How does Shakespeare present the use and abuse of power in ‘The Tempest’? Comment on the use of language, ideas and stagecraft. Elizabethan society’s understanding of colonisation and natives is reflected in the play ‘The Tempest’ by William Shakespeare. Elizabethan’s were very positive towards colonisation and the idea of usurpation, and were neither very knowledgeable when it came to global awareness and the feelings of others. Elizabethan’s viewed natives in a humorous way and this is what they wanted to see in their theatres – entertainment and humour.
The role of women in the Elizabethan era was very different compared to modern society today. Women were not allowed to perform on stage, therefore female roles were often played by young men, along side this, a lot of women were prostitutes. This role of women mirrored in Shakespeare’s plays; in which normally only consist of one female character. The female personalities in Shakespeare’s plays are distinctively repetitive and memorable, either soppy or light-hearted, a prostitute, or having an evil trait like Lady Macbeth.
As for the theatre itself, they of course had no dramatic lighting or computerized sound effects; therefore, Shakespeare relied on his use of language and exaggerated stagecraft to represent emotion, tension, the concept of magic, humour and of course to create a lively atmosphere within the theatre. During Shakespeare’s time period, as a lot of the planet was still being discovered, many rumours and stories were coming back from distant islands, with myths about the Cannibals of the Caribbean and faraway utopias. Shakespeare was inspired by this, and as a result, here sparked the monster-like character Caliban in ‘The Tempest’, whose name is roughly anagrammatic to cannibal.
Shakespeare named the play in a very clever and metaphorical way; ‘The Tempest’, does not only define the turbulent magical storm at the introduction of the play, but reflects all of the chaos and confusion on the island, which is consistent throughout the play. The chaos starts when a magician named Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, has his position usurped by his brother Antonio. Antonio sends Prospero and his young daughter Miranda to a faraway, but with the help of Gonzalo, Prospero was able to smuggle a couple of his books, which are the source of his magic, and also some food and water.
When Prospero and Miranda arrived on the island, Prospero using his magic frees a captured spirit Ariel who was imprisoned for many years in a tree by an evil with named Sycorax, whom the island belonged to until she died and could not free Ariel. Ariel is very thankful to Prospero, and accepts to be Prospero’s slave in return. However, Sycorax’s son Caliban still remains on the island. Prospero also takes on Caliban as his slave.
Prospero and Miranda continued to survive on the island for twelve years. Prospero then orders Ariel to create a magical storm as a ship on its way to the wedding of Claribel (the daughter of Alonso, the King of Naples), and the Prince of Tunis in Africa. Ariel makes sure that no one on the ship is hurt and brings all the ship passengers to the island, thus creating an atmosphere of chaos and tension by using short sharp lines at the start of the play. “To cabin. Silence! Trouble us not.” – Boatswain An audience would have been mesmerised by this action on stage and enthralled at the idea of what might be about to happen.
Our main character, Prospero, represents Shakespeare’s idea of the use and abuse of power. Everything that occurs on the island is controlled by Prospero and the use of magic. Miranda meets Ferdinand, the Prince of Naples (the son of Alonso). It is the first man Miranda has seen other than Prospero and Caliban. Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love almost instantaneously. Prospero conjures a plan to make Ferdinand prove his love for Miranda. “They are both in either’s powers; but this swift business I must uneasy make, lest too light winning make the prize light.” – Prospero
He accuses Ferdinand of merely pretending to be the Prince of Naples. Prospero makes Ferdinand work hard moving logs as a punishment. After proving to Prospero his love for Miranda, Ferdinand and Miranda decide to marry. Elsewhere, Alonso is mourning over his son Ferdinand, who is thought to have drowned during the storm. Ariel was ordered a task to investigate and puts Alonso to sleep using magic to see what Alonso’s brother Sebastian and Antonio have to say to each other. Antonio ends up persuading Sebastian to kill his brother and make himself King of Naples. “Draw thy sword; one stroke shall free thee from the tribute which thou payest, and I the king shall love thee.” – Sebastian