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Flashcards in Context - The Tempest Deck (19):

Thomas More's Utopia (1516)

- inspires Gonzalo's vision

- "They all live easily together, for none of the magistrates are either insolent or cruel to the people; they affect rather to be called fathers"

G - "all men idle, all; / And women too"

- "They have but few laws, and such is their constitution that they need not many" / "They have no lawyers among them, for they consider them as a sort of people whose profession it is to disguise matters and to wrest the laws"

G - "no name of magistrate; / Letters should not be known"

- "if any [man or woman] run into forbidden embraces before marriage they are severely punished

P - "if thou dost break her virgin knot before al sanctimonious ceremonies may / With full and holy rite be ministered"


Strachey's letters

- William Strachey in the New World of America
- the vessel in which Strachey was sailing had been shipwrecked on the Bermudas, but by some near-miracle the crew and all the passengers had escaped with their lives and been able to resume their voyage to Virginia
- Strachey put their adventures, both 'wreck and redemption', down to the 'gracious and merciful providence of God' - 'a permissive providence' that suffered evil in order that good might ultimately win through
- Strachey's letter was the springboard for Shakespeare's imagination
- Strachey describes a fearful tempest which raged from Monday to Friday in a 'restless tumult [...] and on storm urging a second more outrageous than the former'
- the mariners continued to wrestle with the elements - power of nature
- 'the goodness and sweet introduction of better hope by our merciful God given unto us' land was sighted
- Strachey proceed to refute the 'foul and general error' that these island 'can be no habitation for men, but rather given over to devils and wicked spirits'
- one of the settlers was captured by the Indians and sacrificed to their god
- The English colonial project seems to be on Shakespeare’s mind throughout The Tempest


Shakespeare parallel with Propsero

- Shakespeare was at the height of his literary powers, similarly was Prospero who displays his magical ability in the manipulation of almost every character in the play
- It is tempting to think of The Tempest as Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage because of its theme of a great magician giving up his art. Indeed, we can interpret Prospero’s reference to the dissolution of “the great globe itself” (IV.i.153) as an allusion to Shakespeare’s theatre


other plays that displays supernatural or providential agency

- Pericles (1607-8)
- The Winter's Tale (1611)
- Cymbeline (1608-9)
all set in far-off worlds, unrecognisable to Europeans


Shakespeare parallel with Propsero

- Shakespeare was at the height of his literary powers, similarly was Prospero who displays his magical ability in the manipulation of almost every character in the play


Shakespeare's challenge

- behind him were almost twenty years in which his plays had dominated the London stage all suiting the mode of the period for which they were designed
- living in a fast changing age, he moved with the time
- there was a new monarch James I, a new court; there were new men younger writers and critics who brought fresh ideas and influences to bear upon the stage, and there were innovations in theatrical design and technology.
- Shakespeare, far from being 'bored' as Lytton Strachey thought in 1906, was challenged, and he responded by incorporating the latest fashions into a kind of drama that was uniquely his own


the masques

- intellectually the masque concerned itself most frequently with the attributes of kingship, seeming to instruct the royal patron but in fact exhibiting his virtues for the applause of his guests, often representatives of foreign powers on official visitations
- The Tempest probably was written in 1610–1611, and was first performed at Court by the King’s Men in the fall of 1611. It was performed again in the winter of 1612–1613 during the festivities in celebration of the marriage of King James’s daughter Elizabeth


a new theatre

- in 1608 the King's Men acquired a new venue in the Blackfriars playhouse. There was artificial lighting and even more sophisticated machinery for the stage. It was more expensive and consequently drew a more elite audience
- Shakespeare had in mind this new theatre, the facilities and equipment of Blackfriars when he was writing his last romances and The Tempest
- the airborne goddesses, flying harpy, and disappearing banquet all demand mechanical aid


influences for the character of Prospero

- Shakespeare found inspiration for Prospero's final invocation of his spirits in the words of the witch Medea in Ovid's Metamorphoses

- While passion drives Medea, she is aware that it drives her. Her ability to analyze herself sets her apart from a character like Tereus, whose emotions control him utterly. Medea’s rationality is not just impressive; it is also frightening. She considers her behavior first. Because they are planned, her cruel deeds are scarier than the spontaneously cruel deeds of other characters.


Ovid's Metamorphosis, Book VII

- 'ye elves of hills, of brooks, of woods alone [...] I have compelled streams to run clean backward to their spring. By charms i make the calm was rough and make the rough seas plain [...] By charms i raise and lay winds, and burst the viper's jaw'

P - "ye elves of hills, brooks, staring lakes, and groves [...] I have bedimmed the noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds, / And twixt the green sea and the azure vault / Set roaring war. To the dread rattling thunder / Have i given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak / With his own bolt"


influences for the play

- Essays of Montaigne gave Shakespeare food for thought for the representation of Caliban, the native of the island, and Gonzalo's utopian vision
- Virgil's Aeneid provided Shakespeare with the vanishing banquet, the lecture of the harpy, the mirthless jesting of Antonio and Sebastian about 'widow Dido' and 'widower Aeneas'
- the 'sea-change' described in Ariel's song has its origins in the dream-vision of Clarence in Shakespeare's 'Richard III'
and Ferdinand later adopts Juliet's imagery to express eager anticipation of the wedding-night


Montaigne's essay

- 'it is a nation [among the cannibals] that hath no name of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politic superiority, no use of service, of riches or of poverty...'

G - "i'th'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 [...] no occupation, all men idle, all; / And women too, but innocent and pure; / No sovereignty"

- Montaigne called into question our confidence in civilisation by suggesting that a 'barbarous or savage' land is only called that because it is unfamiliar to ours


the stage

The extraordinary flexibility of Shakespeare’s stage is given particular prominence in The Tempest. Stages of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period were for the most part bare and simple. There was little on-stage scenery, and the possibilities for artificial lighting were limited. The King’s Men in 1612 were performing both at the outdoor Globe Theatre and the indoor Blackfriars Theatre and their plays would have had to work in either venue. Therefore, much dramatic effect was left up to the minds of the audience. We see a particularly good example of this in The Tempest, Act II, scene i when Gonzalo, Sebastian, and Antonio argue whether the island is beautiful or barren. The bareness of the stage would have allowed either option to be possible in the audience’s mind at any given moment.


justifications for colonisation

- Much travel literature of the early seventeenth century sought to justify colonisation. Any anxiety over usurping the rights of native populations is dispelled by insisting upon the lawfulness of exploration, discovery and colonisation


other plays that display the depravities of civilisation

- King Lear, Macbeth, Troilus and Cressida


the name Caliban

- the name caliban have been chosen as an anagram of 'cannibal', a word coined in the sixteenth century as a variation of 'Carib', an inhabitant of the West Indies

- Caliban is described as 'savage', the word already used for natives of the colonies. Derived from the French word for 'wild', it already carried a double connotation


St Elmo's fire

A - "I flamed amazement" - the strange effect of light sailors used to sea who were caught in sea storms called St ELmo's fire
- Shakespeare's imagination may have been stirred by a letter written by William Stratchey in 1610, which told of such fantastic lightning seen during a shipwreck off Bermuda



- "It has been virtually impossible to dissociate the drama from the discovery of the New World and the colonisation of the Americas" - Diana Devlin
- Our view of Caliban is very much influenced by knowledge of the social context in which the play was written



Martin Gray - "Machiavels are practiced liars and cruel opportunists, who delight in their own manipulative evil"
- the Machiavel was a villainous stock character in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama