What is slavery? Is it an institution? A mental state? A physical state? Is it human nature? Or is, “…slavery is…an inherent, natural and eternal inheritance of a large portion of the human race” (Ruskin 307). Whether or not any one of these options is true, the fact remains that each says something about humanity. Therefore, when a play like The Tempest comes along, centering on the themes of freedom and servitude, one must look for the commentary that is thereby produced, keeping in mind that Shakespeare rarely lacked commentary. Of course, in Shakespeare’s way, there are several characters introduced within this theme. Hence, I pose the question: Who is the slave? Granted, all may embody different aspects of slavery, making “each character” the answer; but individually, each character still gives its own consideration to the topic. Following are the different possibilities of characters posing as the slave, leading to a discussion of freedom and servitude that is implied as a result. I will be relating the climate of slavery depicted in the play with other cultures, purely to give a frame of reference based on the general knowledge we have, given society’s history of slavery.
(since the character is gender non-specific, I will refer to him/her as “it” or “the spirit”)
One of the spirits that Prospero has control over, Ariel, would be an assumed representative of servitude. The spirit’s role throughout the play is centered on the obeying of the orders that Prospero puts forth to be carried out. Ariel does have an apparent loyalty and respect for Prospero, though, which makes it easy for him to manipulate the spirit. He was, of course, the...
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Gervinus, G.G. "The Tempest." The Shakespeare Criticism Volume 8. Gale Research Inc., Detroit. 1989: 304-307.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Introduction to the Tempest. The Norton Shakespeare. New York: W.W. Norton and Co. 1997: 3047-3053
James, D.G. (Excerpt from a series of lectures delivered in 1965 at University College, London.) The Shakespeare Criticism Volume 8. Gale Research Inc., Detroit. 1989: 429-434.
Knight, G. Wilson. "The Crown of Life." The Shakespeare Criticism Volume 8. Gale Research Inc. Detroit. 1989: 364.
Ruskin, John. The Shakespeare Criticism Volume 8. Gale Research Inc., Detroit. 1989: 307.
Shakespeare, William. "The Tempest." The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1997: 3055-3106.
Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror. Little Brown and Company, Boston. 1993: 191.
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