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Gonzalo's significance in The Tempest

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Max McCulloch

on 26 February 2014

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Transcript of Gonzalo's significance in The Tempest

In the play's dramatis personae, we're told that Gonzalo is "an honest old counselor of Naples." He's traveling with the King's party when he's shipwrecked with the other passengers on Prospero's island.
He appears in all Act's except Act 4. So he plays a key role in the play.
1) Prospero's view- He is described as "noble", "good", "holy", "honorable" and his "true preserver". when Prospero was booted out of Italy and set adrift with his infant daughter, Gonzalo was the one who made sure Prospero had enough food and water to survive. Gonzalo didn't just make sure Prospero would have supplies to physically sustain him, he also made sure Prospero had fancy linens and books.
2) "The honest old councilor". He urges patients, concern for the king and interest in others. He always urges his companions to see the bright side of the situation and even rebukes Antonio and Sebastian for their lack of gentleness in Act 2, scene 1. Furthermore he exhibits many human traits including fatigue (Act 3, scene 2), crying (Act 5, scene 1) and confusion (Act 5, scene 1).
3) The irritant- Antonio and Sebastian project an unsympathetic view of Gonzalo. That he is an impediment and a target for their cheap jibes. Gonzalo is Shakespeare's reminder that even in a very corrupt world, human goodness is possible.
Gonzalo’s fantasy about the plantation (Act 2, scene 1) he would like to build on the island as a remarkable poetic evocation of a utopian society, in which no one would work, all people would be equal and live off the land, and all women would be “innocent and pure.” This vision indicates something of Gonzalo’s own innocence and purity. Shakespeare treats the old man’s idea of the island as a kind of lovely dream, in which the frustrations and obstructions of life (magistrates, wealth, power) would be removed and all could live naturally and authentically. Though Gonzalo’s idea is not presented as a practical possibility (hence the mockery he receives from Sebastian and Antonio), Gonzalo’s dream contrasts to his credit with the power-obsessed ideas of most of the other characters, including Prospero. Gonzalo would do away with the very master-servant motif that lies at the heart of The Tempest.
Gonzalo's significance in The Tempest
Who is Gonzalo?
Three different views of Gonzalo in the play:
Gonzalo's Utopian Speech
Full transcript