Ranking of the Male Libido and The Tempest
Joel J. Blaxland


There are 16 main plot characters in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and all but one is male. It is interesting that The Tempest is considered a romance albeit with one female. As defined by the Free dictionary online a Romance is “an artistic work, such as a novel, story, or film that deals with sexual love, especially in an idealized form.” This definition hardly seems appropriate in reference to the tempest.

When considering the majority of William Shakespeare’s plays, male characters overwhelmingly outnumber the female characters. What implications does this have when considering gender conflict amongst the genders as well as those within specific male gender itself? Which male actors were chosen to play the female roles and why?

A study conducted by the Linguistic Cognition Laboratory at the Illinois Institute of Technology yielded some remarkable results. The premise behind this analysis was to analyze the language written by William Shakespeare in order to divide the written text into gender. An equal number of Shakespearean male and female characters were analyzed and it was determined that more than 70% of the language used by both was classified as male (Aragamon). William Shakespeare effectively wrote in a masculine tone for the majority of his characters regardless of their gender. This implies that masculinity was the prevailing gender throughout William Shakespeare’s works.

In fact it has been argued that “every single role on the Shakespearean stage was written for a white man” (Loomba). Objectively speaking, it is a historical fact that most actors during the Renaissance period performing Shakespearian works or otherwise was male and perhaps this fact is the strongest implication as to why William Shakespeare wrote the majority of his characters as male? Did William Shakespeare write the majority of his characters as male because the actors which would perform his works would be exclusively male? I believe these subtle clues point to a hidden sexual context apparent throughout William Shakespeare’s works: competition for the patriarchal position.

The Tempest highlights effectively the vicious competition amongst men and details the depths to which a man is willing to lower his empathy for others in order to achieve supremacy. The Tempest takes place on a remote island and we must consider the ramifications of a nearly all male cast in regard to sexual tone within the play. The Tempest is an excellent example of what our world would be like if populated solely by males. It is effectively a study of the competition between virile males and their contention for supremacy on the island.

What implications does this have in regard to being trapped on an island populated with men? Certainly the conflict amongst the hierarchy of social order is evident but I suggest that the very nature of Shakespeare’s choice of the gender of the cast provides a much more interesting insight to the very nature of this play.

Within the context of libido appraisal and hierarchy classification, we will detail the role of Caliban, the sexual depraved deviant and Ariel a sprite. Prospero’s relationship with both of these characters feature explicit examples of the male versus male competition. Prospero effectively imparts his control over these two characters and therein can we obtain a perspective of his desire for inter-gender control.

Prospero, the main character in The Tempest spends the majority of the play exercising his ability to dominate the males who inhabit his “territory”. We are led to believe Prospero’s motive is revenge but quickly realize that his pursuit is not one of retribution but rather a query of ultimate male supremacy; one which must culminate in anticlimactic fashion. Within this premise lies the dilemma that each male character is jockeying for their position within the theoretical pecking order on the island.

This display of macho behavior is not too dissimilar to the instinctual conduct we can observe in the animal kingdom amongst apex predators. Male lions challenge one another’s masculinity via elaborate displays of theater or through actual physical violence. However, this demonstration in the animal kingdom occurs as a result of one male attempting to win or defend a harem of females from another able male. As Miranda is Prospero’s daughter and the only female on the island it is unlikely to assume this is his motive. One is led to conclude Prospero is indeed seeking his reprisal as a result of the overture of the play; however, we must ruminate that there are more primal motives which lie beneath.

The Renaissance was a period of time defined by the social classification of its citizens. The anatomy of this assignment was designed by the superior male, the king, and enforced by the social gendarme. This is a paradigm of male dominance in its most lucid and sophisticated form. In comparison, Prospero uses his masculine superiority to reign supreme over his vast sovereignty of inferior males using his exclusive wit and capacity for magic as enforcers.

A man preoccupied with his endowment does not make for interesting reading and so our attention is redirected to a plotline of revenge and intrigue. All the while one must bear in mind The Tempest is considered a work of Romance by literary definition (the literature network).

Prospero’s overzealous libido is most apparent when considering his prepotency over the sprite Ariel and the deviant creature Caliban. He seduces Ariel with the promise of freedom all the while exploiting the sprite’s magical powers. This perverted example of male-over-male dominance highlights Prospero’s desire to dominate over male inferiority. Prospero’s deviance and lack of empathy is evident in 1.2 in a conversation between him and Ariel. Ariel says, “Remember I have done thee worthy service, told thee no lies, and made thee no mistaking, served without or grudge or grumblings. Thou did promise to bate me a full year” Prospero replies with an implied menace, “Dost thou forget from what a torment I did free thee?” “Thou liest, malignant thing!”
This exchange exemplifies the devious and selfish intentions of Prospero and his willingness to use others to achieve supremacy.

The play culminates with Prospero making good on his promise, releasing Ariel from his stewardship. However, Ariel’s exodus from male suppression occurs in the final scene a handful of lines before the play’s epilogue. Ariel’s exploits once released from his male slaveship are not chronicled and are therefore left to the imagination of the reader.

One can consider Caliban as the embodiment of Prospero’s carnal fortitude wherein he can exact his omnipotent will via brute strength. Caliban is used by Prospero to complete his “dirty work”. The interesting and dark difference between the fate of Ariel and Caliban is the fact that Caliban’s fate is somewhat ambiguous. It is not clear whether he is released from his slavery or is doomed to perpetual stewardship.

In the closing acts of The Tempest, having achieved his objective, Prospero realizes that he can suppress his masculine inadequacies only when exacting preponderance over other males. The conflict amongst males in regard to the social order is prevalent and exists throughout The Tempest. We can perhaps gain a new perspective into the inter-gender warfare amongst the male species?


Works Cited

Aragamon S. “Gender, Genre and Writing Style in Formal Written Texts.” 2003:321-
346. Text.

Apfelbaum, Bernard. “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay people in
Western Europe from the beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century.”
Journal of Sex Research 17. May 1981: 184-187. Print.

Bray, Alan. Homosexuality in Renaissance England. New York: Columbia University Press,
2005. Print

Loomba, Ania. “Shakespeare Without Women: Representing gender and race on the
Renaissance stage.” Shakespeare Quarterly 53. Fall, 2002: 395. Print.

Saslow, James M. Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society. New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1986. Print.