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Shakespeare - The Tempest

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5280 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Shakespeare – The Tempest

Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ highlights the lack of female independence in the Elizabethan era, the time of which the play was performed. This is through the pivotal single female speaking character, Miranda, who is socially guarded and protected by her father Prospero. She is therefore unable to experience simple interactions with men as Ferdinand was the “third man [she] e’er saw”. This is representative of the strict patriarchal society where men dominated and prevented the freedom of a woman as they must “obey and be attentive”. It is therefore Miranda’s obedience which allows her to find happiness with her lover Ferdinand, contrasting  ‘Othello’s’ Shakespearean character Desdemona who must ultimately die due to her rebellion to the norms of the Elizabethan Society, where she “betrayed” her father. Perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting that women who conform to their male superiors will succeed in finding love and happiness, whilst those who rebel will not survive in society.

Though Miranda may believe she fell in love with Ferdinand on her own accord, this

is just another example of male manipulation as her father orchestrated their meeting “aside”, quite cunningly addressing to the audience “it goes on”, his plan unfolding. Grindlay suggests both Miranda and Ferdinand are merely “actors playing the parts that Prospero has assigned them”[1], using his supernatural abilities,  allowing him to control Miranda as she becomes “inclin’d to sleep”. The power imbalance is also evident as Prospero dominates the majority of the dialogue between his conversations with his daughter. This further implies that women were not granted an opinion and were expected to follow the expectations of their fathers and husbands. However, perhaps Shakespeare purposely allows Miranda to have more dialogue in her conversation with Ferdinand to suggest a changing movement in the younger generation that allows women to be more liberal. As opposed to inhibiting a stereotypical timid persona, Miranda freely discusses her “modesty”, claiming a lack of sexual experience which would have been a taboo topic, her liberality shocking the audience. It is through Miranda’s meeting with Ferdinand that allows her develop as a character and become more expressive. 

Despite being valued as a “prize”, Miranda maintained her status as being

possession of a male superior, perhaps this is Shakespeare realising that women of the Elizabethan era were at the bottom of the hierarchy and that women were forced to rely on their fathers and husbands for social security. Consequently, Miranda is unable to be an independent woman, transferring from the possession of Prospero to Ferdinand as he had “[won] it from me”.  The pronoun ‘it’ signifies the absence of female respect as Miranda is objectified to “it” as opposed to “she”. This amplifies the idea that women had little social standing and opportunities to express their opinions. Therefore, the patriarchal society has great influence in shaping Miranda’s persona in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

John Donne

Dependent on the audience, poets often alter the persona of the speaker to suit and please the reader or in John Donne’s case, the listener where Donne’s lyrical poetry was intended for an audience to hear as opposed to read. ‘Woman’s Constancy’  having being read aloud induces a sense of mockery as the speaker intimidates the female subject with the literary intent to amuse the listeners.

The repetition of the speaker’s questions in the poem ‘Woman’s Constancy’ creates a

condescending tone, where the speaker patronises the subject’s intentions after she had “loved [him] one whole day”. The specification of “one whole” suggests their interactions were tedious and contributes the undermining tone of the speaker as the elongation assonance sounds convinces the audience of the long time period. Nevertheless, this sexual reference suggests that their “new-made vow” has bonded them together as “vow” connotes religious and marital imagery, though the speaker insinuates that this bond will “untie” as she departs. Donne deliberately uses the semantic field of marriage throughout the poem so that the audience can sympathise with the speaker as the religious sacrament of marriage would have been considered holy and unrighteous to destroy.  “Fixated on the relationship between the body and soul”[2], Donne attempts to connect the bodily act of sex and the sacramental unification of souls through the ideals of marriage. Therefore, Donne uses the conventional ideals about marriage to juxtapose ideas of treachery as the subject “forswear[s]” the “oaths” made in their moments of love, enabling the audience to sympathise and agree with.

The interrogation is further implemented by the lack of the subjects voice. Questions

are being asked, however, the male speaker’s voice remains consistent throughout, suggesting the woman has not been permitted to give her input as the speaker continues his argument. Typical of Tudor England, as women were often considered meek and timid and lacking societal status to be able to provide their opinion. This technique is similar to the speaker in ‘The Flea’, where the stanzas are structured like a chronological argument. The speaker attempts to convince the subject that her “honour” and virginity, which she wishes to preserve is not significant through the metaphysical conceit of an insignificant little flea. This flea represents the mixing of blood as “in this flea two bloods mingled”, which was thought to have happen during sexual intercourse. Thus, the speaker proposes that murdering the flea is more detrimental than losing her “maidenhood” as there would be “ three sins in killing three”, the inhabitants of the flea. This idea of of almost intimidating and belittling the female  is also evident in ‘Woman’s Constancy’ as the subject is perceived as the villian and a “vain Lunatic” as the speaker proclaims her lack of ability commit and stay faithful to him.

