William Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, reveals several characteristics that define the humanist movement in English literature. It is during the humanist movement that a tendency to emphasize man- his status, importance, powers, achievements and authority-gave rise to man as a center of interest rather than God. This shift from God to man encouraged the study of science, knowledge, and the universe in conjunction with government, religion, individuality, and language. As Shakespeare wrote The Tempest in the backdrop of such intense social change he illuminated these humanistic ideas into his piece.
The Tempest is a celebration of human life. It celebrates man's spiritual and emotional depth, diversity, and ability to possess knowledge and purity. Yet Shakespeare also reveals the dark side of mankind as all characters are flawed. Prospero is in every way the most intricate character as he plays many roles in The Tempest. Prospero is a ruler, scientist, victim, sorcerer, father, master, politician, and slave throughout the play. His complexity is the core of humanism's appreciation for man. In the final Act of the play Miranda, Prospero's daughter explains spellbound, "O! Wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in't." Miranda speaks as an innocent girl who has not lived to see the true wickedness man is capable of. She sees mankind for its potential-human nature without fault. Shakespeare revealed earlier to readers the cruelty and foolishness of Alonso, Trinculo, and Stefano. They are far from being good yet, that no longer seems to matter. Shakespeare seems to celebrate what man has the potential to be- not what it sometimes is. This celebration is an element of humanism.
Knowledge, learning, and individual development are other aspects of humanism that mold The Tempest. Knowledge is symbolized through Prospero's use of magic, Prospero's role as master over Caliban, Ariel, and the other characters, and the idea of colonialzation and utopia.