It is hard to know if Gonzalo was joking or not when he described his ideal commonwealth. I get a sense of his yearning for a better society than the one he lives in, but I am sceptical as to how much thought he has put into what he presents in Act 2 scene 1 of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Dear Gonzalo,

After looking more closely at your description of your utopian kingdom I am convinced that you must be joking! You speak of a kingdom without a king and then proceed to place yourself on the non-existent throne and call yourself ruler. You spout nonsensical lines such as “All things in common nature should produce without sweat or endeavour” (2.1.51). Indeed nature can provide, but someone must hunt, harvest or forage in order for a large group to survive. Where will these people shelter? Production without labour! Surely you jest sir!  I see a kingdom of homeless, naked and starving wretches! A society where everyone does nothing is doomed to deprivation and possible extinction. If your people will not farm, nor hunt and gather, famine is sure to follow fast.

I certainly share your loathing of the inequality of wealth and opportunity among the people, but transforming the kingdom into a disorganised rabble would only end in chaos and tragedy. Inevitably, people need someone to plan and organise in order for any group to function effectively. The larger the group becomes the more leaders are required. I believe that one word holds the key to a more egalitarian society; “leader”. A true leader serves the people, they do not dictate. You my dear Gonzalo are still employing the word “ruler” whilst speaking of a free society.

Your Shangri-la holds too many contradictions to be taken serious and I must believe you are mocking us with its suggestion. I will take you at your word when you pronounced that you were indeed joking and merely offering empty words. The dream of a better and more equitable society is a noble one, but one that will not be achieved by haphazard anarchy.

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