Differences between Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 63’ and John Donne’s Sonnet from ‘Divine Meditations’.

Though Donne and Shakespeare were writing in the during the Elizabethan period,  both poets use the sonnet form to portray different ideologies of death. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 63 commends the beauty in death whilst in the poem Divine Meditations, Donne subverts the standardized ideas of love’s eternality with the sonnet form through his hedonistic approach, mocking God as he “dare dispute with thee”. Donne belittles God and religion through the mockery of the verb to “dare”, suggesting that he himself does not fear God and therefore does not fear death. The semantic field of religion is frequent as Donne alludes to the Garden of Eden, listing the greatest of sins which had ultimately caused the downfall of Eve and thus humanity’s immortality. The conditional use of “if” suggests a condescending tone where Donne is not convinced that living a sinful life prevents eternal peace. However, after the first octave, the volta “but” suggests a change in perspective where Donne seeks the forgiveness and “mercy” of a “heavenly lethean flood”. This biblical reference of ‘Noah’s Ark’ suggests that Donne is seeking redemption as his “tears” are representative of his remorse and need for his sins to be cleared. Nevertheless, both of Donne’s perspectives are selfish as Donne’s speaker requests to live a sinful lifestyle but not face the consequences of doing so.

Though both Donne and Shakespeare follow the same rhyming scheme,

Shakespeare alternatively seeks eternal love as opposed to life after death. Shakespeare personifies the violent nature of time through the aggressive verb “crush’d”, blaming “Time” for taking the youth of the speaker’s love. Shakespeare fulfils the conventions of the sonnet form praising “my sweet love’s beauty”. The speaker idolises the physical features of how how his lover’s youth has “drained” to “lines and wrinkles”. This is also evident in the way in which time is “stealing away the treasure of his spring”, where by spring can refer to either idea of youth, freshness and rebirth or the idea of being lively and energetic. Therefore, Shakespeare is not only prosecuting Time for its physical damages but also how time hinders welfare. Despite “Age’s cruel knife”, the speaker proclaims that the memory of his love will always be present even with the passing of time, showing that the memory of someone is everlasting. Typical of Shakespeare’s poetry, he makes a literary reference of how his everlasting love “shall live” on through his literature as the “black line” refer to the words printed on a page. Shakespeare contrasts the black symbolism of death with the “he in them green”. The natural imagery of “green” suggests life and serenity which perhaps the speaker requests for his muse.

The tone Donne’s Divine Meditations and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 63 themselves reflect their different outlooks towards love and death despite adopting features of the sonnet form.


Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ describes a version of an idealistic communal “Utopian Society”, which however contains parallels to the wealth driven English society. The similarities between the two emphasises the idea that neither societies are perfect and whether a society beneficial for everyone is truly ever achievable.

More belittles the capitalist and wealth driven English society of the 16th century as

he shows that “money is of no use” and does not have any value in the city of  Antwerp. Norms regarding wealth are subverted as the land of Utopia aims to set an equal standard amongst the citizens, where by “everything is equalized” and materialism which is arguably valued in modern day life, is disregarded and satirized. Gold which is not only symbolic of wealth but also has high economical and agricultural worth, is presented to be of very little importance as “the most notorious criminals wear gold rings” as almost a mark of shame. Everyone contributes to their labor duties in sustaining the community, where trust is therefore used as a foundation for their way of life, yet if disobeyed slavery becomes the reinforcement. The idea of slavery being present in a perfect Utopian world suggests that perhaps modern views of Utopia cannot really be achieved if suffering and people being “treated more harshly” is not abolished and where freedom is not available for all. 

