The essay paper would compare and contrast the plots, motifs, and patterns in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and Montaigne’s “Of the Cannibals.” Both playwrights have a unique way of demonstrating and portraying their themes. The Tempest is one of William Shakespeare’s most important works; the plot is built on numerous topics and symbols that convey a great deal about the writer’s thoughts. The Tempest is Shakespeare’s answer to Montaigne’s “Of Cannibals.” In his response, Shakespeare expresses approval with Montaigne’s ideas in Of Cannibals, where the bond in their minds is shown by how both writers depict cannibals. The Tempest by Shakespeare and of Cannibals by Montaigne debate very different yet related topics. Of Cannibals the author discusses human behavior and the different cultural norms that are observed between the Brazilian Indians and the Europeans while also associating it to the relation of power between the individuals of several islands in the Tempest (Dupeyron 45). Just the same way it is natural for humans to own power-hungry characteristic, it is also natural in the culture of Brazilian Indian to sacrifice and eat the flesh and meat of their enemies. The play by Shakespeare introduces the reader to the impression of human’s natural instinct to own something (Rodgers 430). The idea of having power-hungry characteristic is viewed as natural element creatures and humans within the Tempest. The play “of Cannibals” by Montaigne discusses the power aspect but in a different sense. Montaigne’s play characters own power through human cannibalism and execution (Dupeyron 36). The Brazilian Indians are told to describe the element of cannibalism of their culture as a symbol of reign over enemies. They capture the culture of conquering another by eating the opponents’ dead flesh. However, Europeans execute living individuals grounding it on political arrangements. From the basic information, it is clear the excerpt “Of Cannibals” by Michel de Montaigne, and the play The Tempest by William Shakespeare are complements to each other, that is, they alike in their characters, motifs, and themes (Dupeyron 23). In other words, Shakespeare engages with Montaigne’s work in several methods.
Most noticeably, Shakespeare’s play extracts the development of his plot, setting, and characters from ‘of Cannibals” by Montaigne. The characterization of Caliban and Ariel in the Tempest is significant in relation to Montaigne’s play (Dupeyron 22). In the two writings, both Shakespeare and Montaigne assess the correlation between modern civilization and human personality. Montaigne’s Cannibals glorification contrasts glaringly with Shakespeare’s bestial Caliban indifferent description, whose name lightly hides the inspiration of Montaigne’s play (Rodgers 430). Whereas Cannibals in Montaigne’s essay are depicted as nature’s products in a conventional approach and lacking disingenuousness, Shakespeare’s cannibal seems to be as crude, feeble, and inane as perhaps can be described (Shakespeare 43). Yet the Tempest’s intricacy bases in its significant indistinctness.
In “of Cannibals,” the argument between the Europeans and the Brazilian Indians between the ones with an approach that’s is more civilized towards dealing with humankind is comical (Rodgers 429). The aspect of Montaigne’s play relates to Shakespeare’s play amusing feature. In the Tempest, there is a comical aspect where the most powerful beings such as spirits are under control of the less powerful creatures or things (Dupeyron 41). In the play, it is clear to the reader that despite cannibalism being unacceptable in today’s society, the fact is Brazilian Indians can contradict the funny way the Europeans handle individuals by killing them based of their cultural beliefs.
Since Montaigne “Of Cannibals” and Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest excerpt both act as complements to each other in many ways, they both explore the themes of an artificial and a natural world. Furthermore, Shakespeare and Montaigne both express their different perceptions of cannibals. Montaigne discusses the more natural type of cannibal which is dictated by nature (Shakespeare 15). Montaigne goes further to present cannibals as savages. He says that “It is no lie to say that these men are indeed savages—by our standards; for either they must be, or we must be: there is a great gulf between their souls and ours” (Rodgers 43). According to him, it would be impossible to bridge the gap between a European’s soul and that of a cannibal. The point is shown when he concludes that there is still “an amazing gulf” seen amid the personality of the cannibals and that of their own (the Europeans). It is a belief in this gap that ultimately leads to his dehumanizing expression of the cannibals (Dupeyron 40). The Europeans see the culture of the cannibals as subhuman, as compared to theirs, which is entirely human. The fact that Montaigne portrays the souls of the cannibals and that of the European as having permanent differences is a clear indication that from the time they came to be, he presents them as having a dehumanized nature (Dupeyron 20). According to Montaigne, there is nothing that can be done to bridge the gap existing between savagery and humanity in the passage. Again, Montaigne has a belief cannibals are guided by nature which is opposite to individuals who are artificially controlled. In his play, he states “Now, to return to my subject, I find that there is nothing barbarous and savage in this nation, by anything that I can gather, excepting, that everyone gives the title of barbarism to everything that is not in use in his own country (Rodgers 432). As, indeed, we have no other level of truth and reason, than the example and idea of the opinions and customs of the place wherein we live.”
