Why is The Tempest by William Shakespeare an appropriate allusion in Farenheit 451?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Captain Beatty references The Tempest by William Shakespeare at a time when he is manipulating Montag, eventually leading him to implicate himself in the crime of reading a book. A major theme in The Tempest is the difficulty of distinguishing men from monsters. This theme is explored in Shakespeare's play in the relationship between Prospero and Caliban. Each character claims to have treated the other justly, but ultimately it is left to the audience to decide which character they believe.

Similarly, Montag is listening to two very different opinions on the reason books have been banned in his society. Two important quotes from the book illustrate both sides of this argument:

"A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind." Captain Beatty, "The Hearth and the Salamander"

"Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores." Faber, "The Sieve and the Sand"

The former quotation comes from Beatty's first confrontation with Montag about his possession of the books, when Beatty simultaneously encourages Montag to read the books and explains why books have no place in society. The latter quotation comes at a time when Montag is unsure of his captain's position. However, Montag attempts to do the right thing and return the books as demanded by his superior, only to have that same man (Beatty) demand he burn his own house down after Mildred turns him in.

Montag chooses to trust Captain Beatty over Faber, believing that he can trust him, only to have his trust betrayed. Montag is unsure of Faber's position on literature because it goes against what he has been taught to believe, which leads him to place his trust in the institution he is most familiar with. However, it turns out that Captain Beatty and the other firemen are not trustworthy—rather, they are the monsters he should have feared.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Beatty uses many allusions in his defence of why books are so dangerous and why they have been eradicated from the society of this dystopian world. One of them is an allusion to Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, which reads: "A kind of excellent dumb discourse."

This quote actually comes from Act III scene 3 of Shakespeare's play, which is when Ariel creates a kind of pageant for Gonzalo, Alonso and Antonio to watch, and also provides them with food. Note the full quotation from Alonso:

Such shapes, such gesture, and such sound, expressing,

Although they want the use of tongue, a kind

Of excellent dumb discourse.

Prospero, watching Alonso saying this, responds very sarcastically to this remark, and when the context of Beatty's remarks is considered, there is irony in the use of this allusion too. Beatty is arguing that books creates a "kind of excellent dumb discourse" but the basis for his argument is a series of literary allusions that show the enduring quality and importance of literature for all generations. He is arguing for the destruction of books whilst appealing to books in order to support his argument.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial