Deception, Dishonesty, and Shakespeare

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Deception, Dishonesty, and Shakespeare

In both The Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew, deception and dishonesty are not only important themes, but are the very premises that serve to initiate the action. In both plays, most of the characters are motivated to resort to some form of deception in the hopes of achieving their various goals.

In Tempest, Prospero’s very presence on the island is a direct result of an act of treachery by his brother Antonio. Likewise, the act of loyalty on the part of Gonzalo (the packing of his books for the banishment) granted him the power to seize control. It is these two opposite actions that have in fact created the man he has become over his 12 year exile. As a man shaped by both deception and loyalty, Prospero is now in a position to test the character of the islands new inhabitants.

Just as Prospero was betrayed by Antonio, Sebastian has a motive for betraying Alonso. Tested by Prospero, Sebastian shows his true colors by attempting to assassinate his brother, though ultimately prevented from fulfilling the act. Stephano and Trinculo are also willing to eliminate Prospero for control of the island and Miranda, and are willing to betray Caliban as well in their quest. Only Ferdinand proves himself honest, in his goals of achieving Miranda’s hand in marriage.

Although Prospero was wronged, he is not innocent of wrongdoing in his actions. His power leads him to enslave Caliban and Ariel, and in his testing of the island’s inhabitants he is himself guilty of deception. Shakespeare knows that the audience will judge Prospero for his actions in the same manner he has played the judge. Ultimately, Prospero must break the fourth wall and ask the audience for absolution.

In Taming, the play is also opened with an act of deception, the trick played on Christopher Sly. The hidden theme is established as the play-within-the-play begins: the story is meant to deceive.

Petruchio’s deception is at the forefront of the...
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