However, as an alternative to capital punishment, More suggests slavery is an

appropriate punishment depending on the degree of crime. Referring to the biblical 10 Commandments, “God forbade us to kill anyone” is used as moral guidelines as opposed to following the laws of a government showing the importance of the Church. Christianity was integral and highly influential in the 16th century and so More rebukes society’s attempts to almost play God as “what is it to prevent humans from using the same principles to decide” on who is of rightful power. Therefore, perhaps More is addressing the idea that humans do not have sufficient moral standing to decide what is punishable or the degree of wrong a crime is and perhaps even abuse this responsibility. Due to the lack of individuality within this Utopian society, it is questionable as to whether Utopia is in fact a symbol of amiability or restraint. Though More claims people are “cheerful”, their seclusion makes them ignorant to the possibility of independence. It is because they are under the influence of a ruler, must they require “permission” to leave the district, denying them the simple human right of free will. As a modern day reader, this lack of freedom resembles a prison like society where roles are designated and people are confined within a specific region. This is unacceptable in the twenty-first century and ultimately suggests that More’s Utopia is simple satirical, with the purpose to mock England’s similar society.

Discuss Blake’s treatment of religious belief in exploring the relationship between Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, paying attention to both texts and illuminations together.

Throughout the history of England, religion has played a primary role in shaping British culture and has therefore been highly influential in art and literature. William Blake’s christian upbringing is clear through his poems and illuminations in Songs of Innocence and of Experience. However, Blake’s attitude towards the Church differs as time passes as he later creates Songs of Experience as a companion piece to Songs of Innocence, becoming increasingly aware of the Church’s power in society, criticising their immoral and restrictive authority. Not only is this literary visible through his poetry, but the mood of Blake’s illuminations has also transgressed from being of an uplifting nature to quite sombre and dark, mirroring his attitude as he becomes further exposed to society’s hypocrisy towards the lower class community as they preach saviour, yet contribute the minimum to save.

Blake recognises the mistreatment of children in poverty in ‘Holy Thursday’ foundin

Songs Of Innocence cluster where the illuminations present children uniformly following priests as they themselves walk in pairs. This resembles the church’s attempts to annually provide a service from which children from charity schools take part in a choral concert[3], “raising their innocent hands” in a school-like fashion as he refers to the “high domes of St Paul’s” Cathedral[4]. Blake parallels Jesus’ ascension, otherwise known as Holy Thursday directly to the children who “rise to heaven” signifying hope, mimicking Blake’s attempt to lift the mood of the poem. The ascension resembles his own religious beliefs as Blake uses biblical references to convey the message of “[cherishing]” children who are less fortunate as they are “innocent” and angelic-like and would therefore be spiritually closer to God. Though Blake is addressing the bleak topic of poverty, he remains optimistic as he uses naturalistic and colourful imagery, describing the children as “[radiant]… flowers… dressed in red & blue & green”. These colours brighten the underlying issue of poverty and presents the Church as a saviour and potential resolution to helping poor children. However, Blake acknowledges the faults in this ritual as he realises the Church orchestrated the event for the purpose of their own selfish gain, allowing high class priests to appear moral. Blake ironically places the wealthy[5] “guardians of the poor” at a lower level, “beneath” the poor children in order to represent the purity and high spiritual status in having no money. This relates to the first of the eight beatitudes which state “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”[6], providing hope for the young choral singers. Blake pities the “innocent… clean” faces of the children who in the illuminations are being led by the “aged men”, aware that typically the children’s faces would not be clean and are only so for the occasion, sympathising with them. This pity changes to anger in the companion piece ‘Holy Thursday’ found in Songs of Experience as Blake mocks the idea of the Church’s Holy Thursday ritual, questioning “Is this a holy thing to see” as the occasion loses its purposeful meaning. The short and rapid lines of each stanza conveys a spiteful tone as if the reader is spitting out each line in disgust and hopelessness. This is a clear contrast from Songs of Innocence as the fate of the poor children is helpless as they are stationed in an “eternal winter”. This is a direct reference to the struggles people in poverty face as they lack sufficient warmth, food and shelter particularly throughout the torturous winter months. Blake emphasises the longevity of the “eternal” suffering through the repetition of “and” showing the ongoing misery. This misery is also visually presented through the illumination of a child’s head in his hands resembling despair as he confronts his drained and weary mother. Clinging onto her is another child desperately trying to hold on as a third child lies below them, extinguished. These children juxtapose the scenic peaceful background of the “rich and fruitful land” God had created. Therefore Blake is ultimately questioning God’s reasoning for creating a world of both beauty and suffering.

