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The Key Themes Portrayed In The Tempest English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1338 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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One of the key themes portrayed in Act 3 scene 2 is the theme of power. Power is demonstrated in the scene in a number of ways. Firstly Shakespeare paints a portrait of scheming and usurpation to gain power. Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban act as the faction of devious plotters in their attempt to usurp Prospero- “Monster I will kill this man.” This plot is a direct parallel to the stratagem of Antonio and Sebastian as they endeavour to assassinate the king Alonso. Both machinations have similarities of some nature. For example Caliban enlists the aid of Stephano for his scheme and similarly Antonio enlists the help of Sebastian for his plan. In both conspiracies the schemers ignore reason and logic. By the simultaneous depiction of the two concoctions Shakespeare illustrates the potential for violence whether in the aristocracy of Naples (as portrayed by the usurpation of Prospero as the Duke of Milan) or in the isolated island.

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The drunkenness of Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban in Act 3 Scene 2- ” When the butt is out, we will drink water, not a drop before; therefore bear up, and board em” acts as a metaphor for the intoxication of the desire for power. Shakespeare indicates the blindness of those who plot for power by Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban’s inability to see Ariel- Prospero’s invisible servant who torments the potential usurpers in Act 3 Scene 2( “If thou beest a man, show thyself in thy likeness.”) The interactions between Trincilo,Sebastian and Caliban for example; ” Lo, how he mocks me,” “Give him blows and take his bottle from him,” and ” A murrain on your monster and the devil take your fingers!” also help delineate the theme of power. It is possible to suggest that the intimidation and coercion in their exchanges demonstrate society in microcosm- power frequently corrupts those that seek it.

Another central theme depicted in Act 3 Scene 2 is the ultimate question of nature or nurture. Is it in our nature to be who we are today or does our experience of the earth and how we are nurtured control our deeds? Caliban is used by Shakespeare to represent this theme. Throughout The Tempest Caliban is considered brutal, ribald and malevolent. His language- “hiss, bogs, fens, bite, curse and disease” is all from a negative semantic field and his attempted violation of Miranda are archetypes of how Shakespeare clarifies Caliban as a monster. Even his attempted usurpation of Prospero is violent and uncultivated – “Where thou mayst knock a nail into his head.” However in Act 3 Scene 2 Caliban has a moment in which he becomes more than a mere usurper. He delivers a poignant and heartfelt speech about the island – “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises …” This ennobling monologue contains eloquent language ( ” sweet airs, thousand twangling instruments, hum about mine ears, in dreaming the clouds methought would open…”) and through this harangue Shakespeare gives Caliban a moment of emancipation from Prospero’s dictum. This moment of liberty raises the theme of nature/nurture. In Caliban’s moment of freedom from Prospero he is portrayed to be delicate and ethereal which brings the impugn up- has Prospero nurtured Caliban to be a monster? Perhaps Caliban is benign in his nature but Prospero’s treatment of him has caused him to become violent. It may be that Shakespeare corroborates this theory by coinciding the arrival of Ariel with Caliban’s conspiratial speech about Prospero – “I am subject to a tyrant, a sorcerer that by his cunning hath cheated me of the island…” Ariel is Prospero’s servant so his presence has a suggestion of Prospero being in control of a situation. Perhaps Ariel’s attendance influenced Caliban to plot against Prospero. It may be that Prospero wishes Caliban to scheme against him to confirm Prospero’s view of Caliban as a cut-throat savage. Shakespeare includes this possibility in Act 3 Scene 2 in order to permit the reader to consider the option that it may be Prospero’s influence on Caliban that makes Caliban uncivilised.

Another way in which the theme of nature/nurture is explored by Shakespeare in Act 3 Scene 2 is through Caliban’s willingness to exist in servility. He tolerates name-calling (“servant-monster, most ignorant monster, half fish half a monster,”) and accepts Stephano’s tenuous authority by licking his shoe – “Let me lick thy shoe.” In effect Caliban exchanges one master (Prospero) for another (Stephano) in his attempt to usurp Prospero. Caliban fails to see that Stephano may make a worse master than Prospero- when Stephano first encounters Caliban his first thought is to exploit him by making money which shows little thought for Caliban’s well-being. Shakespeare includes a connotation in the Tempest that perhaps Prospero’s treatment of Caliban has left Caliban very vulnerable. Is it Prospero’s influence that has nurtured Caliban to being a sycophant, or is it in Calibans nature to serve others? Using the theme of nature/nurture it could be that Shakespeare wants the audience to excogitate the problem of distinguishing “men” from “monster.” During Act 3 scene 2 it is possible to suggest that Shakespeare asks his audience whether they think Caliban is inherently brutish or brutish by oppression. If they think Caliban is brutish by oppression therefore Prospero may in effect be the “monster” of this play rather than Caliban.

The last fundamental theme of Act 3 Scene 2 is colonization. Caliban insists that Prospero stole the island from him (Caliban was a native of the island when Prospero arrived)- ” I say, by sorcery he got this isle; from me he got it.” It could be that Shakespeare deliberately includes the idea that Prospero stole the island from Caliban to parallel the original injustice of the play- when Sebastian usurped Prospero’s throne from him. This comparison perhaps leads to the conclusion that Prospero is not as innocent as he seems. In effect, Prospero has done the same thing to Caliban that Sebastian did to Prospero. If this idea that Prospero colonized the island is true- then this changes our opinion of colonization and influences the audience to feel more negative about it. Caliban existed quite happily on the island before Prospero arrived. When Prospero arrived on the island he brought civilization with him. Caliban is a very unrefined earthy character- as shown by his deep connection with nature apparent in his last speech of the scene- “sound and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.” The colonization of the island by Prospero, and with him civilization has transformed Caliban from freedom to slavery. Caliban represents untamed nature in conflict with the civilization that colonization brings. Caliban intuitively understands that Prospero’s power comes from his books and so to Caliban Prospero’s books represent civilization and with it slavery. Therefore, the books become the first victims of his rebellion- “Having first seized his books.” Calibans murder contrivance is a rejection of civilization. When Caliban dreams he escapes the island, Prospero and civilization – “Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked, I cried to dream again.” This obvious negative effect that civilisation has left on Caliban perhaps escorts the audience to the conclusion that colonization is often erroneous. However Shakespeare does not enforce this speculation on us- instead he subtly shows us the implication and allowed us to formulate our own opinion on colonization.

As elucidated in Act 3 Scene 2 although the Tempest incorporates classic criteria for a fairy story such as magic, evil in the form of Antonio


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