In Shakespeare’s excerpt, it is contrary to Montaigne’s view on cannibalism. Shakespeare has a more harsh perception of Cannibal, where he has more brutal ideas to it as he reveals it through Prospero and Caliban’s relationship. In the Tempest Excerpt, Caliban is used as a cannibal. It appears the author chose the name of the character with cannibalism reason (Shakespeare 32). To some extent, the phrase “cannibal” can also be pronounced “Caliban” if the letters are switched, and the n is removed. Shakespeare’s act of portraying brutish Caliban, whose identity thinly veils the influence of Montaigne’s play (Shakespeare 19). In Shakespeare’s Cannibalism seems to be as pathetic, vulgar, and crass as any person can be revealed. It seems to show that the way Shakespeare portrays Caliban as a character in his play is a direct attack against the form of nature wistful idealizing that Montaigne is so fond of in his article (Shakespeare 31). The complexity of the Tempest is based on the essential ambiguity of “of Cannibals.” The ambiguity originates from the juxtaposition of the pathetic and brutish character of Caliban with the sympathetic and sprightly character of Ariel (Shakespeare 25). Both Ariel and Caliban are inhabitants of the Island, and thus can be thought of in regards to Montaigne’s cannibals. Through analyzing the characterization of these two significant characters (Ariel and Caliban) in relation to Prospero, it is easy to determine how the Tempest is an artwork responding to and poses a challenge to Montaigne’s excerpt (Shakespeare 22). Lying on the grounds of Shakespeare’s response to “of cannibals” is a different human nature conception and the degree to which modern civilization suppresses it.
In Tempest by William Shakespeare, the obsessive idea of cultural power is significantly defined as a theme which also highly relates to Montaigne’s play in how power beings handle problematic situations. There is an initial human instinct of killing anything that is the source of a problem. The Europeans and the Brazilian Indians eliminate any threats through killing and similar to the characters in the Tempest, the characters do at first think of getting rid of threats through killing to solve their problematic situations (Dupeyron 21). For instance, Caliban’s name seems to show how Prospero treats him. After Caliban sexually abuses Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, he turns out to be a slave and is ill-treated. Caliban also has a belief that the island snatched from him by Prospero initially belongs to him inherited from his mother (Shakespeare 69). Caliban and Ariel are both presented in the play as Prospero’s colonized subjects, and the varying attitudes of these subjects towards their master show the different ways in which nature of humans respond to civilization. It is no doubt, both Caliban and Ariel are individuals who are oppressed by Prospero, although they develop a different relationship with their master by their natural character as well as their prior circumstances. The scenes on the Shakespeare’s play are structures with a purpose of emphasizing on the different characterizations of Caliban and Ariel (Shakespeare 35). Throughout the excerpt, communications between Prospero and Ariel come directly after or before interactions between Prospero and Caliban. The different nature of the two slave-master interactions occurs dramatically hence portraying the contrast between the attitudes of these central characters.
To some extent, Caliban believes he should obey Prospero as long he has some sort of power over him. Prospero may not be as a powerful as he makes other individuals to think. Ariel is also a slave in the play, but he is presented as the one who possesses power (Shakespeare 32). Ariel tends to be a more submissive slave, who obeys whatever his master, Prospero, asks of him. On the other hand, Caliban is more hopeful he will one day be set free and let be himself, although both of them are Prospero’s slaves and both have different mentalities. Unlike Ariel, Caliban does not have a promise to freedom. Prospero promises Ariel freedom as long he complies with whatever is instructed or asked of him (Shakespeare 64). Ariel though seems to be less interested in pushing for freedom at some point. He has a feeling he owes his life to Prospero for freeing him in a time of need. Caliban is presented as a slave with a disadvantage as a result of his appearance (Shakespeare 56). He is consistently referred to as a “monster” throughout the play. It may also contribute to the reason Shakespeare chose to name the character as “Caliban” for him; to compare him to a monster.
The two plays also discuss an element of ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is used to define the view that one’s group or culture is superior to another group or culture. In both excerpts, there are several points of similarity between Shakespeare and Montaigne. Both were able to cast light to the theme of ethnocentrism in their works to display differences among classes or groups. In both plays there seem to be a point that one class or group have a belief there are superior to others. In “of Cannibals” by Montaigne, he discusses the differences between three cannibals and the Europeans that spoke with the king (Dupeyron, 21). The culture of cannibals had a belief all people are equal thus should be treated equally with no discrimination. When the cannibals observed the way Europeans conducted themselves they were surprised and could not understand the way there were some individuals of higher status and others ill-treated within their culture or remained at the bottom (Dupeyron 26). They were not familiar with the difference in the dynamics of power amongst the Europeans.
