joy; for our escape

Is much beyond our loss. Our hint of woe

Is common: everyday some sailor’s wife,

The master of some merchant, and the merchant

Have just our theme of woe. But for the miracle—

I mean our preservation—few in millions

Can speak like us. Then wisely, good sir, weigh

Our sorrow with our comfort” (II i.1-9).

Gonzalo tries to calm Alonso with the comfort of having their lives thanks to the island. The island is what they have that many other shipwrecked people lacked, which resulted in their untimely deaths. Gonzalo’s reference to common death at sea can be seen as his way to tell Alonso that Ferdinand’s death was unavoidable but their survival is then that much more profound and unbelievable; therefore, Alonso should not mourn for something that was very likely to happen at sea, rather, he should celebrate for his and his noblemen’s unlikely survival. Without the island’s existence, first off, Gonzalo would not be able to plead is argument to Alonso.

Antonio and Sebastian are the second and third of the noblemen who the island affects. When Alonso and Gonzalo fall asleep the seclusion of the island tempts Antonio and Sebastian, exposing their true selves, and they begin to plot the double murder of the king of Naples and his elderly counselor. At first it is Antonio who drops hints about getting away with murder and a title, “Th’ occasion speaks thee, and/My strong imagination sees a crown/Dropping upon thy head” and Sebastian is reluctant to take his line of thought seriously, instead choosing to believe that Antonio is dreaming, “It is sleepy language, and thou speak’st/Out of thy sleep (II.i.203-205, 207-208). One can argue that Antonio believes that if no one can find the island no one will find the bodies; that he believes the remainder of the crew to be dead or lost at sea and soon will be dead, therefore, there will be no differing testimony when Sebastian and he are brought up for question of the events of the shipwreck. The island’s magic is giving these two characters enough time to show their mercenary traits, killing for titles denied to them by secondary birth. It is just when Alonso and Sebastian fully commit to the murders when Ariel—the magical spirit on the island—returns and awakens Gonzalo with haste for his life, “If of life you keep a care,/Shake off slumber and beware./Awake, awake” (II.i.299-301). Ariel is only involved with the noblemen because he is indebted to Prospero, who promises his freedom after the allotted hours have passed.

Prospero, the Milanese Duke can be regarded as the most changed by the island seeing as how with its magical aid he was able to change the outcome of his life. At the end of act V proper has arranged a marriage between Ferdinand and Miranda thus linking the two houses closer than Antonio’s mere pledge of fealty, and in doing so forces Alonso to acknowledge their new relationship and its need for respect. However, one can argue that Prospero is negatively affected by the island. He is the hand that forces Ariel to put Gonzalo to sleep which places Gonzalo’s life in danger, it is Prospero who sends Ariel to separate the Neapolitans throughout the island; therefore, it is reasonable to believe that Prospero’s ‘rebirth’ is sullied by the many methods of reprisal offered to him by the island. One can argue that Prospero found no better way, other than controlling, to ensure the aid of the spirits of the island.(II.i.SD).

Proof of the island’s corruption of Prospero—and, indirectly, the spirits—can be shown by Caliban’s reaction to hearing thunder while gathering fire wood and wishing harm to Prospero:

“                      His spirits hear me,

And yet I needs must curse, But they’ll nor pinch,

Fright me with urchin-shows, pitch me i’ th’ mire,

Nor lead me, like a fire-brand, in the dark

Out of my way, unless he bid ‘em. But

For every trifle are they set upon me;

Sometimes like apes that mow and chatter at me,

And after bite me; then like hedgehogs, which

Lie tumbling in my barefoot way and mount

Their pricks at my footfall; sometime am I

All wound with adders, who with cloven tongues

Do hiss me into madness” (II.i.SD, 1-14).

Having been educated by Prospero and Miranda, the reader must infer that Caliban had no knowledge of pain prior to Prospero’s arrival on the island, so it is not far to presume that Prospero does use the magic of the island to abuse Caliban. Prospero’s intense study of the island magic and what Caliban reveals about the island cause Prospero’s powers to become vast enough and make him appear to be an omniscient being. In giving Prospero God-like powers the island enables him to erase his past and alter his fate.

The further one reads into The Tempest the island is revealed a tool with incredible powers that can enable its wielder to do either good or destructive things. Gonzalo thought it a place of security and a god-send when they thought themselves fit to die; Antonio and Sebastian thought it would be a place to hold the secret of the disappearance of King Alonso and Gonzalo, which would have been a magnificent but deadly feat. However, Prospero manages to keep all life safe and take a title while skillfully wielding control over the island. His control over the different aspects and the outcomes of many events on the island portray the island’s full power and his learned grasp of the diverse elements of the island’s nature and its magic.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Sherman, William H. and Peter Hulme.

Norton Critical Ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2004. 1-77.

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2 Comments to “The Affects of the Island in The Tempest”
  1. fenderbirds says:

    nice article, keep the posts coming

  2. Donna says:

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday. It’s always useful to read through articles from other authors and use a little something from other sites.

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