Is man more "noble" in a natural state than in a state of civilization? The Tempest returns to this question over and over again – in its portrayal of the ambiguous "monster" Caliban and in Gonzalo's utopian speech about the ideal state of the island. Throughout the play (which paraphrases a key passage from Montaigne's famous essay "Of Cannibals"), Shakespeare also asks whether man can be at one with nature, or whether (perhaps by virtue of the biblical Fall in Eden) he is destined to make unnatural whatever he touches.
Questions About Man and the Natural World
- Is the natural state morally superior to the state of civilization (at court)?
- Can the island be considered a natural or pristine place, untouched by man, when there is so much of Prospero's magic and enchantment all around it?
- Caliban is constantly referred to as evil or deformed by nature. How can nature produce things that are unfit to exist?
Chew on This
Gonzalo's utopian speech in Act 1, Scene 1 suggests that man is more noble living in a natural state.
Despite Gonzalo's utopian speech in Act 1, Scene 1, the play suggests that man is not more noble living in a natural state – Caliban, after all, is in no way a "noble savage."