How does Shakespeare portray the malcontent in Act 2 Scene 1 of The Tempest?
The malcontent, or Sebastian, is portrayed in a very unsympathetic light in this particular scene. He, together with Antonio (another malcontented individual) mericilessly mocks poor Gonzalo even though Gonzalo displays a loyalty that is massively lacking in both of them. In addition, whilst Alonso and Gonzalo sleep, Sebastian tempts Antonio into planning to kill his brother and seize the crown, subsequently plotting to do the same himself with his brother. Note what he says to Antonio:
Thy case, dear friend,
Shall be my precedent. As thou got'st Milan,
I'll come by Naples. Draw they sword. One stroke
Shall free thee from the tribute which thou payest,
And I the King shall love thee.
This plan to kill his brother comes straight after both Antonio and Sebastian have promised to guard the other characters whilst they sleep. Sebastian is therefore presented as a lowly malcontent who is hypocritical and treacherous. His natural affinity with Antonio clearly illustrates their similarities in this regard, as both are power hungry and willing to commit murder in order to satisfy their thwarted ambitions. The presentation of Sebastian in this scene therefore portrays him as a ne'er-do-well, a character who is deceitful in the extreme and who is not to be trusted. However, the audience gets the sense that Sebastian, like many of his ilk, talks more than he actually acts. He engages in cruel baiting of Gonzalo and then discusses plans of murder only when the others are asleep. One wonders whether he is actually a coward at heart, and that his bark is worse than his bite.
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