The Court as a Framework for Civilized Society in The Tempest

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The Court as a Framework for Civilized Society in The Tempest

In The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, the court is portrayed not as a place or as a group of people, but as a structure binding society together. Emphasis is placed on the court as structure by the use of the two metaphors of shape, the sphere and the circle, which combine to give the impression of the court not only as a structure with a clearly defined shape, but also as a system of hierarchical control. The first

of these shape metaphors uses the neoplatonic concept of spheres, with the sovereign becoming the One Infinite Being of neoplatonic belief whose divine qualities radiate outwards in concentric circles of diminishing strength into infinity.

This introduces important notions not only of the sovereign as a divine being, but also of the court as an organic body and also the formal hierarchies that were inherent in Renaissance Neoplatonism. The second shape mentioned is the circle of protection created by a magician which, although using

the language of art rather than nature, and magic rather than divinity, uses once more the discourse of hierarchy, with the magician using the circle as a method of controlling the 'spirit he excites’ (11). This idea of the court as a hierarchical system which is the only way of promoting virtue seems to be linked with the other main feature of the passage: that of the court as an enclosed space.

The language of the passage refers over and over again to boundaries ('banished' (1), 'end' (2), 'concluded' (2), 'bounded' (3), 'comprehend' (4), 'contains' (8), 'excludes' (9), and 'exiled' (14), and the images of sphere and circle also suggest borders which can either contain or exclude.


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