The Tempest Act 1:2
The first of the play’s sub-plots continues the theme of usurpation introduced in Act I scene 2. There is a clear parallel between Antonio’s coup against his brother Prospero, Sebastian’s pledge to murder his brother, and the plot devised by Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo against Prospero. On the island, natural order seems to have descended into chaos, and man’s natural instinct for power and liberty inspires a series of murderous plans.
The reference to the marriage between Claribel and the King of Tunis allows Shakespeare to explore interracial relations, and acts as an interesting inversion of cultural stereotypes. Instead of dominating a ‘primitive’ foreign kingdom, as Prospero does, Alonso has effectively made his daughter – a ‘fair soul’ – the possession of a dark skinned African. Although it is not clear why he agreed to the match, he may well have done so for political reasons, as a way of opening up trade routes between Europe and Africa. Sebastian’s angry reaction to Claribel’s nuptials certainly suggests that she did not marry for love. In plot terms, her distance from Naples means that she is now unlikely to succeed to her father’s throne, and that Alonso would have no immediate heir if Ferdinand were to die, as all the characters assume he has done.
Gonzalo’s utopian reflections derive from Michel de Montaigne’s ‘Of the Cannibals’, a prose tract which considered the nature of humankind in the light of recent voyages to the New World. Montaigne argued that, contrary to the predominant belief of those conducting the explorations, the indigenous populations of foreign lands need not be considered culturally inferior to the Europeans pioneers. Gonzalo seems to agree with Montaigne that ‘civilisation’ – or the development of concepts like trade, division of land and law – do not necessarily make man any better than living by more primitive or ‘natural’ laws. This philosophical speech echoes some of the concerns of...
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