Aldous Huxley was pretty clear in his novel of a dystopian future, in which technology has enabled people to transform their lives in fundamental and morally dubious ways, that he was inspired by William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play about the Duke of Milan and his daughter Miranda stranded on an island courtesy of his traitorous brother Antonio. The Duke, Prospero, uses magic and illusion to exact his revenge on those who have wronged him and his daughter, and Huxley’s choice of a title, Brave New World, was adapted directly from Shakespeare’s play. One of the main characters in Huxley’s novel, John Savage, is unique in his having grown up outside of mainstream society and being heavily influenced by the works of Shakespeare. Just as Miranda naively and graciously greets the visitors to the island with the assumption that they are worthy souls – “O, brave new world, that hath such people in it!” – Huxley has John repeat that phrase in response to the suggestion that he return with the scheming Bernard to mainstream society:
“The young man drew a deep breath. ‘To think it should be coming true–what I've dreamt of all my life. Do you remember what Miranda says?’
But the young man had evidently not heard the question. ‘O wonder!’ he was saying; and his eyes shone, his face was brightly flushed. ‘How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is!’ The flush suddenly deepened; he was thinking of Lenina, of an angel in bottle-green viscose, lustrous with youth and skin food, plump, benevolently smiling. His voice faltered. "O brave new world," he began, then-suddenly interrupted himself; the blood had left his cheeks; he was as pale as paper.”
Unbeknownst to the mentally deficient John, Bernard’s motives in wanting to bring John and his homely mother back to World State are anything but benevolent. John, however, is naïve in the same sheltered manner as was Miranda in The Tempest. His repeated use of the phrase “brave new world” is ironic in that the “new world” to which he will be exposed represents the culmination of an amoral society evolving technologically to the point that individuals are free to pursue their basest desires while increasingly subservient to the state that provides the means by which those desires can be met. By Chapter 15, the malevolence behind Bernard’s actions has become increasingly apparent to the bewildered John, whose repose begins to assume a slightly different meaning:
“The Savage stood looking on. ‘O brave new world, O brave new world …’ In his mind the singing words seemed to change their tone. They had mocked him through his misery and remorse, mocked him with how hideous a note of cynical derision! Fiendishly laughing, they had insisted on the low squalor, the nauseous ugliness of the nightmare. Now, suddenly, they trumpeted a call to arms. ‘O brave new world!’ Miranda was proclaiming the possibility of loveliness, the possibility of transforming even the nightmare into something fine and noble. ‘O brave new world!’ It was a challenge, a command.”
Huxley’s novel presents a future without conscience. His use of Shakespeare’s phrase is ironic insofar as Brave New World plays fast and loose with the historical meaning of “brave” – a meaning that infers anything but courage.
The title of Huxley's Brave New World becomes something of an inside joke dripping with sarcasm to anyone who has read the story. While the bit about the newness of the futuristic tale might be true, it is made very clear by the actions and attitudes of the 26th century characters that bravery, courage, or any other bold human trait has been lost along the way as they did their best to "perfect" humanity and the very core elements of it nature - sex, reproduction, and the importance of the family unit. Removing the responsibilities, consequences, and repercussions of acting out many of humanity's basic biological needs and desires has turned people into almost robot-like drones, unaware of the moral deconstruction that took place as technology became the forefront of everyone's ambitions. This "new world" required and displayed no bravery. If anything, it was more foolish, blind, and weak.