Order from Chaos in The Tempest

There is a human need to create chaos out of order it had been that way since the beginning of civilization. There must be a hierarchy of order to impose rules of the chaotic nature of life. Shakespeare gives us an interesting take on this idea in The Tempest. Unlike other plays we have read that have been set in Italy, Denmark and England in The Tempest the setting is an ambiguous island floating through seas. This ambiguousness puts the audience on edge immediately because it gives them no roots; the audience is essentially just as shipwrecked as the players. Not only is this islands location ambiguous but its nature is as well; magic and sorcery rule the island not order. In many of the plays we have read strange and magical events take place in the forest; like in Much Ado About Nothing or Hamlet but here strangeness encompasses the whole Island. Despite the strangeness a human presence on the island still strives to create order.

First there is the exiled King of the Island who “by sorcery he got this isle” (3.2.50) who used his powers to implant himself in a foreign space to be able to rule over spirits, monsters and his daughter. He created a hierarchy in a country which before only had laws of nature. From his roots in patriarchal order he is concerned with Miranda’s chasteness so has to preserve his legacy. After some constraint Prospero allows Miranda and Ferdinand to be married but warns; “Take my daughter. But/ If thou dost break her virgin-knot before/ all sanctimonious ceremonies may/ with full and holy rite be ministered/…sour-eyed disdain, and discord, shall bestrew/ the union of your bed with weeds so loathly” (4.1.14-21). He also is concerned with education on this island, a social concern, by going to great lengths to educate his slave Caliban.

Second the shipwrecked Italians are almost immediately concerned with the social order. Alonso is concerned not out of love for his lost children but at the fact that he has been disinherited even though he is stranded on an island. “Would I had never/ married my daughter there! For, coming thence, / my son is lost; and, in my rate, she too…/ O thou mine heir/ Of Naples and of Milan, what strange fish/ Hath made his meal on thee” (2.1. 108-113). Antonio and Sebastian see this shipwreck as an opportunity to usurp Alonzo and gain power for themselves. After mystical sleep has knocked out a number of their comrades Antonio says to Sebastian; “My strong imagination sees a crown/ Dropping upon thy head” (2.1.203-204).  Within about one hundred lines Antonio convinces Sebastian that it is mighty easy to kill a King especially on a strange island and they draw their swords only to be interrupted by Ariel. Stefano and Trinculo separated from their masters enjoy their freedom with drink and song but quickly enslave Caliban asserting their power. Trinculo and Stefano come across the monster Caliban and immediately see him as property or as less than human. Trinculo says, “Were I in England now, as once I was, and had but this fish painted, not a holiday-fool there but would give a piece of silver,” (2.2.26-27). And Stefano “If I can recover him and keep him tame and get to Naples with him, he’s a present for any emperor that ever trod on neat’s leather,” (2.2.65-67). Shakespeare shows that even on strange islands if humans are present there will be a social order adopted. Caliban is not as dumb or monstrous as he looks he merely wants freedom and is only able to attain it through gaining a drunk master over a tyrannical one. Note that Stefano and Trinculo are distracted by Prospero’s fake treasures not Caliban. Shakespeare demonstrates the human need to create order out of chaos in The Tempest by creating a number of different examples of power gripping on a strange and ambiguous island.

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