Since the 1960s, several critics have found a critique of colonialism in their respective readings of Shakespeare's The Tempest. The most radical of these analyses takes Prospero to be a European invader of the magical but primitive land that he comes to rule, using his superior knowledge to enslave its original inhabitants, most notably Caliban, and forcing them to do his bidding. While the textual clues concerning the geographic location of Prospero's island are ambiguous and vague, there is a prominent references to the "Bermoothes." We know that shortly before he wrote his final play, Shakespeare read a contemporary travel account of the Virginia Company's 1609 expedition to the New World and its experience after being run aground on the island of Bermuda. Enslavement does surface in Prospero's realm. The grand magician/scholar inflicts "pinches" and "cramps" upon Caliban to keep him in line and he manacles the young prince Ferdinand's neck and feet together. The servile state in which he keeps Caliban is plainly and understandably a cause of the "ridiculous monster's" deep resentment toward his overlord, and it is with some justification that the spawn of Sycorax invokes nature's wrath upon his tormentor, as in his curse, "all the infections that the sun sucks up/From bogs, fens, flats on Prospero fall..." (II, ii., ll.1-2).
Caliban himself embodies many of the characteristics that civilized Europeans came to associate with the "primitive natives" of the New World. As in the Elizabethan stereotype, Caliban is without moral restraint, and, more specifically, he is lustful in the same way that Native Americans were viewed in the early seventeenth century as dang...
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...and forgiveness, qualities that distinguish humanity from the beasts and that serve as hallmarks of the worthy sovereign.
Works Cited and Consulted
Alan Durband. (Ed.) (1984). The Tempest. Hauppauge, New York: Barron's Educational Series Inc.
Deborah Willis, 'Shakespeare's Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism', Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 29, no.2, (1989)
Eric Cheyfitz, The Poetics of Imperialism: Translation and Colonization from The Tempest to Tarzan, (Oxford University Press, 1991)
Ritchie, D. and Broussar, A. (1997). American History: The Early Years to 1877. New York: Glencoe
Kanoff, Acott. (1998). Your Study Guide to William Shakespeare: The Tempest. Cleveland: The Cleveland Play House Education Department
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Frank Kermode, with an introduction by Frank Kermode, (Arden, 1964)
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