The Resulting Effects of Class

English 1A/5
Professor Siebers
Ben Miles
December 6, 1998
Throughout literary history, many critics have contemplated the significance of
parallel relationships in William Shakespeare's plays. These relationships reflect the
socioeconomic status of the different characters, represented in specific confrontations
between classes. The Tempest explores and illustrates the effects of these confrontations.
Because of the social backgrounds each character in the play represents, plots and
schemes to dethrone one another from the socioeconomic pyramid take center stage in
this epic. The play revolves around a setting in which a group as whole, at the onset, gets
split up in a shipwreck. Despite their different stations in life and their isolation from
society, each group has similar objectives and motives, each one striving to move up
through the social ranks. Shakespeare brings into relief the universal quest for social
advancement by contrasting the struggles of the two groups.
Shakespeare creates a parallel between two groups of characters in The Tempest.
This parallel deals with the tyrannical intentions and motives to overtake another group’s
position in society. Prospero, the right Duke of Milan and the main character of the play,
creates a tempest, “a violent commotion or disturbance,”1 and causes a ship at sea to
crash and disperse its members among the island Prospero dwells and rules upon. The
members of the boat include, Alonso, the king of Naples; Sebastien, his brother; Antonio,
Prospero’s brother and the usurping Duke of Milan; Ferdinand, the son of Alonso;
Gonzalo, an honest councilor to Alonso; Trinculo, a jester; and Stephano, a drunken
Definition produced from
butler. The group is split up so that Ferdinand is separated from his father and the jester
and the butler are separated from the group as well. The king, Sebastien, Antonio, and
Gonzalo, members of the royal, wealthier class, are together. The jester and the butler
eventually meet up with each other. Trinculo and Stephano also associate themselves
with Caliban, a savage native and deformed slave who might be considered part of the
lower end of the social structure on the island. Caliban has a personal vendetta against
Prospero for enslaving him and treating him poorly, feeling that it is he who should be
ruling the land because of his initial presence on the island. “As I told thee before, I am
subject to a tyrant, a sorcerer that by his cunning hath cheated me of the island.” 2 At this
point, two parallel confrontations are presented.
The first confrontation involves Antonio and Sebastien plotting to kill the king of
Naples and Antonio taking his place as king. The other confrontation is Caliban’s
attempt, aided by Trinculo and Stephano, to dethrone Prospero as ruler of the island.
Both situations arise from greed and the constant to need to improve upon social status.
However, both conflicts falter when Ariel, an airy spirit who answers to Prospero, causes
madness among both groups and interferes with any potential actions by either group.
Shakespeare creates the parallel relationship between these two groups in order to show
how people from different socioeconomic backgrounds can carry the same motives and
The actions of each character in the play are distinctly reflective of his or her
upbringing and social influences. However, Shakespeare shows in the play how differing
social upbringings and influences still lead to the same results. The character Caliban is a
brute savage who might be considered part of the lower end of a normal social spectrum.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 158.
He is tamed by Prospero’s magic and is restricted to duties of mindless manual labor and
other such activities. Caliban was raised on the island and never given the amenities
someone like a prince might receive or demand. Therefore, he is uneducated not only
academically, but socially as well. However, like any other being with a functioning
mind and desire to improve the self, Caliban seeks a higher place in society. “A plague
upon the tyrant that I serve!
I’ll bear him no more sticks, but follow thee, Thou
wondrous man.”3
The present society on the island is a microcosm of a society anywhere else, thus
there is still the urge to improve one’s place in the social structure. Caliban’s motives
can be compared to those of Antonio, the brother of Prospero. After running Prospero
out of Milan and assuming the role of Duke, Antonio now feels the need to further his
rank among society. He pursues these impulses by plotting to kill the king of Naples,
thus dethroning Alonso and promoting himself as king. Presumably, Antonio was raised
in an attentive and pampering environment and was given all the resources for a
successful life. Although he assumes the role of Duke unjustly, his life has nevertheless
led him to success. The parallel between these two characters is created not only to
provide the audience with similar subplots leading to a single eventual result, but also to
prove that similar goals can be aspired to and attained no matter what the personal
background is.
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the playwright illustrates that similar ambitions
and goals can be shared by different socioeconomic groups. Although both characters
did not achieve all they were striving for, most of the characters' needs are fulfilled.
Prospero forgives all and assumes his rightful position as Duke of Milan.
William Shakespeare. The Tempest. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 150.
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