Essay on Importance of Setting in Shakespeare's The Tempest

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Importance of Setting in The Tempest

The island of magic and mystery that Shakespeare creates in The Tempest is an extraordinary symbol of both the political and social realities of his contemporary society, and of the potential for a reformed New World. Shakespeare’s island is a creation which allows the juxtaposition of real and idealised worlds, and shows his audience both what they and what they ought to be. The seventeenth century was a time of ideological upheaval in Europe, with Medieval ideas of a hierarchical and ordered society being challenged by Renaissance thinkers. For the dynastic powers, including England under Elizabeth I, colonialism was an important opportunity to realise territorial ambition and prove religious
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Antonio is morose and cynical, remarking that it is as if the island “’twere perfumed by a fen” and has everything “save means to live”. The most interesting reaction is from Gonzalo, whose comic vision of an impractical but ideal commonwealth is the first utopian dream in the play:

“I’ the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit…
No occupation, all men idle, all,
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty-“

Gonzalo delivers this speech to provide comic relief to his audience, but it has much greater significance. His optimistic attitude, “you have cause, so have we all, of joy” and vision parallels the excitement of the discovery of a New World in the seventeenth century.

Additionally, the island is the perfect setting for Shakespeare to present man as a zealous political animal, free of the façade and superficiality of ordinary society. Antonio and Sebastian plot almost immediately to murder Antonio, considering political gain despite the predicament in which they find themselves. Additionally, Stephano, Trincullo and even Caliban have their own political plot – to murder Prospero. Stephano remarks “this will prove a brave kingdom to me”, and Caliban tells of his dreams of heavenly riches:

“the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that delight and hurt not… and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon
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