The Tempest, a pastoral tragicomedy by William Shakespeare, was written in the Renaissance period. When the play was written, the particular context that the author intended and that the audience received would be different to the meanings and ideas that we pick up from studying or viewing the play now. For example, the way that women in particular are portrayed in old plays such as The Tempest is quite derogatory and would be unacceptable for a modern play. Various meanings in The Tempest demonstrate this difference in the distinct readings that you can find in the text today, and those meanings that we can try to simulate by looking at the text from a historical context.
One meaning that could have been picked up from the play, both in the seventeenth century and now, is that there are always lessons to be learnt about your true nature, and always ways to improve your self. This meaning is largely picked up from the central character of Prospero, the ruler of the magical island of The Tempest. Prospero, as the self-appointed mentor of the people who have landed on his island, must teach everybody a lesson about themselves, and try to make them better people. For example, the socially-constructed and arrogant Ferdinand. It is unclear exactly how much the love between him and Prospero's daughter, Miranda, was engineered by Prospero and how much was actually love, but by using the love between the young couple, he can make Ferdinand into a upstanding and respectable young man. To do this he gives him some chores to do, such as carrying firewood and other menial tasks. He also freezes him with his magic and keeps him in chains for a while. In doing this, Ferdinand exclaims he would do anything to win Miranda as his wife… ""...Might I but through my prison once a day Behold this maid,"" Which secretly pleases Prospero. The others on the island are also taught a lesson: Antonio realizes his guilt for what he has done for the sake of political alliance, after stopping Antonio and Sebastian, they are forgiven (but not repentant.) After punishing Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo, he forgives them and releases them; ""Come hither, spirit. Set Caliban and his companions free. Untie the spell."" The play ends on a lighter note, with a tone of forgiveness and reconciliation, the meaning which can be divined from the play even now.
When looking at The Tempest from a historical context, one meaning that many analysts seem to have discovered is one that deals with the New World of the Americas and the beginnings of colonialism and the British Empire. Sometimes it is known as 'fear of the other' or fear of what is unknown, but in this play it also means more to do with new opportunity and a new beginning on new country. As the new country, the magical isle of The Tempest certainly lets people realize new beginnings, with everyone on the island forgiven as they all travel back to the real world; their home in Italy. Part of the form of pastoral tragicomedy is the status of humanity when compared to nature: Prospero's forgiveness gives people new life after their old life is scarred. However, the 'fear of the other' is also present in this play, in the form of Caliban, the monstrous servant who is not wholly human. Caliban is, in fact, an anagram of canibal (in Old English spelling and definition, 'canibal' only meant savage, not necessarily human-eating.) The language that Prospero teaches to Caliban both liberates and enslaves him, he is a beast, known as a 'monster' and as a 'thing of darkness.' It is not known whether Shakespeare intended for Caliban to be a ugly and vile human, or something stranger and more degenerate. He is not even fit to try to kill Prospero, he has to employ Stephano and Trinculo in a farcical attempt at overthrow by making them his gods: ""I'll show thee every fertile inch o'th'island, and I will kiss thy foot. I prithee, be my god.""
In the 400 years since the...