Essay – Injustice in ‘The Tempest’

Identify an idea from the text and explain what the reader can learn from it.

Injustice in ‘The Tempest’

A major idea in ‘The Tempest’, written by William Shakespeare, is that of injustice. Many of the main characters throughout the play are the victims of injustice, and deal with this in varying ways. There are several messages that the audience can learn about through how injustice is portrayed in ‘The Tempest’. These are that treating someone unjustly often evokes bad reactions and negativity, that when faced with adversity, people often make different choices to one another, and that sometimes people can be hypocritical and mistreat others, despite viewing bad treatment of themselves as immoral. These are all important messages that the audience can take away and use in everyday life.

The audience can learn, from the idea of injustice in ‘The Tempest’, that treating someone badly is likely to result in a bad reaction from the person in question. An example of this occurs when Prospero is exiled from Milan by his brother Antonio, as well as Alonso, for neglecting his duties as duke in favour of learning about magic. ‘By foul play, as thou sayst, were we heaved thence,’ he tells Miranda in Act 1, showing how he feels cheated of what is rightfully his. As a result of this, he plots to bring Antonio and Alonso onto his island so he can confront them in person and right the wrongs that happened to him in the past. However, in doing this, he forces Antonio, Alonso and their men to go through a tempest, which he creates, and puts them through the pain of believing that Alonso’s son, Ferdinand, is dead. ‘The greatest sorrow is mine’ says Alonso when Gonzalo attempts to make him feel better. These are both terrible things to have to go through, and they only occurred because Prospero was treated unjustly in the past. From this, the audience learns that it is important to treat everyone well and equally. This is because, if they do not, then those who they treat badly or unjustly can make choices and do things that affect them in negative ways.

The audience learns that people react differently when faced with adversity through the theme of injustice in ‘The Tempest’. This is shown through the actions of Ariel and Caliban. When Prospero first arrives upon the island, he enslaves both of these characters and uses his magical powers in order to keep them under control. Ariel, despite being unhappy to be enslaved, works hard and diligently in an attempt to earn his freedom when it is promised to him by Prospero. He carries out tasks for Prospero in order to keep the respective parties of men from harming each other as they wander around the island. In Act 1, he tells Prospero that he has ‘done thee worthy service, told thee no lies, made no mistakings,’ and worked ‘without a grudge or grumblings.’ Caliban, however, is disloyal to Prospero; he attempts to rape his daughter, Miranda, only works when he is forced to, and eventually plots to kill Prospero with Stefano and Trinculo. He tells the two men that Prospero is a ‘tyrant’ and a ‘sorcerer’ in an effort to convince them to help his thwart the man who had ‘cheated’ him of his island. These two very different reactions, of Ariel and Caliban, to the injustice of being enslaved, shows the audience that often, people take different approaches when faced with the same problem. At the end of the play, both slaves are released when Prospero feels guilty about what he has done. From this, the audience learns that multiple solutions to a problem can work – Caliban’s rebelliousness eventually caused Prospero to feel his pain and let him free, whereas Ariel’s diligence and loyalty made Prospero feel more inclined to stay true to his promise. This is a valuable moral that the audience can take away and use in everyday life – people are more cooperative with one another if they understand that everyone has a unique viewpoint and different, working solutions to some problems.

When watching or reading ‘The Tempest’, the audience can learn, through the idea of injustice, that some people can be hypocritical and treat others badly even if they say it is morally wrong. For example, Prospero is very unhappy about how Antonio mistreated him by exiling him from Milan, telling Miranda, ‘I pray mark me, that a brother should be so perfidious’. This causes him to create a plan for revenge. He does not, however, see anything wrong in mistreating Ariel and Caliban by enslaving them until the very end of the play, despite Caliban being visibly angry about being forced to work for his master, at one point yelling at Prospero and Miranda ‘drop on you both! A south-west blow on ye, and blister you o’er!’ Prospero behaves similarly badly towards Caliban and is constantly addressing him with insults, calling him a ‘tortoise’ and referring to him as a product of the devil. This shows that Prospero is only thinking about himself and is content with letting others suffer for his own, personal gain. From this, the audience can learn that not everybody does what they say is ideal and is the person they claim to be. This is important because it can cause the audience to think about themselves and their actions, and if they realise that they are not following guidelines they expect others to follow, or are mistreating others despite expecting to receive fair and equal treatment themselves, then they may change how they behave accordingly.

An important and major idea in ‘The Tempest’ by William Shakespeare, is injustice. It affects many of the characters in the play and is the foundation upon many of the main events in the play are based. The idea of injustice is important because it can teach the audience that treating someone unjustly often evokes bad reactions and negativity, that when faced with adversity, people often make different choices to one another, and that sometimes people can be hypocritical and mistreat others, despite viewing bad treatment of themselves as immoral. These are all important concepts that the audience can take away and use in everyday life, in order to help make themselves and others into better individuals.

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