When Shakespeare came to write The Tempest in 1610, the recent establishment of English colonies in the New World spurred interest among the dramatist’s contemporaries in the differences among peoples in the two hemispheres. That led to philosophical speculations about human nature itself: Are all people the same, no matter where they live? How much does one’s environment affect one’s behavior and, more importantly, one’s outlook on life? These are the questions that underlie Shakespeare’s last drama, a play that transcends the traditional definitions of tragedy or comedy to encompass elements of both.
The action in The Tempest is set on a remote island where Prospero, the rightful duke of Milan, has been living in exile with his daughter, Miranda. They are attended by airy spirits and by the subhuman creature Caliban. As the play opens, Prospero creates a storm that causes a shipwreck. The castaways from the ship include the young nobleman, Ferdinand, whose interest in Miranda becomes apparent from the moment he sees her. For her part, Miranda does not know how to respond to Ferdinand’s attention. She has never seen a man other than her father, although Caliban, certainly a male, displays some lurid interest in her, and she is appropriately repulsed by him. While the young lovers are working out their relationship, Prospero’s brother, Antonio, who had usurped Prospero’s throne, arrives at the island in search of Ferdinand. Prospero takes this...
(The entire section is 612 words.)