The theme of questioning evil in the world continues throughout Songs of Experience

in The Tyger. The tone becomes dark and sinister as Blake uses the hellish semantics of “burning” and “fire” to contrast the dangerous tiger in the illumination with the “little Lamb” in Songs of Innocence. Blake directly links the companion poem ‘The Lamb’ in ‘The Tyger’ exclaiming “Did he who make the lamb make thee”, addressing the evil tiger. Blake’s repetitive use of questioning shows that he is appalled as to why an omnipotent God would create destruction, symbolised by the tiger, in a world of pure lambs. The purity of the lambs are evident in the child-like rhyme of ‘The Lamb’ found in Songs of Innocence. The illumination portrays a puritanical naked child feeding the herd of lambs illustrating the line “Bid thee feed”. Blake suggests that this same child had “Gave thee life” to these lambs, presenting the child as being symbolic of God. More directly, this child is representative of Jesus, God the Son as he who “calls himself a Lamb… became a little child”, alluding to the Bible passage in John 1:29 “ Lamb of God of who takes away the sins of the world”[7]. This refers to way in which Jesus had sacrificed himself and died for the sins of others, abling eternal life. The dynamic of the child and the lamb resemble the image of Jesus as the shepherd leading his flock, reflecting the Church’s intent to lead their community onto a righteous and holy path. The Church does this through enforcing the words of the Lord. Also, Blake himself attempts to set his reader on this same religious path as he references the beatitude “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land”[8],  as he refers to the creator as being “meek” and “mild”, characteristics people in society should aim to be for eternal life.

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Blake is ultimately suggesting that possessing the same nature as Jesus and allowing His aims for “mutual love and forgiveness”[9], as said by Robert Ryan, would be both spiritually and physically beneficial for the community.  Blake shows gratitude to God’s creations, using the superlative “softest” to describe the lamb’s “clothing of delight”. Perhaps in his own innocence and nativity, he is yet to discover the some of the faults in God’s creation and how they can cause destruction to the world. After having experienced an imperfect world, Blake then turns to religion for answers as he continues to question God’s motives in ‘The Tyger’, blaming His “immortal hand” for creating evil. Blake’s perspective shifts into reality as he acknowledges that there is a silver lining to God’s creations as represented by the violent imagery of the heavenly “stars shoots down spears”. The elevation of the stars are symbolic of a divine power, yet the aggression of the shooting spears contradict the idea of hope and wishfulness commonly associated with stars and therefore faith in a divine figure. Through this divine relation, Blake is belittling God’s motives and intent for kindness.

Garden of Love reflects Blake’s view of the Church’s transition from liberality to

restrictive as he reminisces about the Chapel from his childhood, the grounds of which “[he] used to play”. Blake is referring to the safe environment of the church which he once believed was symbolic of “green” growth and ambition as opposed the restriction he returned to find. This restriction is characterized by “binding with briars my joys and desires” to which Blake realizes the church’s rules prevent him from living a liberal and guilt-free lifestyle. “Thou shall not” refers to the 10 Commandments, put in place by God as a set of guidelines of how to live life. The image of the commandments written on the door of the church presents the idea that the church only has concern for preventing sins and enforcing rules, as opposed to implementing a positive and happy environment. Blake is therefore criticizing the Church’s lack of involvement in communal affairs as the “gates of this chapel was shut”, showing that though the Church should be representative of a place to seek help, but in closing their doors, they are denying access and help to the public. This help consists of simple commodities including food, warmth and shelter which the church avoided providing to the lower class. Instead priests would prioritized the ruling classes, bettering their “political, economic and cultural agenda”[10], creating a corrupt system. The industrial growth of the church is symbolized by the man made “tombstones” and once natural garden “filled with graves”, showing the churches value for materialism as opposed to morality. These images of death represent the loss of traditional religion as Christianity increasingly became influenced by agriculture. Blake could no longer respond to or follow a church with such corrupt morals, and so he followed the “true religion” of Jesus and was able to freely express his views through art. The illumination of two children leaning on their mother as she reads to them almost mimics the illumination cover of Songs of Innocence. The positioning of the children differs however, showing the change in interest in learning about Christianity and perhaps suggests the radical idea of religion becoming less important and no longer a necessity for children to learn. Nevertheless, Blake is still aware that this idea does not prevent authority figures from primarily socializing children to becoming inherent to religious ideas. Alternatively, the children could represent Blake’s own experience in that he himself had become less invested in learning about the faith from the perspective of the Church. Poetry was not the primary source of Blake’s income, but his occupation as an engraver allowed him to provide financially for himself and his wife. Therefore, Blake’s lack of literary power enabled him to freely write poetry and explore controversial ideas which at the time would have been condemned and certainly not tolerated by the church[11].

Blake shows a strong connection to God’s human form as seen in ‘The Divine Image’

as he recognises the qualities of God found in each person, consisting of “mercy, pity, peace and love”. This shows that Blake was a strong believer in equality and was aware that everyone held the same status, regardless of their economical position, for “every man, of every dime” were viewed the same by the God they all worshiped. Blake seems to relate and appreciate the “human form divine” the most, referring to Jesus Christ as He is adored in the illumination. Clothed and having a halo painted around Jesus’ head signifies His high status differentiating Him from the two people presented, who lay naked below. But the relaxed posture and stance of the naked people shows that Blake is comfortable in Jesus’ presence as he shares the same values of equality and social justice. The image of the extended branches and angels twinned on top resemble the description of the vision Blake had on the field of Peckham Rye, as he “sees a tree shimmering” resembling angels[12]. Gold is heavily used to enforce the idea of divinity and holiness, not just in God Himself, but the people or angels above who lean in and embrace are also painted in gold, showing the richness in love and peace. Blake loses sight of love and peace as his judgement becomes heavily clouded by mercy and pity in the first stanza of the companion poem ‘Human Abstract’. Blake suggests that pity and mercy “would be no more” if poverty and discrimination were abolished. However, Blake blames society  “[making] somebody Poor” both financially and in will, allowing the rest of the community to selfishly feel pitiful and merciful for their own moral gain, highlighting the faults in society. But since the majority of society is contrived from religious beliefs, Blake also blames religion for imposing “mutual fears”, forcing people to follow a regime so that they appear moral and good. This has an ongoing chain effect which is mimicked by each rhyming couplet. People who “waters the ground with tears” have been induced by the fears of hellfire, concepts developed by the “Human Brain”. It is therefore no other than mankind’s fault for creating a world of fear and deceit as the subject in the poem had created ambiguity and “Mystery”. From this, rumors regarding black magic, symbolised by the “raven” had immersed, creating further fear. As a result, Blake is showing that these superstitions are all here-say and do not have any relation to religion, but it is the human brain who had associated the two, producing a culture which had tarnished traditional and just religion. 

William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience was an outlet for Blake to

explore his religious views and beliefs creatively, whether this is through his visual illuminations or his written poetry. Blake’s changing perspective on religion is shown through the changing attitudes of the companion poems where Blake’s tone was once hopeful and lifted, had been drowned by darkness and the sufferable experiences he had witnessed in the time between Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience were being individually made. Christianity was clearly prominent to Blake’s own upbringing and although he had no children of his own, he empathises with the mistreatment of children, particularly those struggling in poverty. Blake goes on to address further issues being dismissed by the Church such as inequality and the misinterpretation of religion, which furthered Blake from the Church but allowed him to find his own comfort and fulfilment in religion.


  • Barrie, Viviane (2001), Two Capitals: London and Dublin 1500–1840, ‘The Church of England in London in the Eighteenth Century’, pp. 211, British Academy
  • British Library, “William Blake”, <https://www.bl.uk/people/william-blake> accessed 03.01.19
  • Paley, Morton. (2011). William Blake. In C. Rawson (Author), The Cambridge Companion to English Poets (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 256). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ryan, R. (2003). ‘Blake and religion’. In M. Eaves (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to William Blake(Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 150-168). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

[1] Grildlay, Lilla , British Library, ‘Character Analysis: Miranda The Tempest’, Published:19 May 2017 <https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/character-analysis-miranda-in-the-tempest> [accessed 24 October 2018]

[2] Ramie Targoff, John Donne, Body and Soul (Chicago, 2008).

[3] Picard, Liza,‘Education in Victorian Britain’, British Library (14 Oct 2009) , <https://www.bl.uk/victorian-britain/articles/education-in-victorian-britain> [accessed 26/12/2018]

[4] Paley, Morton. (2011). William Blake. In C. Rawson (Author), The Cambridge Companion to English Poets (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 256). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[5]Barrie, Viviane (2001), Two Capitals: London and Dublin 1500–1840, ‘The Church of England in London in the Eighteenth Century’, pp. 211, British Academy

[6] Bible (Matthew 5:3)

[7] Bible (John 1:29)

[8] Bible (Matthew 5:5)

[9] Ryan, R. (2003). ‘Blake and religion’. In M. Eaves (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to William Blake(Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 150-168). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

[10] Ryan, ‘Blake and Religion’, Cambridge Companion To Literature (2003) pp.150-168

[11] Ryan, ‘Blake and Religion’, Cambridge Companion To Literature (2003 )pp.150-168

[12] Sinclair, Iain, British Library, ‘William Blake’s Spiritual Visions’ <https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/videos/william-blake-spiritual-visions> [accessed 03.01.19]


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