In Act 2 Scene 1, Gonzalo’s “lush and lusty” vision of the island is an antithesis to Antonio’s “tawny” view. This links strongly to the theme of illusion, as however the character perceives the island is related to how honest and optimistic they are about other matters. Where Gonzalo is pleased to be alive, Antonio is still finding himself in a dissatisfactory situation. Shakespeare is doing this so that the audience can imagine the island however they want to, with limited scenery in the 17th Century, the language used was important in setting the Scene, however, the island is left as a ‘blank canvas’.
It could also be interpreted that the island is not fully described because Shakespeare wants to leave it mysterious, so that the audience can hold a temporary suspension of disbelief, making all of the magic, illusion, monsters and spirits more credible. The island is surrounded by water, which is a recurring image in the Tempest. “What cares these roarers in the name of the King? ” shows how the water does not follow the divine right of Kings, nature is sometimes more powerful than man, although ironically in this Scene, man is controlling the tempest.
The characters’ “rather new dyed than rich with salt-water” clothing portrays the magical property of the water surrounding the island. This is an important part of the setting because it reflects a good omen, making the audience think that everything will probably turn out alright in the end. The most striking feature of the island setting is the intense isolation. “Sycorax… thou knowest was banished” onto the island so that she couldn’t produce offspring into the habituated world.
They sent her to the island because there was nobody else on there for her to populate it with. Others may interpret her banishment as means of a prison, but “the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight” and being banished there doesn’t seem like a fitting punishment, apart from the intense loneliness. With the island being isolated, Miranda has only ever seen her father and Caliban, this adds to the plot and the credibility when she instantly “changes eyes” with Ferdinand.
This is one of Shakespeare’s few plays that is conforming to the unity of time, action and place. The island setting is essential to the unity, as there are no simple means for the people to move away from the island, thus making the one place for everything to happen. Very few of the Elizabethan audience will have travelled overseas and experienced other countries. They would have found the island setting intriguing, as it’s of a nature unlike anything they’ve ever seen.
Caliban, as one of Shakespeare’s three moors, is also an important part of this as he is representational of what an Elizabethan person would imagine the native of a dessert island to be like. His “vile race”, along with the setting, provides an insight into the discovery of new lands which was happening around the time. A lot of curiosity would surround this theme; and Shakespeare is making an interesting link to events of the time. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” and “the great globe itself shall dissolve” is directly linking the island on the play to the theatre.
Prospero is saying in this speech that the island is all illusion and fantasy, and so is the “great globe”. By directly linking the two, he has involved the audience deeply into the play. Shakespeare’s theatre was called ‘the Globe’, so the audience would have easily seen this link, and started questioning how real their “little lives rounded with sleep” were, preparing them for the end of the play. Overall the island is ideal for “The Tempest” as it provides a very mouldable and magical setting for a play that is full of unrealistic yet enchanting ideas.