Essay on the Setting in Shakespeare's The Tempest

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Importance of Setting in The Tempest

Shakespeare’s enchanted island in The Tempest is a restorative pastoral setting, a place where ‘no man was his own’ and a place that offers endless possibilities to the people that arrive on it’s shores. Although the actual location of the island is not known, the worlds of Seneca aptly describe it’s significance to the play – it represents the ‘bounds of things, the remotest shores of the world’. On the boundary of reality, the island partakes of both the natural and supernatural both the imaginative and the real. It allows the exploration of both man’s potential and his limitations, his capacity for reform through art and his affinity for political and social realities. It is constructing this opposition between art and reality and in giving Shakespeare’s romance the freedom to explore mankind free from the concerns of everyday life that the setting of The Tempest is crucial to it’s overall dramatic design.

The only scene in the play that does not take place on the island is the opening tempest scene. It is in itself an important use of setting. It hints at the fact that the characters social assumptions will capitulate when exposed to adversity – we have the boatswain apparently inappropriately comment none aboard the ship that ‘I love more than myself’. In fact, quite the reverse is true. In the court scene we are presented with the characters Antonio and Sebastian who are interested in political gain despite the predicament in which they find themselves. In this respect the setting functions to present the idea that our social conditioning transcends time and place. The inference is that if political clambering can take place on an enchanted island in the middle of now...

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The contrast between the representative characters and the magic art of the island does not resolve itself, rather, it leaves the audience in what Russ McDonald called a “marginal condition between expectation and understanding, affirmation and skepticism, comedy and tragedy”. The setting functions to present the worlds of both art and reality in order to affirm the transcendent human desire for power and order, as well as affirm the world of art as a means of dealing with reality.

Bibliography/ Works Cited

Meller, A., Moon, G.T. Literary Shakespeare (1993) Sydney: Canon Publications

Lecture on “The Tempest” (1988) C. Holmes

Shakespeare, W. The Tempest. Ed. Sutherland, J.R. (1990)

Mikhail M. Morozor, (1989)“The Individualization of Shakespeare’s Characters through Imagery”, Shakespeare Survey.
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