In the Shakespeare’s play, the difference in power dynamics can be observed. From the very beginning of the excerpt, the difference in power demonstrates itself. The Nobles despise the Mariners since they are not part of the same social group or class and as long they don’t meet requirements of their social status they are treated unfavorably (Shakespeare 46). While trying to gain control of the ship Gonzalo, a character in the play, states that “Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard” where the boatswain replies, “None that I love more than myself.” It is clear the Mariners experience the same inequality undergone by the halves mention in “of Cannibals” play. The nobles are exhibiting features of ethnocentric since they believe their class is more important than the Mariners (Shakespeare 49). The other instance of ethnocentrism in Shakespeare’s play is where Miranda had attempted civilizing Caliban by training him how to communicate in the English language so that he could drop his “brutish” language. The attempts to educate Caliban to drop his standards and adopt the European culture shows Miranda’s act of ethnocentrism. Miranda seems to believe that the group of people who speak English are more civilized and superior than those who speak other languages (Shakespeare 69). Therefore, she tries to transform and train Caliban so that he can fit in group or class off English speaking people.
Motifs are defined as recurring contrast, literary devices, and structures that can help to inform and develop the major themes of the excerpt. Shakespeare and Montaigne have used different setups and literary tools to support their arguments by developing various ideas and structures within their narratives. Shakespeare, for instance, explains power regarding masters and servants. Observing closely, a reader notices that every scene both explicitly or implicitly shows one party of the characters being subjected to control or submitting the power towards the victims (Shakespeare 72). The play illustrates the master-servant self-motivate, which is mostly harsh in incidences where the relationship is threatened. For instance where servants become defiant, or masters are too harsh the livelihood and harmony of their relationship are affected. In the opening scene, the “servant” (the Boatswain) is dismissive and angry toward his “masters” (the noblemen) whose ineptitude threatens to lead the ship to a wreck in the storm. The play also has motifs such as water and drowning and mysterious noises (Shakespeare 21). For example, in the play, water is used as tool to contrast the characters. It is clear where echo reflecting on Alonso’s desire to drown himself as a way of fulfilling the promise of Prospero to drown his book seeks attention to the sacrifice each person should make.
The ’The Tempest and Of Cannibals’ have two different approaches regarding symbols as stylistic devices. When focusing on the symbols in Shakespeare’s the Tempest in the relationship with “Of Cannibals.” Thunder and lightning, the splitting of the ship are the mysterious noises that Shakespeare introduces the play (Shakespeare 71). The loud sounds are a wakeup call on the hostility of the environment for the weak. The writer demonstrates musical noises within the context. Ferdinand is tempted to Miranda’s house by Ariel’s music showing his weakness. The loud noises are also seen when Antonio and Sabastian are about to kill Alonso luckily Gonzalo wakes up due to noise (Shakespeare 65). Music symbols in this incidences contribute to a sign of speaking up on the wrongs. Shakespeare adopts sound to illustrate justice while Montaigne uses letters to explain the evils and hypocrisy of the society.
The play begins as the tempest puts all of Prospero enemies under his feet. The action exhibits the suffering that Prospero endured and the revenge he is willing to inflict on others. The actions of Prospero target to make sure that they are even in regards to pain with Alonso (Shakespeare 24). After the shipwrecked, the affected are put at the mercy of the sea. A similar occasion supporting this is when Prospero and his infant daughter were pulled off from the sea being given a second chance (Shakespeare 45). Prospero inflicts punishment on his enemies so that they may learn from their mistakes as he learned from his. Shakespeare show consequences and punishment can be used as a method of learning, while Montaigne believes in free will I gaining knowledge and thinking. The use of symbols to demonstrate actions is a strong idea that has assisted the two writers to create more themes (Shakespeare 22). They have also brought a better understanding to the readers on the topics discussed.
Conclusively, Shakespeare uses Montaigne’s “Of the Cannibals” as a direct source to write his play The Tempest. There are many similarities observed between the two texts where Shakespeare seems to reply to Montaigne’s essay. The two authors bear similar ideas when developing some of their characters as well as thematically. The two writers dehumanize cannibals where they are represented as sub-humans. According to Montaigne, cannibals are more of savages with a different soul far apart from having any comparison with that of a sober human being. Shakespeare also explains cannibals as barbarians, and he presents them as uncivilized. Miranda, for example, tries to teach Caliban English language but Caliban does not understand a single aspect of what he is being shown. The theme of power is also evident in both texts although it is presented in different senses. The relationship between Areal and his master, Prospero, is an instance where Shakespeare engages Montaigne’s writing in his work. Additionally, the two plays show the theme of ethnocentrism among the characters. The two authors share same ideas though; they distinguish between language and stylistic forms.
Dupeyron, Jean-Francois. “Montaigne’s intentions of writing. The example of the chapter Of Cannibals.” METHODOS-SAVOIRS ET TEXTES 16 (2016).
Rogers, Jami. “Review of Shakespeare’s The Tempest (directed by Trevor Nunn) at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, 7 September 2011.” Shakespeare 12.4 (2016): 429-432.
Shakespeare, William. “THE TEMPEST.” (1987).