The Tempest


The importance of the character, language and dramatic significance of Antonio

On June 2, 1609, five hundred colonists set out in nine ships from Plymouth in association with the imperial Virginia Company. It was the aim of this expedition to fortify John Smith's colony in Virginia. While eight of the party's vessels securely arrived at Jamestown, the flagship, called the ?Sea Adventure? , was conspicuously absent. This ship --which carried the fleet's most valuable cargo, the admiral Sir John Somers and the future governor of Virginia Sir George Somers --was separated from the other eight during a fierce storm off the coast of Bermuda, the legendary Isle of Devils, dreaded by superstitious sixteenth-century sailors. William Strachey describes the tempest which precipitated the ship's "wracke" in a letter dated July 15, 1610: "a dreadfull storme and hideous began to blow from out the North-east, which swelling, and roaring as it were by fits, some houres with more violence than others, at length did beate all light from heaven; which like an hell of darkenesse turned blacke upon us, so much the more fuller of horror." The ?Sea Adventure? was rebuilt on the island, which was not as menacing as the storm itself, and nearly a year later the ship rejoined the fleet in Virginia. By many, this was deemed a miracle.

Some believe it was this shipwreck that prompted Shakespeare to write this political, yet comic play which involves usurpation, mockery, love, reconciliation and forgiveness.

It all starts with Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, being banished by his brother, Antonio, who illegally usurps the throne.

Basically, the first thing Antonio does in scene I is curse the boatswain: ?Hang, cur, hang, you whoreson, insolent noisemaker, we are less afraid to be drowned than thou art.? This already suggests that Antonio is not the nicest of dukes.
He is a very authoritative man, he need not do anything, he lets people do it for him. As the ship splits, he still curses the boatswain and does not get involved with the desperate attempts of the mariners to steady the ship.

When they find themselves stranded on the remote island, all except Antonio and Sebastian see that which is good around them, Gonzalo remarks how their clothes are surprisingly clean. Antonio and Sebastian mock Gonzalo and the others for seeing good where they only sees rottenness and corruption. Their cynicism clearly show they do not agree, they mock them with witty word-play:

Alonso : Prithee, peace.
Sebastian : {Apart to Antonio} He receives comfort like cold porridge.

?Peace? and ?porridge? show it here, because porridge was made of peas.

Sebastian: A dollar.
Gonzalo: Dolour comes to him indeed; you have spoken truer than you purposed.

Here, Sebastian says ?dollar? as in ?money?, but Gonzalo hears ?dolour? meaning ?sadness?.

Antonio?s slyness and sneakiness make it easy for him to take things in his own hands. He pretends to try and make peace with Gonzalo before telling him to go sleep so that he can discuss his evil intentions with Sebastian.
He tempts Sebastian with power and the throne of Naples.
?Th?occasion speaks thee, and my strong imagination sees a crown dropping upon thy head.? He is prompting Sebastian to kill his own brother, Alonso, in order to seize the throne: ?O! If you but knew how you the purpose cherish whiles thus you mock it; how in stripping it you more invest it. Ebbing men, indeed, most often do so near the bottom run by their own fear, or sloth.?
He uses his certainty and Sebastian?s ambition to persuade him to proceed with this act. Now that Ferdinand is supposedly drowned, the next heir would be Claribel, she who is now Queen of Tunis and is too far away to notice what would be happening in Naples.
Sebastian asks Antonio if he has no guilt whatsoever for what he did to Prospero, Antonio replies that he has not a single trace of guilt or conscience to upset him. His reply is filled with metaphors, like much of Antonio?s language is. ?Here lies your brother, no better than the earth he lies upon, if he were that which now he is like ? that is dead; whom I with this obedient steel, three inches of it, can lay to bed forever: whiles you doing thus, to the perpetual wink of an aye might put this ancient morsel, Sir Prudence, who should not upbraid our course.?