Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An Unusual Setting

While reading the first four acts of The Tempest, I couldn’t help but notice the peculiarity of the setting. To my knowledge (from the plays I have read), this is Shakespeare’s only play that takes place on a deserted island, away from organized society. This affects the world of the story greatly as it limits characters and characters’ connection to their familiar society. It also adds a necessary sense of vulnerability for many of the characters as they go from a strictly organizes society, to an unfamiliar island ruled by a power-hungry man who they thought was dead. This aspect makes colonialism an important part of the play and an important thing to consider.
I read part of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe for another class a little while back and I couldn’t help but think about it a little bit when reading The Tempest. Granted, the two are vastly different, but they have some notable similarities that suggest that Defoe was perhaps influenced by Shakespeare’s play when he wrote his novel. I don’t remember a lot of details from the chapters that I read, but I do remember colonialism playing a large role. Crusoe had a need to control all the he could on the island and europeanize his living space. Although the play does not go into detail about Prospero’s living space, it does mention that he has been able to salvage and maintain his books (or rather have them salvaged for him by his friend) and he clings onto and values them, perhaps because they partly connect him back to organized, european society. Crusoe took control over and educated the native, Friday. Prospero takes control over and teaches his language to his daughter, Miranda, and his slave, Caliban, the “monster” that presided on the island before Prospero arrived.
There are various elements of either work of literature that differ, however. Like Prospero having the ability to use magic, making his survival on the island easier, and his control over the natural world greater. This is only one of many differences that the works have, but I do feel that it is very likely that Shakespeare influenced Defoe despite their differences.


Kaitlyn Schleicher said...

I agree, this setting is so different and I think that makes it stand out among the plays we've read for this class. I especially like the idea you brought up about vulnerability. Their entire world is gone, and they have to adjust to a new setting, and Prospero (I believe) is the only one who has a tangible form of comfort with him in the form of his books. The setting itself sets up a conflict, before any words are even said.

Maeve Halliday said...

I agree that the setting is different, but I think the point of the island isn't completely new. The forest in A Midsummer Night's Dream was also a place that existed outside of society, and had its own separate hierarchies.

Cyrus Mulready said...

Crusoe came up in class, and I'm glad to see you reflect on the similarities with this play, Jess. I think Shakespeare was certainly an influence on Defoe, though there are also important differences between the two texts. But the major similarity, and one that speaks to a kind of early British imperialism, is the idea that you should leave the island. While Prospero and Crusoe both make homes on their islands, they don't believe they should stay. This signals, I think, a different idea of colonialism--one that is suspicious of long-term habitation in deserted places!