Of all the minor characters in the play The Tempest, it is Gonzalo who is endowed with the greatest life and colour. Shakespeare shows evident care in individualizing this ‘honest old counselor’. In a court that is full of corruption and intrigue, Gonzalo is the only man who retains goodness and honesty of character, thus strengthening the bonds of life. His comments provide a commentary on the various incidents in this play The Tempest
His charity: The dominant feature of his character is his large-hearted charity. He is the preserver of Prospero’s life. When the enemies of Prospero sought to destroy him by casting him and his daughter Miranda adrift on a dangerous sea, this great man provided them with food and fresh water, “rich garments, linens, stuffs and necessaries and, above all, with volumes that Prospero prized above his dukedom. No wonder that Miranda’s heart goes out in gratitude to the courtier and she is filled with longing-“Would I might but ever see that man”.
The same charity is shown in his efforts to cheer up the king when he is almost driven to madness by the supposed loss of his son and to prevent him from what this ecstasy may now provoke him to when the king is forced to desperation by the vanishing banquet. The same charity of disposition and tolerance make him put up with the stingy satires of the men of sin, Antonio and Sebastian.
His cheerfulness in calamity: Being a man with a sound heart, Gonzalo shows a cheerfulness amid disaster. During the tempest when all the inmates of the ship are thrown into confusion, Gonzalo retains a calm and sanity. He cracks jokes with the surly boatswain. Even he finds comfort from the thought that the sea-dog has no drowning mark upon him. When the ship is split he still clings to the hope that he would fain die a dry death.
On his landing on Prospero’s island, the first words that cross his lips are ‘Beseech you, Sir, be merry’. When the king is sad at the loss of his son he takes infinite care to minister to him by indulging in a kind of merry fooling with Antonio and Sebastian. Thus throughout all misfortunes, his conduct is marked by courage and calm cheerfulness. The source of this cheerfulness, it may be noted, is the complete absence of any guilt in him.
His loyalty: He is a typical courtier, faithful and loyal to the king, and in peace with all his fellows. He loves the king with all the warmth of his heart. He ministers to the king when he is depressed by the supposed loss of his son. When Sebastian heaps abuses on the king in his distress, Gonzalo rebukes him for his cruelty. His loyalty to the king is supposed by the conspirators, Antonio and Sebastian, to be a source of danger to them and their conspiracy. That is why they would, first of all, get rid of “this ancient morsel this Sir Oracle”. Significantly, his first thought on being awakened by Ariel is for the king and not for himself.
Also read: Purpose of Epilogue in The Tempest