William Shakespeare’s The Tempest is often seen as a study of colonialism. The play focuses on the experience of colonialism, specifically the attempts of Europeans to colonize and control the island of Prospero. The play examines the impact of colonialism on both the colonizers and the colonized. It also raises important questions about the nature of power and control. The Tempest has been interpreted in many different ways, but its focus on colonialism makes it an important work for understanding the history of Europe’s interactions with the rest of the world.
For nearly a century, and more particularly in the previous two decades, numerous interpreters have interpreted The Tempest in a distinct light. William Hazlitt was the first to note (in 1818) that Prospero had usurped Caliban from his command of the island, assuming he meant what he said when he called himself “king.” That approach to the play (with various modifications) has remained somewhat current since then, even if it is only lately becoming popular in North America.
The interpretation is grounded in the idea that The Tempest offers a critique of colonial rule, with Prospero as a representative of European expansionism and Caliban as one of its victims.
Historically, The Tempest was written at a time when England had just gained control over large parts of North America and was beginning to exert significant influence over other areas around the world. In this context, Shakespeare may have been offering an exploration of some of the complex issues associated with colonialism: power struggles between different groups in society, clashes between cultural values and beliefs, and the consequences for those who are directly impacted by such conflicts.
Whether or not The Tempest can be definitively classified as a “colonialist play” is still debated among scholars today, but there seems to be a growing consensus that it is an important work that can offer us valuable insights into the complexities of this historical moment.
The island and its other inhabitants are for Prospero’s purposes as alien, primitive, and wild as the natives of the New World must have appeared to Europeans during this period, and he is able to dominate them through his superior strength and intellect in much the same way that European colonists exercised their authority over native peoples elsewhere. The Tempest thus serves as a powerful allegory of colonialist themes: cultural difference, racial and economic inequality, power relations between peoples, etc.
While there is no doubt that The Tempest can be seen as an interesting exploration of colonialism and the complexities of social power dynamics in a colonial setting, critics have also argued that it can also be viewed from a variety of different perspectives.
Some have argued that Prospero is not necessarily a positive symbol of colonial power, but rather a more ambiguous figure who represents the potential for both good and bad that comes with any exercise of authority. Others have argued that The Tempest is not primarily about colonialism at all, but rather about much more universal themes such as human nature, society, and relationships.
In the end, The Tempest remains an open text which can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but its exploration of the effects of colonialism on both colonizer and colonized alike makes it an important work in the history of literature on this topic. Whether you view Prospero as a villain or a hero, The Tempest is an important work that sheds light on both the brutality and complexity of colonialism.
The most crucial character in this treatment of the play is Caliban, the island native who sees himself as the lawful owner of the location who is forced to serve Prospero and Miranda against his will and who constantly protests his unwillingness to do so. Prospero initially offers him European hospitality, teaches him language, and, in return, is shown all of the island’s natural riches by Caliban, an act of love.
But, after Prospero’s usurpation of power, all this changes. Caliban becomes a beast of burden to Prospero and Miranda, is forced to work in their service, and is denied the love and companionship he craves. The play presents a very dark picture of colonialism, in which the colonizer not only deprives the native of his land and freedom, but also reduces him to a state of servitude and degradation.
Prospero’s treatment of Caliban has been interpreted in different ways by different critics. Some see Prospero as a symbol of the European colonizer, who comes to the new world with superior knowledge and technology and uses his power to exploit the native population. Others see Prospero as a more benevolent figure, who provides aid and resources to Caliban but also expects something in return.
However you interpret Prospero’s treatment of Caliban, the play presents colonialism as a deeply problematic system that dehumanizes and exploits those under its rule. Whether or not you agree with this interpretation, The Tempest is an important work that explores the dynamics of colonial power relations in compelling and thought-provoking ways.
The text does not offer any additional explanation for why the play was banned in 1656, with just lines from Ariel about a burning of books at Oxford University. In his essay on John Milton’s The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649), Milton himself explained that it is “not [to] be suffered” in England because its main characters are witches, which might throw off people who believe those sorts of things still exist today.
The subplot involving Ferdinand and Miranda might well be seen as an allegory of the ways in which Europeans used native women to further their own purposes while denying them any agency of their own. The very word “tempest” in the title can be read as a metaphor for the disruptions caused by colonialism.
Prospero’s treatment of Caliban might also be seen as an indictment of exploitative economic practices. When Prospero first arrived on the island, he took advantage of Caliban’s labor without giving him anything in return. It was only after Caliban attempted to rape Miranda that Prospero began to see him as a potential threat, and began to treat him more harshly. This can be seen as a metaphor for the way in which Europeans often exploited native labor without regard for the well-being of the workers.
The Tempest can also be read as a critique of the way in which Europeans imposed their own systems of government and law on native cultures. The play suggests that such imposition is inherently unjust, as it deprives people of their autonomy and their ability to govern themselves according to their own customs.
Ultimately, The Tempest is a complex work that can be read in many different ways. But one thing is clear: it is a deeply ambivalent work about European colonialism and its effects on both the colonizers and the colonized.
The gift of language is not a blessing, but rather an infringement, a conventional tool of imperial subjugation used on rebellious people. [In 1974 (in the National Theatre in London), the actor playing Caliban had both halves of his face made up in different ways: one side was that of a noble-looking Native American; the other side was that of a hideous ape-like man. The audience’s perception of the character changed significantly depending on which way the actor turned.
The purpose of this production was to highlight the violent nature of colonial rule and its complex implications in The Tempest. One way that The Tempest can be understood as a study of colonialism is through the character of Caliban, a native inhabitant of the island where the play takes place.
Caliban is portrayed by Shakespeare as being brutish and uncivilized, reflecting many common stereotypes about indigenous peoples at the time. However, others have argued that Caliban’s treatment by Prospero is unjust and oppressive, reflecting the harsh reality faced by colonized peoples under European rule.
At its core, The Tempest can be seen as an exploration of power dynamics between different cultures and societies. It raises important questions about colonialism and explores both its positive and negative effects. The play ultimately leaves it up to the audience to decide which side they sympathize with more.