Although William Shakespeare’s The Tempest is often categorized as his late romance, its plots reflect the major social movement of that time—the Europeans settling in the New World. As the Europeans eagerly set out to find the New World, they left behind hopeful citizens pondering over what they would find. In The Tempest, through the characters, we can infer that the Europeans’ intentions ranged from creating the perfect government to interacting with the inhabitants.
They discovered that their idea of the perfect government in which everyone is equal failed to exist.
Nonetheless, they were correct in their anticipation that the New World would already be settled—by savage ‘Native Americans’. They eventually integrated the Native Americans into their society as slaves. In their journey to the New World, the Europeans failed to establish an ideal government, yet succeeded in incorporating the natives into their own society. One of the Europeans’ expectations of the New World was a perfect government in which everyone would be equal.
In The Tempest, Shakespeare’s character Gonzalo describes it as a government where there would be “no occupation; all men idle, all;/And women too, but innocent and pure;/No sovereignty. ” (II. 1, ll. 154-156) Even as his comrades ridiculed him, he is steadfast in his belief, and simply labels them as “gentlemen of brave mettle. ” (II. 1, l. 181). This would seem like the ideal government, and would work in theory. In European society in the early seventeenth century, much emphasis was placed on class. The lower class faced many restrictions, and many citizens were infuriated with the class system.
To the lower class, the hope of a perfect government in which everyone was equal was ideal. Another one of their hopes was that the natives, although barbaric, would be of great use to them when they first settled. They hoped to incorporate the Native Americans into their own society. In The Tempest, Caliban, the original native of the island, originally greeted Prospero with respect: “When thou cam’st first,/Thou strok’st me and made much of me…then I loved thee/And showed thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle,/The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile. (I. 2, ll. 333-338)
When Prospero first came to the island, Caliban went through the trouble of finding him the best food and water sources. Because of Caliban’s kindness, this shows that the Europeans believed that the Native Americans would be easy to manipulate, and thus, easy to control. They hoped to be in command of the Native Americans so that the task of controlling North America would be easier. To gradually incorporate the natives into their own society as slaves was one of the hopes of the Europeans.
However, their hopes and predetermined ideas were found to be inaccurate. The reality was that the utopian government that the Europeans dreamed about did not exist. In fact, Gonzalo’s government was impractical. There would always be conflict, and if everyone was equal, they would feel equally poor. This would call for a sovereign, which would defeat the purpose of everyone being equal. Hierarchy will always exist simply because it is human nature to strive for the best.
For example, in The New World, this was reflected in the colony of Jamestown. There was always a captain in charge. A chain of order was important in order to prevent chaos in times of distress. Conversely, one of their expectations became a reality. They believed that the natives would be savages. The Europeans looked down upon the Native Americans because they appeared in many ways to be subhuman. This was due to non-Christianity, a primitive dress style, and a sense of filth: “Their hair is usually black, but few have any beards.
The men wear half their heads shaven, the other half long…some are of disposition fearful, some bold, most wary. All Savage…For their apparel, they are some time covered with the skins of wild [beasts]…There is yet in Virginia no place discovered to be so Savage in which Savages have not a religion…” The Europeans viewed the Native Americans as inferior beings. At first, the Native Americans were inclined to incorporate the Europeans as an intermediary: “Americans sought to incorporate the newcomers into their universe. (Kupperman 175)
They also concluded that the Europeans would be of great use to trade with. As time progressed, both the Native Americans and the Europeans strived to merge the other into their own hierarchy. (Kupperman 174) However, this attempt at incorporating the other soon proved to be futile. In The Tempest, Caliban is always plotting to overthrow Prospero (conversation with Trinculo and Stephano). This is paralleled in the Europeans’ constant, underlying worry that the natives would revolt against them: “Both the Roanoke and Jamestown olonists reported that conspiracies against them were planned. ” (Kupperman 175)
The Native Americans knew their territory, and gradually developed tactics to fend off attackers. The Native Americans were highly skilled warriors, yet lacked the technology that the Europeans had. (Barbour) In addition, the Europeans had resistance to disease that overwhelmed the Native Americans. Eventually, the Europeans managed to seize power in their settlements, and incorporated the Native Americans into their civilization as slaves.
Although the Europeans failed to establish a utopian government, their efforts to merge the Native Americans into their society were successful. Their ideal failed to exist simply because of human nature. Nonetheless, they integrated the Native Americans into their society as slaves. Albeit unconventional, the expectations of the Europeans were portrayed to some degree. Through The Tempest, the Europeans’ hope of establishing an model government did not become a reality, yet they managed to incorporate the natives.