Essay about the Animal Within
Animals are consumers. Unable to survive without taking in food, omnivores, herbivores, and carnivores devour plants and animal flesh to satiate hunger. Humans are no different. Falling into the scientific classification of animals, humans must also partake in the consumption of nutrients and minerals that are primitive to survival. However, people feel the need to consume more than food. Education, skill sets, and money are in high demand, all of which when combined produce powerful individuals. In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, characters’ actions resemble that of animals; they attempt to kill authority to gain recognition as the alpha wolf. Michel de Montaigne’s “Of Cannibals” expounds on “[enduring] such an injustice” as characters obtain slaves and attempt to steal power from the dominating leaders (Montaigne 343). It is only human nature to desire to be found at the top of the totem pole, and often, this includes ridding prey of potentially influential positions. Predators eye prey as their next meal, and if the prey is not attentive, the life of power can be snatched from their grip. This dog-eat-dog world was not designed for the faint of heart. To survive and fulfill the insatiable desire to be a formidable opponent, animals sense the need to be ready to attack and protect their position. With covetous hands, humans desire that and more, never fully satisfied.
In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the characters battle to obtain the utmost power. Some are handed it, some are forced out of the life of power, and some desire to forcefully obtain leverage over everyone else. In a spontaneous, irrational plan to step on feet on the way to the top of the totem pole, Sebastian and Antonio are two that find a way to gain leverage and claim fame. When all the others that had washed ashore with them become entranced and are fast asleep, Antonio takes delight in the fact that “[his] brother’s servants [used to be his] fellows, [but] now they [will be his] men” (Shakespeare 637). All that stands in their way is taking the life of the man in charge to obtain the alpha status of the pack. Stephano and Trinculo are yet two additional sailors that wash onto the banks of this island, and soon, they find a royalty status approaching them when Caliban, an unidentifiable creature who is a servant to Prospero, “[swears himself] thy subject” (Shakespeare 642). Though Stephano and Trinculo’s intent is to pour copious amount of liquor down their parched, salt-stained throats, Caliban’s presence brings about the possibility of stealing a sense of royalty status. Stephano voices to Caliban his intentions of wanting to “kill [Prospero]” and make Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, and himself “king and queen” (Shakespeare 647). Once again, murder is considered in gaining the pack leader status, and their insistence to jump the gun clouds their judgement. Once the demolition of Prospero’s life is complete, all “efforts cannot even succeed in reproducing” what will be lost (Montaigne 337). A life can be produced, but to replace another’s existence, even if due to hatred or a sense of powerlessness, is impossible. The unethical actions of predators do not constitute to the gain of dominance over prey.
In addition to gaining dominance, the behavioral aspects of the characters in The Tempest resemble that of four-legged beasts. The dehumanization of the characters is prominent. Caliban, Ariel, and the other servants are taken “outside the moral boundaries in a place where equal treatment and moral norms do not apply” (Tuure and Laari-Salmela). Prospero threatens towards Caliban that he will “rack [him] with old cramps, [and] fill all [Caliban’s] bones with aches” if he does not comply to Prospero’s commands (Shakespeare 626). In this moment, Caliban’s spirit “is killed, [but it is] not conquered” (Montaigne 341). Caliban has no choice but to comply with the demands being laid upon him, but even so, he remains strong in his thoughts. Ariel is also commanded to take part in Prospero’s mischievous schemes. Though Prospero “[promised] to bate [Ariel] a full year” of freedom, the spirit is forced to be “correspondent to [the] command” of Prospero lest painful consequences fall on Ariel’s head (Shakespeare 623-24). The life of freedom is snatched away as the possibility of never truly being free becomes a reality. Ariel is given a glance at the life of liberty, but the spirit is forced to learn that “rivers are subject to changes,” even the most promising ones (Montaigne 336). When Caliban stumbles out of Prospero’s grip, he finds himself at the end of the leash to yet two additional owners. Although Caliban is portrayed as a helpless slave that is never shown affection, Caliban has a dark side as well. Caliban’s manipulation of Stephano and Trinculo comes into play when Trinculo begins mistreating and mocking him. Caliban acts as if he is at the mercy of their feet, but he vengefully plans that “after a little time” of accepting Trinculo’s abuse, “[he will] beat him” and show him who will actually fall prostrate pleading for mercy (Shakespeare 647). The dehumanization of characters to maintain dominance resembles that of wild animals. To beasts, lives are not admired; they are drooled over and looked at as delicious delicacies waiting to be devoured.
