The Tempest

by: William Shakespeare

Gonzalo

Beseech you, sir, be merry. You have cause,
So have we all, of joy, for our escape
Is much beyond our loss. (II.i.)

As Act II opens, Gonzalo offers these words of consolation to Alonso and his company. He attempts to convince the king that despite his son’s apparent death, it is worth celebrating the survival of the others. Although these lines provide only cold comfort and ultimately ring hollow for Alonso, they demonstrate Gonzalo’s persistent optimism. Indeed, his is one of the few truly positive voices in the entire play.

I’ th’ commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things, for no kind of traffic
Would I admit. No name of magistrate.
Letters should not be known. Riches, poverty,
And use of service—none. Contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard—none.
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil.
No occupation: all men idle, all. (II.i.)

In this speech, Gonzalo shares his vision for what he would do if he ruled the island. He claims that he would abolish labor and create a society based on leisure. Gonzalo’s utopian vision echoes that of the philosopher Montaigne, who championed primitive communities over civilized society. Even though The Tempest ends with the promise of a “brave new world,” and hence seems to justify the kind of utopia Gonzalo imagines here, the play also suggests that “primitives” like Caliban are nothing like the noble savages in Montaigne’s writing. Once again, Gonzalo’s optimism may turn out to ring hollow.

I have inly wept,
Or should have spoke ere this. Look down, you gods,
And on this couple drop a blessèd crown,
For it is you that have chalked forth the way
Which brought us hither. (V.i.)

Gonzalo utters these heartfelt lines near the play’s end, after Alonso and Ferdinand have been reunited and following Prospero’s declaration that the “heaviness” of the past “is gone.” Gonzalo expresses his feeling that the happy resolution—and especially Miranda and Ferdinand’s betrothal—has been orchestrated by the gods. This ending represents a reversal of tragic love stories like Shakespeare’s earlier play Romeo and Juliet, which featured “star-crossed lovers” whose union was “thwarted by a malign star.” Even at the end, Gonzalo remains a beacon of hope and positivity.