tempnature Art vs. Nature in Shakespeare's The Tempest

Better Essays
Art vs. Nature in The Tempest

The debate between Art and Nature in The Tempest is very much based on the Renaissance debate, on whether “civilized man” or the "natural man" was superior. The advocates of “civilized man” presenting the "natural man" as being savage, intemperate and brutal in contrast to the nobility, self-control and high-mindedness of the “civilized man”. The advocates of "natural man" presenting him as what Rousseau was later to term the "noble savage" and the civilized man as being corrupt, affected, merely more adept at cloaking his vices, which were at best more refined, but nevertheless hardly a reason for pretensions to moral high ground. Montaigne, in his famous apologia for the "natural man", observes that it may be arguably more barbaric to "mangle by tortures and torments a body full of lively sense [...] under pretence of pietie and religion" than "to roast and eat him after he is dead".

Shakespeare does not go to either extreme in The Tempest. The "natural man" (i.e. Caliban) is savage, intemperate and brutal, incapable of higher reasoning and lacking the innate intelligence for nurture to "stick" (as Prospero says in frustration) responding only to something that in effect could be considered, not inaccurately, as what would in modern terms be called a form of Pavlovian conditioning. While his portrayal is not totally unsympathetic (cf. the touching passage in Act III Scene II where he speaks of his "cr [ying] to dream again", it can also be argued that Prospero's alighting on the island, installing himself as ruler, and consequently -- albeit not unjustifiably -- depriving Caliban of his rights and liberty is per se somewhat questionable, depending on how one views colon...

... middle of paper ...

...terms with Nature (hence Prospero's "this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine"); for while Caliban's limitations are apparent, his wish to improve himself is promising, and his new relationship with Prospero seems to be more stable and more reassuring than the resentment-filled and extremely uneasy jailor-prisoner / master-slave relationship shown earlier.

Works Cited and Consulted

Davidson, Frank. “The Tempest: An Interpretation.” In The Tempest: A Casebook. Ed. D.J. Palmer. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1968. 225.

Kermode, Frank. Introduction. The Tempest. By William Shakespeare. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958. xlii.

Solomon, Andrew. “A Reading of the Tempest.” In Shakespeare’s Late Plays. Ed. Richard C. Tobias and Paul G. Zolbrod. Athens: Ohio UP, 1974. 232.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Frank Kermode. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958.
Get Access