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An exploration of the treatment of the theme of government by Shakespeare in the Tempest

In order to fully explore the treatment of the theme of government by Shakespeare in this play, one cannot escape the question: what is government? In response, government can be defined as the process of administration and management of a political unit.Reviewing the narrative context of the play, we understand Prospero to be a duke that was overthrown and exiled from his dukedom by his treacherous brother, Antonio, with the support of the King of Naples, Alonso. Prospero is presented as a very powerful figure that was once a duke but also lost the dukedom because of his decision to increase his knowledge. He innocently entrusted his brother with the task of running state affairs, without the thought of any betrayal or treachery as it happened. Antonio having mastered the art of governance and deeply engulfed with power he decided to overthrow Prospero.PROSPERO: Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since,Thy father was the Duke of Milan andA prince of power.PROSPERO: Now the conditions,This King of Naples, being an enemyTo me inveterate, hearkens my brother’s suit,……………The play begins with a storm at sea, the Tempest that was caused by Prospero. In this scene, Act I, Scene I, we notice the conversation that ensued between the noble men on board the ship (the King of Naples, the new Duke of Milan and the high ranking officials of King Alonso’s court) and the crew members. It appears to be a heated conversation, putting into consideration the manner in which the nobles addressed the crew and the response by the crew all appear to be aggressive. Shakespeare uses this scene to inform his audience of the fact that government like life is full of ups and downs and also varies with time, conditions and situations. Under normal circumstance the crew would have never stood the chance of responding to these nobles in the slightest aggressive manner, but owing to the situation at hand, the crew having the upper hand of navigating the ship to safety they appear to be in control. We also see a temporary transition of power with the crew in charge while the nobles are helpless because of their inability to take control of the situation at hand, by navigating the ship to safety.BOATSWAIN: When the sea is. Hence! What cares theseroarers for the name of king? To cabin! Silence!Trouble us not.GONZALO: Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard.BOATSWAIN: None that I love more than myself. You area councillor. If you command these elements tosilence, and work the peace of the present, we will nothand a rope more. Use your authority. If you cannot, give thanks you have lived so long, and make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hour, if it so hap. – Cheerly, good hearts! – out of our way, Isay!Shakespeare continues to present government as a changing aspect of the society in Act I, Scene II. The way Miranda challenged her father, Prospero, indicates a way a government can be opposed by the governed. Miranda begins by challenging her father about the storm he is causing at sea, he in turn tries to inform to her he was not harming anybody, he also proceeds to explain to her his reason for raising the tempest.MIRANDA: If by your art my dearest father, you havePut the wild waters in this roar, allay them……PROSPERO: Be collected.No amazement. Tell your piteous heartThere’s no harm done.Shakespeare highlights the way a government should be, the way a government in place needs to change its manner of approach to every situation in the society, making reference to the way Prospero tries persuade Miranda to accept his actions depicts the way a way government in place needs to carry along everybody in the society; we also notice this in the manner of approach in which Prospero begins by a soft approach by his explanation to Miranda and when this proved ineffective, she rejected his explanation and persisted that he abort his mission. Thus Prospero had no option other than to execute his duties as a leader in a hard way by casting a spell on Miranda that put her to sleep and thus enabled him to carry on with what he had started; restoration of peace order and tranquillity.The way a government should rule its followers is also brought into limelight by Shakespeare. In Act I, Scene II, we also see the way Ariel appears to be a loyal servant of Prospero and the way he is kept under control by Prospero when he rebels against him. One notices that Prospero only uses threats in other to keep Ariel in control.PROSPERO: if thou more murmur’st, I will render an oak,And peg thee in his knotty entrails, tillThou hast howled away twelve winters.The way Caliban is kept under control by Prospero is also an issue to be considered; Caliban appears to be more rebellious than both Ariel and Miranda and thus he receives harsher treatment to enable Prospero keep him under control. Thus one can now see different ways in which a government should govern its followers through the way Prospero has cast a spell on Miranda to send her to sleep, thus implying a leader has to put an illusion sometimes in order to carry out his duty, we also see the way he threatens Ariel, that also tells us a leader has to use threats to keep his followers under control and finally we see the way he goes to the extent of inflicting physical pain on Caliban all in order to keep him under control and also prevent him from harming others in the society.Shakespeare also presents to us the way some people in society never change; we see this in Act II, Scene I when Antonio tries to persuade Sebastian to murder his sleeping brother, Alonso, in order to enable him succeed him as the King of Naples. This provides us with an insight into the nature of Antonio as a ruthless being that will stop at nothing to get what he wants.ANTONIO: …And yet methinks I see it in thy face,What thou shouldst be. Th’occasion speaks thee, andMy strong imagination sees a crownDropping upon thy head.Furthermore in Act III, Scene I, we also see the way Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo plot to kill Prospero, and then Stephano shall afterwards make Miranda his mistress and his Queen.STEPHANO: Monster, I will kill this man. His daughterand I will become King and Queen-……Shakespeare here highlights