I was reading a translated copy in modern English of The Tempest. And one of the sentence of the original text which was

All things in common nature should produce without sweat or endeavour.

Was translated into:

Nature would produce everything people needed, and all of it would be shared equally by all.

According to me, the original sentence just means that the nature should produce everything by itself without any human attempt. But there is no implication that it will be distributed equally. So, is the translation incorrect? English is my third language so I tend to take analytical approach while construing sentence-meaning. But I'm having unprecedented trouble in doing so with "The Tempest". Is there any tip?

  • ell.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask There is no such thing as a translated copy of The Tempest, which is written in English. There may be explanations in modern English of 16th century English. I suggest you read annotated versions of Shakespeare and please don't ask any more questions like these. Thanks. – Lambie Nov 7 '19 at 22:08
  • You're missing the phrase in common. That qualifies all things, not nature. – Colin Fine Nov 8 '19 at 0:02

First, it is poetic language, which may, and frequently does, have multiple meanings and, even more frequently, is allusive. But here the context makes clear that there is a single Utopian meaning albeit slightly allusive. What is not meant is all those things which custom in 16th century England held to be no one's individual property, such as grazing rights on the village common. Rather what is meant is an ideal state in which everyone has enough of what anyone wants or desires without labor. "All things" without property rights: no "bourn," no "bound of land." No labor: "all men idle," "no tilth." When there is superfluity without effort, what need is there of property!

It does not explicitly say that all is to be shared equally. Instead it explicitly says that there is to be "abundance" without "occupation." The "translation" is importing ideas of equality of result into a 16th century context that had no idea of equality in that sense. The idea being expressed is one of universal satisfaction. And the idea of a "common" good at that time was that each had identical rights to use the good, not that the exercises of that right were identical.

This is the problem with trying to "translate" across such great expanses of time: the play was written almost two hundred years before the Declaration of the Rights of Man. It must be read in its own temporal context.

  • There is a so called problem of commons in the science of economics. It is an abstract presentation of the issue that was well-known in the age of W. Shakespear. So there was no effective way of utilizing the land of commons appeal in the text of such genius as the Bard. He was not a leftist socialist at all. – kngram Dec 15 '20 at 10:10
  • The primary problem of the commons in England during the early 17th century was that enclosures of common land deprived the poor of their property rights without adequate compensation. It may be true that common property was being materially depleted in value at that time, but an economic theory that says what would happen under specific assumptions does not translate into historical fact unless those .assumptions were true. – Jeff Morrow Dec 15 '20 at 15:03
  • I am going to reply in simple words. Sheep ate away all the grassland round if it was utilized by the commons without limiting it by the private property. That was a huge problem, social and economical, of that time. – kngram Dec 15 '20 at 17:15
  • This is simply an ideological fantasy. Do you have any historical citations? – Jeff Morrow Dec 15 '20 at 17:32
  • I've just caught it, adequate compensation. Hmm, how were you going to budget and transfer it without fiat money and XX-th century financial & tax theory and practice? It is hugely interesting to know. – kngram Dec 15 '20 at 17:42

What Gonzalo was saying here is, Everything would be produced without any hard work/labor, nature would avail enough harvest to share fairly among all his innocent people.(As there will be not crime or weapons)

All things in common nature should produce without sweat or endeavor. Treason, felony, sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine, Would I not have. But nature should bring forth of its own kind all foison, all abundance, To feed my innocent people.

It is when you look at the whole passage where you get the meaning of it.

I hope this helps.


The Tempest was written in the times of the commencement of mass emigration from Britain to America. The play (poem) itself was a bit full of the adverisments for encouraging the searching by the British people some vast arable land in America instead of Britain where the industrial development had come into conflict with the majority's way of doing for a living that this country had before. Also, the poem had been influenced by some ideas of the primitive socialism of the Italian origins.

That is why, if we take into consideration some grammatical and economical peculiarities of the Shakesperean age, and that the Bard spoke about the arable land that had not been occupied yet, i. e. was in so called the possession of commons according to the British common law , we ought to understand this excerpt as follows:

Nature can produce all ordinary things in abundance even without humans' interference.

The phrase all things in common is syntactically a direct object modified by the prepositional phrase with an adjectival meaning, which is in the front postition for emphasis.

  • The Tempest, written about 1611, was absolutely not written at a time of mass emigration from Britain to North America. Life was so brutally hard for English settlers that several early settlements failed. What is considered the first effective settlement of Jamestown, traditionally dated to 1607, was abandoned in 1610 before being resettled. The second such settlement did not occur until 1620 with 120 religious refugees. – Jeff Morrow Dec 15 '20 at 15:19
  • In Shakespeare's day, much of the world was still being colonized by European merchants and settlers, and stories were coming back from the Americas, with myths about the Cannibals of the Caribbean, faraway Edens, and distant tropical Utopias. It is a piece of writing from the article in Wikipedia. – kngram Dec 15 '20 at 16:59
  • It may be that the literature was full of fantastical stories of utopias, but it did not cause mass emigration from England in the 17th century. – Jeff Morrow Dec 15 '20 at 17:34
  • Sorry. But, W. Shakespeare and the fraternity of Bards was a prototypical think-tank that was connected to the Court of that time. That was why a high quality of the art of theirs and cultural influence through centuries. They had profound international connections. Some of these tops of the British society of that time are well-know, some are not identifiable because of the time span. There is a lot of evidence of such facts in the literature across the ages. – kngram Dec 16 '20 at 13:29

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