Use of Contrasts in Act I of The Tempest
William Shakespeare used many different writing devices when he wrote
his plays. In Act I of The Tempest, the use of contrasts between characters,
setting, and ideas were often used to develop the story, and more importantly,
the messages that Shakespeare wished to portray by the play.
One good example was how some characters in the first act had their
counterparts. Ariel had Caliban, and Gonzalo had Ferdinand. The relationship
between Ariel and Caliban could clearly be seen throughout Act I, scene II.
Ariel was the “airy spirit” that could assume different shapes, such as the
lightning flames seen on the ship (Shakespeare 31), and who had quickness,
lightness, grace, and total control over his actions. On the other hand,
Caliban who represented the body, couldn’t control his actions and thus made him
the opposite of Ariel. He even tried to rape Miranda once, but was stopped by
Prospero in the process. In fact, it might even be safe to say that Caliban was
anti-Ariel, being slow, stupid, and lazy.
Gonzalo and Ferdinand were also contrasted in this act. In Act I, scene
I lines 28-33, Gonzalo made fun of the boatswain by saying that he didn’t look
like the type to drown, instead he resembled more of the type to be hanged.
Thus implying that no one on the ship would drown. This gesture by Gonzalo
showed that he was an optimistic person. On the other hand, after landing on
the island in Act I, scene ii, Ferdinand grew worry of his father and
immediately presumed he was dead. He even went as far as saying that he was now
the new King of Naples (Shakespeare 45). Therefore, one can see that Ferdinand
did not have a positive outlook and wasn’t as optimistic as Gonzalo. From the
contrasts between Ariel – Caliban, and Gonzalo – Ferdinand, one develops a
character profile of the four and starts to recognize some ideas that
Shakespeare was trying to bring about in The Tempest.
Contrast between the settings was also present in Act I. The tempest in
the beginning of the play caused violent winds and total confusion aboard the
ship. This chaos disturbed Shakespeare’s Social Order. The boatswain, not the
King, was giving out orders to the people, while the King and his son were
praying below. Thus, the whole Social Order was inverted. However when ship
landed on the island, the setting of the play changed from the terrifying storm
to the delightfulness of the island. In turn, the Social Order was also put
back to its original state by the introduction of Prospero and his commoners’
Ariel and Caliban. The reader can create a kind of atmosphere from this
Recall that in Act I, Scene II, Shakespeare offered a parallel, or at
least a contrast, in the way Miranda and Caliban were educated and how they used
their education. Whereas education had beneficial effects on Miranda’s high
nature, its effects on Caliban’s low nature were extremely harmful. Prospero
took great pains in order to educate her daughter:
Have I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit
Than other princesse can, that have more time
For vanier hours, and tutors not so careful. (Shakespeare 29)
Miranda benefitted greatly from her education because she had a noble
nature with which to begin. She respected her father for whom he was and obeyed
him as commanded. Contrasted by Caliban, whose main benefit from learning was
that he became an expert at cursing. Education had only made him into a
malcontent creature who always whined about his low position. He may have been
born to serve, but learning had made him hate serving. The contrast between
these two character’s education helped Shakespeare to convey his idea of
education between high class and low class individuals.
Shakespeare intelligently used different contrasts in Act I to display
characters, setting and ideas. These contrasts helped to unify the act, and
make the reader more aware of what they were truly reading, and that is of
course, a work of art.