The Tempest Man and the Natural World Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the 2008 Norton edition.
I' th' commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all,
And women too, but innocent and pure;
Yet he would be king on 't.
The latter end of his commonwealth forgets
All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavor; treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people. (2.1.162-180)
Gonzalo's speech about how he'd rule the island is taken from Montaigne's famous essay "Of Cannibals" (1580), where the Brazilian Indians are described as living at one with nature. Montaigne writes they have "no kind of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate or politic superiority, no use of service, of riches or of poverty, no contracts, no successions... no occupation but idle, no respect of kindred but common, no apparel but natural, no manuring of lands, no use of wine, corn, or metal" (from John Florio's 1603 English translation).
This liberal concept is a pretty big deal, especially since at a time when Europeans were running around calling natives in the Americas "savages," Montaigne suggests that the Brazilian Indians live a utopian lifestyle while European colonizers are the real barbarians. (This essay, by the way, is where the concept of the "noble savage" comes from.)
What's interesting is that Shakespeare puts this speech in the mouth of one of his characters. Is Shakespeare endorsing Montaigne's ideas? Maybe. Gonzalo, after all, is the play's ultimate good guy. On the other hand, Caliban, who is a kind of exotic "other," is portrayed as a complete savage in this play.
To cry to the sea that roared to us, to sigh
To th' winds whose pity, sighing back again,
Did us but loving wrong. (1.2.177-179)
Nature has always interacted in Prospero's affairs. Here, he highlights that nature is not one big capital "N" Nature, but a mix of different elements, each with moods and tendencies. At the time of their exile, Prospero remembers the sea like an enemy, and the wind like a lover.
Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness, I have used
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honor of my child. (1.2.412-418)
Was it in Caliban's nature to ignore Prospero's nurturing? When Caliban tried to violate Miranda, was he compelled by his own natural forces, greater than his moral reasoning?