Essay on William Shakespeare's The Tempest

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William Shakespeare's The Tempest

Generally acknowledged as one of Shakespeare's final plays, 'The Tempest' may be described as a romantic tragi-comedy - where love and contentment prosper despite the threatening presence of evil forces. However, beyond the almost 'fairy-tale' like exterior lies a seemingly direct approach to a greatly topical debate at the time. This was the supposed contrast between civilised and uncivilised persons, brought to the fore as a result of recent expeditions overseas. Although pioneering voyages of discovery were not a recent commodity since the travels of Christopher Columbus, almost a century earlier, it wasn't until the early sixteen hundreds that such voyages
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Furthermore, it would appear that Shakespeare was also inspired to explore the intricate relationship between 'natural man' and 'civilised man' as a result of a range of popular contemporary theories. Advocates of civilised man, customarily supporters of colonialism, presented natives of newly discovered land as savage, intemperate and brutal in contrast to the alleged nobility and self-control of themselves. Such a view was demonstrated by the theorist Sandy in his essay, 'Nature is Vile'. On the other hand, contemporaries such as Rousseau and Montaigne opposed this viewpoint. Montaigne's essay 'Des Cannibales', which discussed the value of societies unaffected by civilisation, was evidently familiar to Shakespeare who echoed the Frenchman's phrases extensively throughout the play. Hence, we can assume that foreign affairs and popular contemporary theories in the seventeenth century inspired Shakespeare to explore the notion that civilisation was superior to nature, and possibly contend this in his play.

In fact, our very understanding of the play, and in particular its characters, relies upon the awareness of popular European attitudes from the seventeenth century. Shakespeare named and described his cast most particularly, as if to ensure that his audience would instantly recognise the