The Tempest Essay

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William Shakespeare’s The Tempest indubitably ranks amongst the celebrated English playwright and poet’s most magical, mystical works. And, yet, the play – which takes place on a fictional island initially populated only by the magician Prospero, his daughter Miranda, a covey of “tricksy” spirits, and a malformed, misshapen creature called Caliban – often seems as rooted in human experience as some of its playwright’s other, more “realistic” works. Prospero’s control over, enslavement of, and treatment towards the arguably nonhuman and inarguably “Other”-ized Caliban can, and does, after all, echo old English colonial notions. Indeed, one might even argue that The Tempest is both a frank discussion and implicit repudiation of Elizabethan and…show more content…
However, one also ought to consider how the events outlined above preceded the assault, that Prospero – who recounted the incident – is both biased and vague in his description of the assault, and that Miranda’s criticisms seem to hinge not on Caliban’s behavior, but his appearance or “vile race.” It should be noted that Shakespeare also explicitly and repeatedly states that Sycorax, Caliban’s mother, migrated to the island from Algiers; this makes Miranda’s assertion that Caliban’s “vile race” has “in’t which good natures” cannot “abide to be with” appear all the more bigoted. It is also Caliban’s race, Miranda asserts, that has him “Deservedly confined” within a “rock”: in fact, she avers, he deserves “more than a prison.” Miranda’s judgments are uncomfortably reminiscent of the justifications “real” colonizers gave for enslaving, or otherwise oppressing, the native populations of the lands they conquered: memoirs of English officers stationed in India indicate, for instance, that the “Indians were commonly regarded as blacks or negroes […] member(s) of an inferior race and natural slave(s)” whilst they were placed “at the summit of human achievement in terms of beauty, intelligence and civilization” (Sen 17,…show more content…
He calls Caliban a “devil,” and then clarifies, calling Caliban “a born devil,” where the adjective “born” implies that Caliban’s degeneracy is genetic, inherent. This implication is then repeated in his assertion that “Nurture can never stick” on Caliban’s “nature.” It is especially interesting how he likens his treatment of Caliban to nurture, referencing “pains, / Humanely taken” that are “all, all lost, quite lost,” because there is something paradoxical about his assertions. The noun “pains” denotes suffering and thus clashes with the adverb “Humanely”; Prospero’s attempts at “civilizing” Caliban do not, therefore, seem to have originated as gestures of goodwill, but as inconvenient, self-determined obligations. The emphasis on loss in the fragmented “all, all lost, quite lost” is likewise quite curious; how does one, who tried to help another creature without ulterior motive, lose in the first place? Prospero’s “pains” are also interesting in that are, or were, predicated on the notion of Prospero’s way of life – his beliefs, his customs, his language – being better, or more valid, than Caliban’s. In making, and promoting, this notion, Prospero – like Miranda – thus reveals the extent of his own conceit, narcissism, and self-importance. In declaring that he “will plague them (Caliban, Stefano, and Trinculo) all,” Prospero also reveals his own violent instincts
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