The Tempest: Who is savage and who is civilised?

Lesson rationale

These activities encourage students to explore the ‘brave new world’ of The Tempest in light of thought-provoking texts on early modern colonisation. By looking at powerful images of Native Americans and Europeans which circulated in Shakespeare’s day, they will reflect on questions about who is savage and who is civilised in The Tempest. By comparing the play with its sources – Montaigne’s essay on cannibals and Strachey’s account of a shipwreck in Bermuda – students will debate alternative views of Prospero and Caliban, and their different claims to the island.

Key questions in this lesson:

  • How do the play and its sources raise questions about who is savage or civilised?
  • What are the tensions and contradictions in early modern views of the New World?
  • How does The Tempest reflect or challenge these views?