The Tempest A Level Essay Questions

The Tempest A Level Essay Questions-1
The issues raised by global discovery are brought into focus in the relationship between Prospero and Caliban, the European intellectual and his ‘savage’ foster-child (‘savage’ being Miranda’s word for him: 1.2.355).The representation of Caliban raises difficult questions about how members of colonised cultures are perceived by those who find them, and on what basis a colonising culture justifies wielding power over them.Of course, to the other courtiers Gonzalo’s ideas seem sentimental and unrealistic, and, crucially, Caliban, for all his delight in music, is no noble savage.

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For the play’s Europeans, Caliban’s determining factor is his strangeness, which they take as a licence to treat him as little more than an animal.Montaigne came to suppose that the Tupinamba retained a state of Edenic plainness which Europe had lost: ‘We have so much by our inventions surcharged the beauties and riches of [Nature’s] works, that we have altogether over-choked her; yet wherever her purity shineth, she makes our vain and frivolous enterprises wonderfully ashamed’.Shakespeare ventriloquises similar sentiments, with direct echoes from Montaigne, when he has Gonzalo speculate about how he might create a perfect state on the island, free from the corruptions of ‘civilised’ society (2.1.144–69).When Trinculo and Antonio meet Caliban, they react like profit-hungry merchants, weighing up his value as a commodity, a ‘strange fish’ that would be ‘marketable’ at home (2.2.27, 5.1.266).But other characters respond to the island with astonishment, experiencing its marvels as a challenge to their inbuilt habits and assumptions.He recounts the mariners’ helplessness and terror, and notes the seemingly supernatural phenomenon of St Elmo’s fire – which, in the play, Ariel imitates by running along the masts in the form of a flame (1.2.196–201).Eventually the colonists were cast ashore in the Bermudas, uninhabited islands reputed to be the home of devils but which turned out to be unexpectedly hospitable.Although the play does not associate him directly with the New World, the combination of fear and fascination which he inspires echoes at a distance the public reaction to the trickle of American natives being brought to Europe as curiosities – the most famous being Pocahontas, who married an Englishman and arrived in London with a dozen fellow Algonquians in 1616.Caliban’s fishy smell perhaps links him with the Inuit brought back from Baffin Island by Martin Frobisher in 1577, whose clothes were made of sealskin.Set on an island lying somewhere between North Africa and Italy, the play’s action takes place amidst the increasingly busy shipping lanes which criss-crossed the Mediterranean, through which exotic goods from Asia and the Middle East were pouring into Europe.The North African ports mentioned in the dialogue, Tunis and Algiers (2.1.72, 1.2.265), were places where European traders encountered representatives of other nations and felt the disturbance involved in crossing cultural divides.


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