How does William Shakespeare’s The Tempest reflect society at the time

William Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a pastoral Tragicomedy that was written during the Elizabethan period in which society was expanding and extracting ideas from many other cultures. Even though King James was on the throne for a good part of the Jacobean period it was still considered as the Elizabethan period as not much changed at first. It is Shakespeare’s last play that he wrote on his own that contains some of his most complex ideas that coincide with his theatrical balance. The metaphor for the theatre is in fact the play itself with Shakespeare as the leading role, “break my staff” laying down his pen and bringing his world to a d�nouement. This play is very much concerned with the emotion and overall behaviour of people.There is a sense of ambiguity with the actual Tempest as its meaning is that to a real – life event. Many critics have found that there is a great chance that Shakespeare may have been influenced by the news reports of a boat journeying to Jamestown, in which a new settlement was to be created. This happened during 1609 with the written accounts of the actual survivors containing much detail in to their adventure. “Though the seas threaten, they are merciful”. This shows a great reflection back upon this real event that occurred in Shakespeare’s time as the survivors on the Jamestown adventure found a paradise island and survived.Europe had been brought stories of new worlds and different civilisations as the world was going through a time of European colonial expansionism. This point in history is reflected in one of the smaller themes in The Tempest; the idea of the new world and the old world. Shakespeare could be addressing the island as the “new” world and the notion that Naples is the old world. In the final scene when the whole cast is present on this isle or “new” world Miranda refers to it as “O brave new world that hath such people on it”. This island in The Tempest allows a sort of juxtaposition of the real and idealised world. At the time the play was written there was an ideological upheaval going on in Europe along with the renaissance thinkers challenging the medieval ideas of the hierarchical and ordered society. At the point of writing this play Shakespeare believed that the idea of colonialism was a clear opportunity for mankind to freely explore all the different possibilities of society that “hath such people” in it. He believed that people should be allowed to think clearly away from the conflict that real life gives unto people.Many people at this time simply created the assumption that Europeans had a right to go to other countries in Africa’s for instance. Whilst others carried the great worry that this idea of “civilisation” might not be totally beneficial to all those in favour of it. This idea of “civilisation” is reflected in the character of Caliban. To our modern audience he seems to be the most sympathetic characters in the play and is one of the most analysed characters. He is termed as “a savage and deformed slave” with most people in England at that time believing that anyone who was uncivilised were below them in God’s hierarchy. Shakespeare did however believe that the dishonesty in what people perceived as their “civilised” society was more repulsive than the way people should act. Caliban is not a perfect flawless character in the same way as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” with every character has their downsides.During the Renaissance period there was a great amount of fascination with the whole idea of the black art. It had become the forefront of societies concerns since around 1050. Then in around 1584 a book was published entitled “The discovery of Witchcraft”. It became the first ever major book to condemn Witch hunts and the people who led them. Such books as this one provided Shakespeare the suggestion of using magic in his productions and therefore provided him with an array of methods in how the art of magic might be accomplished. Hypothetically, the scene in which both the banquet and the masque take place were added two years after the actual writing of the play itself.As it has been said that he learnt a greater deal in to the world of magic and the techniques after he wrote the main body of the play, these are the ideas that he was unable to grasp. However, it is uncertain if this is to be true, it is fair to say that Shakespeare held a keen interest into the world of magic and the arts and expressed his views and society’s views in his plays. Also, James VI spent one of his winters absorbing the continental views on witchcraft and on his return encountered a storm at sea in which he subsequently put down to a group of Scottish witches. Shakespeare not only wrote the play for the celebration of King James’ daughters wedding but for his keen interest into the world of witchcraft.Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a direct address to the audience on how they should appreciate the possibilities of a Utopian society including everything good and bad. This was to make them understand that their complete pursuit of a utopian civilization could cause great problems. Shakespeare achieves showing the audience the good points and of cause the bad points of a perfect way of life, it almost acts as a clear window in to the heart of what people this is a perfect environment. The roles of the leaders in such a society is encapsulated in the characters, yet all the way through Shakespeare is there indirectly asking questions in to the beliefs that his audience would have of how they think their culture should be. In the book of “The lost Garden” John Wilders quotes that “Prospero’s island is what the sociologists call a ‘model’ of human society”. In this microcosm the characters portray the basic relationships, for instance, master and servant (being of course Prospero and Ariel), Male to female. With this being Shakespeare’s last play we can presume that within it he decided to make a controversial statement by challenging these ideals made by the earlier Queen and her country.

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