Tempest vs. Montaigne's "Of Cannibals"

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Irene Appel
Shakespeare’s and Montaigne’s Views
In many cases, society seems to dictate that if someone is different than you, you may be superior to them for whatever reason. In Montaigne’s essay, “Of Cannibals”, Montaigne tries to disprove this theory by exposing a group of “savage” people’s simplistic lifestyle, versus Europe’s complex, and arguably more savage, society. According to Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest”, through the character of Caliban, Shakespeare seems to disagree with Montaigne’s views on people in their natural state.

These literary works appear to contrast sharply, as one tries to disprove the points and main thoughts of the other. Although they contrast, there are similarities. Montaigne writes: “Now I find there is nothing in that nation that is either barbarous or savage” (Witt, 58) He goes on to explain how these people, living according to Mother Nature, are not lesser than others with a more complex and advanced society or more “knowledge”. In the play, Caliban says: “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices That, if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again” (Witt 82) Throughout his play, Shakespeare portrays the character of Caliban as a brutish, harsh, and coarse savage. Although he was portrayed in a negative way, Shakespeare gave Caliban several speeches that help the reader acknowledge his insight and his humanistic qualities, which isn’t savage-like at all. By him doing so, it almost helps Montaigne’s point.

On the other hand, the majority of Caliban’s character is set to disprove Montaigne’s thought. Montaigne states: “The laws of nature do yet command them, but little bastardized by ours, and that with such purity, that I am sometimes grieved that the knowledge of it no sooner came to light” (Witt, 58)...
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