The presence of every character eludes from one action, one order- Prospero’s command to bring the men aboard the ship to his island. In the Act one of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, water seeps into the cracks of the ship as the vessel crashes on the waves. With Alonso, the King of Naples, and others aboard, Prospero concludes no better timing than this to take back his title as the rightful Duke of Milan. Carefully, Prospero orders the vessel to sink while all passengers remain safe, “not a hair perished… not a blemish” (Shakespeare 622). Why does Prospero pay attention to the safety of his alleged enemies? Destroying Alonso and others in the waves is much easier than completing the task face to face. Prospero has ample opportunity to make these men pay for the pain they have caused him, but he ceases to retaliate in such manner. He does not have a need to fight, for his spirits and slaves are available to fight this battle for him, but he persists on meeting face to face with Alonso and crew. Prospero could be biting off more than he can chew. Perhaps he has “eyes bigger than [his stomach], and more curiosity than capacity” (Montaigne 335). Seeking the grove in which Antonio, Alonso, Sebastian, and Gonzalo are being held, Prospero commands Ariel to release them from their torment, for he will break the charm binding them to their cell and restore their senses once again. Prospero has these men at his mercy, and his thoughts on the matter is to set them free. He goes on to conclude that he will “break [his] staff” and “drown [his magic] book” (Shakespeare 660). He is willing to give up every ounce of power he has over all that are on the island, including the men that drained every drop of his authority in Milan. At the beginning of The Tempest, Prospero’s sinks the only vessel that can save the men from him. However, Prospero’s character completely transforms in that he was once seeking his title to be returned to him; now, his only concern is the condition of those before him. Prospero’s rabid characteristics are masked as his sense of leadership becomes more prominent. Perhaps Prospero sees that gaining the position of alpha wolf is less about fighting for the title and more about letting the title come to him through displaying nobility.
The Tempest ends in a much brighter light than the dim one in which the play opens up in. The battle of the beasts resides into a less hostile situation. Respect is gained, and each character finds his respected place in the pack. “Human characteristics… such as morality, maturity, and rationality, are denied to others,” but Prospero unearths a solution to give these humanistic values back to those he took from (Tuure and Laari-Salmela). Much like Prospero’s actions, “wolves work as a pack to hunt and survive” (Hamilton 4). Thus, Prospero’s actions can be attributed to his need for survival. No one knows his final thoughts, but his initial purpose for bringing Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, Ferdinand, Gonzalo, and etc. to the island is to seize his title as the rightful Duke of Milan. Most wolf packs “[average] six to eight animals,” usually with a “dominant alpha male and female [leading] the pack” (Hamilton 25). Prospero’s shipwrecked crew roughly fits that number, and the alpha male and female roles are more than likely intended for Prospero and Miranda. These incentives are suggestions, but Prospero’s engagements all align with those of animal-like behavior. He asserts his dominance by landing these men on an island where they are unable to escape from his power. Next, he huddles them together and demands to meet face to face with them; his position of authority cannot be mistaken if he refuses to back down in their presence. His last remarks to free these men give him respect. Prospero goes so far as to give up the very things that house his power- his staff and magic book. Showing others a willingness to surrender further strengthens Prospero’s power over these men. His outward intentions seem honest and fair, but no one knows his inward incentives. However, after observing Prospero’s course of action and his meticulous planning, it is evident that there are connections between the behaviors of man and beast. Power is not just admired by humans; all of creation aspires to reap the benefits of ranking above all else.
These similarities between humans and animals all dwindle down to a certain need, a certain desire- power and authority. Humans are the figures at the top of the food chain, and this feeling of dominance is a mouth-watering, tempting decadence that people throw themselves at. Power is appealing to everyone. Power gives people the ability to do good. Quite frankly, it gives people the ability to do whatever their hearts crave. It makes the weak turn their heads, and its influence obliterates the questioning of authority, at least publicly. It is no secret that Prospero held great authority over Caliban, Ariel, Cerces, Juno, the nymphs, the reapers, and even the ship-wrecked crew. When he orders Ariel to abide in his command, Ariel reminds Prospero of the year of freedom he has given the spirit. When Prospero mentions his demand again, Ariel swiftly follows suit to Prospero’s request. This is how the powerful are respected. The weak bow to their superiority. Ariel mentions the freedom Prospero promised to give, but when Prospero usurps that freedom, Ariel complies without hesitation. Caliban is unwilling to comply to Prospero’s demands as well, but his stubbornness does indeed surrender to authority. Though Caliban is less willing to conform to the demands of supremacy, he completes the tasks Prospero gives him. The same applies to Juno, Ceres, the reapers, and the nymphs. All of Prospero’s creations obey and respect him- all at varying degrees, but nonetheless, they respect him. The increasing number of servants under Prospero does nothing but continue to grow his reign over those on the island.
Michel de Montaigne’s “Of Cannibals” eludes to the flawed aspects of human nature such as enslaving servants to ensure the maintenance of authority that is witnessed in The Tempest. There are numerous concepts to human nature, but one of the most prominent is the hunger for power. People strive for respect, and often, the foreseen way to obtain that respect is by forcing the opponent to give up. When the overpowered challenger bows down in defeat, he/she gives the conqueror a deeper thirst for dominance. The desire to consume becomes unquenchable, and the victor’s main goal is to protect their position of power, even if it changes a respectable man into a deranged beast.
- Hamilton, Sue L. Wolves. Abdo Publishing, 2010. EBSCOhost. Web. 19 April 2019.
- Hume, David. A Treatise on Human Nature: Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects. The Floating Press, 2009. EBSCOhost. Web. 27 March 2019.
- Montaigne, Michel de. “Of Cannibals.” The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Vol. C: The Early Modern Period. Eds. David Damrosch and David L. Pike. New York: Pearson Education, 2009. 614-667.
- Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Vol. C: The Early Modern Period. Eds. David Damrosch and David L. Pike. New York: Pearson Education, 2009. 614-667.
- Väyrynen, Tuure, and Sari Laari-Salmela. “Men, Mammals, or Machines? Dehumanization Embedded in Organizational Practices.” Journal of Business Ethics 147.1 (Jan. 2018): 95–113. EBSCOhost. Web. 12 April 2019.