Reviewing Source Materials

Reviewing Source Materials



Writer Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was a contemporary of Shakespeare. Scholars are not certain, but his published essays were probably read by the playwright. Even if Shakespeare didn’t read Montaigne, both men probably knew of similar works in Latin that they used in their writing. Montaigne’s essay “Of Cannibals” is a probable source for some of Shakespeare’s ideas for The Tempest.

Read and annotate the excerpts from Montaigne’s essay “Of Cannibals.”

  • Note any vocabulary you are not familiar with.
  • At the end of each paragraph, briefly summarize what Montaigne is saying.
  • Look for evidence that Shakespeare read this essay and used some of the ideas.

You Have a Choice
You can read and think about the text independently, read and discuss the text in a small group, or request a conference with your teacher.

Of Cannibals

Work Time

When you have finished reading, share your annotations and summaries with your reading group.

Discuss these questions in your reading group.

  • What does Montaigne say about the native peoples in the Americas?
  • What is his criticism of how his contemporary European culture behaves toward “native” peoples in newly discovered lands?

Appoint a spokesperson to share your ideas with the whole class.

Then discuss with the whole class Montaigne’s response to information about American Indian peoples in his essay “Of Cannibals.”

Comparison of Two Texts


Reassemble in your reading group and examine the lines from Montaigne and from Gonzalo’s speech.

  • Discuss the similarities and differences between the two texts.

Scholars are not in agreement about whether Shakespeare read this work by Montaigne. Some scholars say that both men probably read the same source material. What do you think? Share with your reading group.

Who Is Civilized? Essay


Here are some of the broad questions to address in this unit.

  • Who is civilized?
  • Who decides what civilization is or how it’s defined?
  • How do we behave toward and acknowledge those whose culture is different from our own?

​Begin planning how you would apply these questions to the characters and situations in Shakespeare’s The Tempest . By the end of Lesson 10, you will write a brief essay in which you define “civilized” and use your definition to measure the actions and behaviors of the characters in the play. Read more about the “Who Is Civilized?” essay requirements. You can use the “Who Is Civilized?” Essay Planning Sheet to help you organize your essay.