The Tempest

By William Shakespeare

Act II

Scene I

Here the action moves to another part of the island where Alonso and his party have been washed ashore. Gonzalo offers words of consolation to Alonso who believes his son dead and we learn of the reason for their travels in the ship: the Kings daughter has been married off to the king of Tunis. Claribel is compared to mythical Queen Dido. She too suffers at the hands of patriarchal machinations as her father, like Prospero who controls Miranda, directs her sexuality and marriage. Men are thus seen in control of the fertility of nature by the control of women, they are passed from father to suitor, and even the goddess of fertility and harvests, Ceres, is under the charms of Prospero's incantations.

In this scene we are presented with Gonzalo's meditations on the ideal commonwealth which due to the discovery of the New Worlds, contemporary to Shakespeare's Age, play an important role in Renaissance musings on nationalism, civilisation, nature and concepts of utopia. Gonzalo's idealisation includes the notion of innocent letterless primitives,

"I' the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things: for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate:
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none...
All men idle,all:
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty" (II.1.145- 53)

This then follows the example of Montaigne's "Of Cannibals" aligning power and language, and expounding primitivism. Gonzalo imagines a world of no letters and unmediated nature is exalted by him. This forms a miniature of an anarchist or prototype communist state.

In The Tempest we can see the fascination of the relation between idealism and reality which is common to Thomas More's seminal work, Utopia (1516), where he charts the results of such political organisation. Our reaction to the treatment of Gonzalo here is similar to our reception of Utopia: are we supposed to take this seriously? Should we ridicule the old man with Sebastian or accept his ideas as sincere? In More's Utopia we are led through by a series of ironic reflections, parodies and sceptical reflections to identify that underneath the perfection, the gloss and ostensible flawlessness of Utopia lies inefficiencies, discontent and melancholy. It is a flawed Commonwealth based on the assumption of human goodness, leaving a system open to the inevitable abuses of the corrupt. Whilst the communist republic is presented as an idyll of equality, rational justice and shared responsibility and reward one cannot help but see the disadvantages of the system and Sebastian's wry "Yet he would be King on't" points out the inevitable draw backs of this facile idealism.

Ariel - who is invisible to the shipwrecked men - casts a spell on them to make them drowsy, and they all fall asleep apart from Antonio and Sebastian. This allows them time to plot usurpation and Antonio urges Sebastian to seize his chance and kill Alonso:

"My strong imagination sees a crown
Dropping upon thy head"

Such a suggestion is recognised by Sebastian as that of the forbidden, of fantasy and dream and seeks to distance the abhorrent nature of the act through sleep and dream metaphors:

"It is a sleepy language, and thou speak'st
Out of thy sleep..."

As a post-Freudian audience we could interpret this plan in terms of psychoanalysis, and the language that it is couched in, of killing his brother for the crown, as an act of licensing latent aspirations and acting out of unconscious forbidden desires. Freud's theories on psychoanalysis detail the 'Oedipus complex' which Freud says involves the process of the 'super ego' (like conscience) repressing 'id'(instinctual drives) at the threat of castration or realisation of castration in the little girl, under 'ego' (regulated social being). So, the formally anarchic, incestuous infant suppresses forbidden desires into the unconscious and becomes a gendered subject, sublimating and repressing libidinal desires.

The plan is finalised: Sebastian is set to kill Gonzalo and Antonio to kill Alonso. They have no fear of public opinion realising the fickle nature of loyalty, and man's nature that ultimately sides with the successful. Antonio says,

"They'll take suggestion as a cat laps milk;
They'll tell the clock to any business that
We say befits the hour."

Prospero, however, as arch manipulator and benign controller prevents the deaths of the King and the old man and Ariel sings in Gonzalo's ear, rousing him to suspicion.

Scene 2

The scene opens on Caliban's vindictive curses at his master as he is forced to carry wood and he complains of the punitive tortures he is forced to undergo and his beleaguered state at the hands of Prospero's magic,

"...sometimes am I
All wound with adders, who with cloven tongues
Do hiss me into madness".

He mistakes Trinculo, Alonso's court jester, for one of Prospero's spirits and hides. Trinculo mistakes Caliban's cloak for some strange outcrop on the island and crawls under it for shelter "misery acquaints a man with strange bed fellows". A drunken Stephano then enters and mistakes them for a four-legged monster. It is a scene of light comedy and farce based on mistaken perceptions, false appearances, illusions and misleading appearances.

But we must also be aware of the darker elements and power plays present amid the slapstick humour. Stephano's first instinct at the sight of the creature is to possess it. He exemplifies imperial assumptions of rights to ownership and superiority, commodifying life for his own advancement and self interest:

"If I can recover him, and keep him tame, and get to Naples with him, he's a present for any emperor that ever trod on neat's-leather".

The physical drunkenness signifies the spiritually poisoned state of these characters, and the inverted world they wish to create is suggested by the 'monster's' acceptance of a drunken butler as a god. The introduction of liquor onto the isle leads to inebriation of the "poor credulous monster" and spurs him to misplace his adoration:

"That's a brave god, and bears celestial liquor:
I will kneel to him"

This reaction is tellingly similar to that of the dethroned King Lear who, in a state of baseness and primitivism, calls a madman a "philosopher". Caliban therefore replaces one form of slavery for another, in the mistaken belief of "Freedom, hey-day! Hey-day, freedom!" - his believed freedom appears miserly as it entails foot licking.