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Essay on the Setting in Shakespeare's The Tempest

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Importance of Setting in The Tempest

Shakespeare’s enchanted island in The Tempest is a restorative pastoral setting, a place where ‘no man was his own’ and a place that offers endless possibilities to the people that arrive on it’s shores. Although the actual location of the island is not known, the worlds of Seneca aptly describe it’s significance to the play – it represents the ‘bounds of things, the remotest shores of the world’. On the boundary of reality, the island partakes of both the natural and supernatural both the imaginative and the real. It allows the exploration of both man’s potential and his limitations, his capacity for reform through art and his affinity for political and social realities. It is constructing
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The repeated plots of assassination and usurpation foreground this notion. Prospero usurped the island’s sovereignty, Sycorax usurped control of the local spirit population, and there are no less than three plots to usurp power during the course of the play. The sheer number of these subplots and the way in which they are presented in a mimetic style has the affect of giving The Tempest its characteristic density. They would only be possible on the island setting which has its own history and its own ability to tempt the characters to regicide and fratricide.

The island is also a powerful means of conveying the traits of the characters. This is made possible by the fact that it appears to change depending on who is regarding it. The initial responses of the characters to their arrival on the island illustrates this ides. For Gonzalo it is temperate and full of possibility – he dreams of a commonwealth “t’excell the Golden Age”. For Antonio it is barren and unforgiving; he remarks it has “everything, save means to live”. The archcriminals Antonio and Sebastian mock the advisors observation that their clothes are undamaged and cleaner than before, but this is an interesting metaphor for the function of the island setting. The characters have been refreshed rather than hurt by their shipwreck; and, as in all Elizabethan romances, providence offers them a new
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