The Dramatic Uses of Intoxication in Shakespeare's Play "The Tempest"

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‘The Tempest' is thought to be Shakespeare's last play, written in approximately 1611. ‘The Tempest' belongs to the Romance Genre. Generally, the following features are found in a Romance: - a trial and test, a dynastic marriage, magic and the supernatural. ‘The Tempest' includes the above features, in at least one of the three main plots.

These plots are the romance between Ferdinand and Miranda; the comedy of Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo and finally, the tragedy planned by Antonio and Sebastian. All three plots, however, follow a strict structure in the form of a shipwreck, a meeting, a temptation/test, a reward/ punishment and lastly the reconciliation. In each of these plots, there is a recurrent motif, which is intoxication.

Intoxication is a state wherein a person's physical and mental control is diminished through alcohol or the cause of lack of self control through elation or excitement.

The romance between Ferdinand and Miranda appears to be a typical fairy tale wherein Miranda is destined to become a ‘princess' and Ferdinand is ‘Prince Charming.' The motif of intoxication plays upon Ferdinand's position in life during Ferdinand's soliloquy at the start of Act 3, scene 1.

In Ferdinand's soliloquy, he refers to his task of carrying logs as a kind of ‘baseness' which is ‘poor', ‘mean' and ‘odious'. These are terms which are usually associated with menial labour and in reality a prince would not undertake these tasks, due to their ‘ownership' of servants. In contrast to these terms, Ferdinand states that he does his task ‘nobly' and shall be ‘rich' with his reward, which makes his labours seem like pleasures.' These are terms associated more so with a prince or a King due to their standing in life and the time they have for their own ‘pleasures.'

There is also reference to the ‘sore injunction', he will receive if he does not complete the task set to him by Prospero. This indicates that Prospero is willing to treat him as a slave despite him being a ‘prince' whereas for ‘the mistress that' he serves, he has voluntarily entered servitude towards Prospero and his daughter.

‘Sweet thoughts do even refresh my labours, / Most busilest when I do it.' Ferdinand is stating that this task which is ‘odious' to him causes him to think more of Miranda than of the task he has been set.

The task of moving logs seems to be an almost pointless task but because of Ferdinand's feelings caused by his intoxication towards Miranda; it has been transformed into a mythological task, on a par with Sisyphus, Atlas and Prometheus.

Shakespeare shows clearly Ferdinand's intoxication through his rationalising of his performing a task below his station in life upon the feelings he displays towards his mistress, Miranda.

Miranda arrives after his soliloquy and is empathetic towards Ferdinand and his task and offers to continue his task to let him rest. This gesture shows the extent of her intoxication with Ferdinand as she would rather be shamed and disgraced by her father. In the time of Shakespeare, the stature of a person, especially a woman was important and any form of disgrace could see them marginalised from upper society. However, in typical aristocratic behaviour, Ferdinand would rather ‘crack my sinews, break my back', than allow Miranda to suffer such ‘dishonour.'

Prospero, from aside, remarks upon the exchange between the couple and says that they are ‘infected'; therefore implying that love is a sickness, which weakens a person. The concept of the Elizabethan Chain of Being is used to help the modern audience understand Prospero's statement as emotions were considered to move a person closer to God. This is shown clearly through Miranda's empathy towards the crew of the shipwreck despite being exiled with her father on the island at the will of certain members of the ship's party. This infection, through intoxication, will lead eventually to sexual gratification for both parties, which lowers the...
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