the nature of the society in the sense that these three characters represent different aspects of the society; Stephano appears to represent the part of the society that if given the opportunity as leaders they are going to mislead the people, he is an example of a bad leader considering the way he harbours the likes of Caliban whom we can consider a sycophant.Trinculo is depicted as the part of society that is na�ve and willing to follow whoever that proclaims himself as the leader without due consideration of the legitimacy of the claim and its values as a government in place.Caliban is presented to us as that part of the society that can easily be misled, making reference to the fact that Stephano kept on administering him with alcohol which we can easily describe as an illusion as depicted in the play, while Caliban kept on worshiping him willingly. One fact that is inevitable and common amongst these three characters is their ambitions of getting to the top in the society which can be considered as human nature but in this situation happens to be a threat to the government in place (Prospero). Thus, a leader should beware of such people in society and also know the extent to deal with such threats according to their nature and severity.The way Prospero treats Ferdinand is also to be closely observed. He sets out tasks for Ferdinand to carry out, which Ferdinand indeed carried out willingly, for he was in love with Miranda.FERDINAND: … nor this man’s threatsTo whom I am subdued, are but light to me,Might I but through my prison once a dayBehold this maid…Shakespeare here informs his audience of the need for a leader to test his various subjects to enable him know the extent of their loyalty or rebellion.We are further presented with the then emerging form of governance as more of a contract whereby both the rulers and the ruled must arrive at a compromise in other for peace, harmony and continuous coexistence to excel in that society. Looking at the way Prospero rewarded Ferdinand after he carried out the tasks set out for him confirms the emerging form of governance mentioned above.FERDINAND: …I’ll make you the Queen of NaplesPROSPERO: …But this swift business,I must uneasy make, lest too light winning…Above Shakespeare depicts Prospero and Ferdinand as two men bargaining and each trying hard to get what he needs until they finally compromise.We also see government as a contract in Act I, Scene II, when Ariel and Prospero make an agreement based on government.PROSPERO: Thou shalt be as freeAs mountain winds; but then exactly doAll points of my command.ARIEL: To th’syllable.In the above quotation we see to an extent an agreement between Prospero and Ariel, it is to an extent due to the fact that the agreement is forced upon Ariel and he has to accept it because he still wants his freedom, but one also has to bear it in mind that Prospero is not forcing this agreement for his own selfish interest but rather doing so for the goodness of all including Ariel himself. Thus Shakespeare uses this scene to inform the audience of the need to force certain decisions on subjects by their leaders in their own interest as they might not have the insight to see what harm might be coming their way and therefore since we consider the leaders to be able to use both their insight and wisdom to organize society and also make it a safe place for everyone that lives in it irrespective of their attitude and nature and sometimes they have to force these decisions on the subjects.Gonzalo is portrayed fantasizing about a society that can also be referred to as an utopian society, which we all know can not work out due to human nature. Thus one can also see the reason for the rules set out by Prospero for both Miranda and Ferdinand.PROSPERO: …take my daughter, butIf thou dost break her virgin knot beforeAll sanctimonious ceremonies mayWith full and holy rite be minister’d,No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fallTo make this contract grow; but barren hate…This scene depict to us that no matter how innocent or righteous a society and its citizens can be, there is need for rules and regulations in order to safeguard the continuous existence of that society in peace and harmony. Shakespeare also presents to us the need for a leader to be strong and stick to his words considering the fact that Prospero set out on a mission to make things right and for that reason he will not hesitate to make rules for Miranda even though he loved her dearly and even considers her “a third of mine own life” in order to maintain the status quo of righteousness. Thus one also sees the very reason of the existence and need of a government in order to ensure security and keep its citizens satisfied.Shakespeare completes his exploration of what a government should be in the latter part of the play when Prospero appears and receives King Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo and the other members of King Alonso’s court. This is a situation whereby Prospero has learnt to be a leader and a good and effective leader considering the factor how he has handled affairs from the beginning of The Tempest until this very moment of his triumph when he tells the very people that betrayed him he has forgiven them, most especially his brother Antonio.PROSPERO: NoFor you, most wicked sir, whom to call brotherWould even infect my mouth, I do forgiveThy rankest fault; all of them; and requireMy dukedom of thee, perforce, I knowThou must restore.We are aware of Prospero’s righteous nature as a leader because of the mercy he has shown to these people that betrayed him as the above quotation will show; he is quite aware of the fact that these people are at his mercy but he has chosen to forgive them all and he further states the only consequence Antonio shall face is to return his dukedom to him which in any case we can consider as nothing since the dukedom rightfully belong to Prospero.Shakespeare’s overall message in ‘The Tempest’ is none other than the fact that a good government is that which has a mutual understating between both the ruler and the ruled, and the government in place takes charge of all the affairs in the state either good or bad. The government also needs to plan for the next generation with thought of leaving a good legacy and a better society than they met.

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