The Tempest : Gonzalo’s ideal commonwealth in Act 2 Scene 1

 Gonzalo’s Ideal Commonwealth in Act 2 Scene 1 


 The Tempest

 Question : How does Gonzalo describe his concept of ideal commonwealth ? Why is he scoffed at for his vision ?

 Answer:  The idea of commonwealth,as presented by Gonzalo in ‘The Tempest’ seems to have come from an essay called  “Of the Cannibalis” in Florio’s translation of Montaigne. Montaigne contrasts the natural life of the “savage”  found in the New World with the civilised European living in the Old World. This essay makes the radical suggestions that the civilisation is an artificial and corrupting force, while the natural way of life of native people makes them much stronger and healthier – an idea which later came to be known as the theory of the”noble savage”. 

     Gonzalo, the old courtier at the court of Naples, is loyal to Alonso, the King of Naples. He tries to condole Alonso on the supposed death of his son, Ferdinand.

    He tells him to be cheerful. In order to comfort the sad king, he gives a fanciful description of his ideal commonwealth.

     In his commonwealth, there would be no trade and commerce. There would be no judiciary and no judicial proceedings of any kind. There would be no learning and literature in his commonwealth.

     People would neither be rich nor poor. There would be complete social equality. Distinction between the rich and the poor would be non – existent. There would be no masters and servants in his commonwealth. No one would be able to dominate over the other. No business contracts would take place there.

     People would not inherit the property left by their forefathers. There would be no demarcation  of territory. There would be no agriculture and people would not grow crops and vines. There would be no need to grow wheat for the people. There would be no need of metals. Neither oil nor wine would be produced.

     The occupants would, in fact, have no occupation of any kind. All men would remain idle and enjoy perfect leisure. All women, too, would remain idle but they would be innocent and pure. They would lead a sinless and virtuous life.

    In fact, it is an ideal picture of society which can never exist. It appears that Gonzalo is talking sheer nonsense. But it should be remembered that Gonzalo is deliberately talking sheer nonsense to divert Alonso’s attention from his grief over the supposed death of his son, Ferdinand.

    Antonio and Sebastian, make fun of Gonzalo’s idea of commonwealth. They express their cynical feelings in a series of puns aimed at Gonzalo, whose persistent good humour irritates them. For every positive word uttered by Gonzalo, Antonio offers a negative remark and Sebastian follows it up with another.

     Antonio and Sebastian represent those who believe that the whole conception of one world government or any united government for different states is futile and impractical. In a scathing attack, they target Gonzalo.

 “Sebastian:   God save the king !

   Antonio:  Long live Gonzalo”

    Antonio goes to extent of silencing Gonzalo and tells him that he is talking nonsense. If everyone were as harmless and good natured as Gonzalo, such an idealised situation could exist. But there is individuals such as the other two, who prey on others for their own advancement, that make it impossible to attain.

     Overall Gonzalo’s idea is fanciful even absurd, though the purpose which he has in his mind – is to divert Alonso’s mind – is laudable.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top