Prospero's Relationship with Caliban and Colonialism in "The Tempest" Essay

Prospero's Relationship with Caliban and Colonialism in "The Tempest" Essay

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The relationship between Prospero and Caliban is a perfect demonstration of the dependence relationship between a coloniser and the native of whichever colony he set his eye upon. Colonialism was a subject easily related to by Shakespeare's contemporary audience; with James on the throne the British Empire was beginning to thrive and would soon become the largest in not only the 17th Century world, but one of the largest in history. At the time 'The Tempest' was first preformed, 1611, Britain had begun to lay claim to North America and the smaller Caribbean isles, a fact the King was no doubt proud of and, similarly to his addition of the supernatural (a subject that fascinated James), aiming to impress Shakespeare chose to make colonialism a central theme in 'The Tempest'.

Within his portrayal of Prospero, Shakespeare skilfully displays this character as the embodiment of all characteristics that defined the true colonisers; strength, power, and of course the intense control of all relationships and land he is invested in. Although these characteristics can be seen in all Prospero’s actions and interactions it is those with his subject, Caliban, which present them most clearly.

From the moment in Act I, Scene II when Prospero first references Caliban, “a freckled whelp hag-born – not honoured with a human shape,” it becomes clear the low opinion Prospero has of him, and this opinion would’ve been shared by the vast majority of Shakespeare’s contemporary audience. Shakespeare’s use of imagery at this point gives the suggestion that Prospero thinks of Caliban as little more than a pet dog, an image Caliban himself emphasises at a later stage in the scene when he says, “Thou strok’st me,”. Shakespeare uses animal imagery upon...


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... any actor portraying the character of Caliban has the opportunity to play this phrase with a sarcastic tone, suggesting he means quite the opposite, an attitude that would've been not only in keeping with Caliban's personality, but the typical native's, too. It is doubtful, however, that any actor would have had the braverism to be so bold about snubbing colonialism in front of no less than the King; the man responsible for the increase in British colonial activity, although it is quite probable that this insincerity was Shakespeare's intention.

In conclusion, the Tempest and specifically the relationship between Prospero and Caliban is a careful exploration of the theme of Colonialism on Shakespeare's behalf that can only now, in a post-colonial era, be truly be appreciated, as public consensus on the subject has caught up with Shakespeare's advanced thinking.

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