European Colonialism and Imperialism in Shakespeare's The Tempest

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European Colonialism and Imperialism in Shakespeare's The Tempest

William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest reveals how ideologies of racial ‘otherness’ served to legitimize European patriarchal hegemony in Elizabethan England. In the Elizabethan/ Jacobean times of England there were many relevant ideologies relevant to this play. In examining the values and ideologies this text endorses and challenges, the society of the time (Elizabethan England), and a knowledge of how it operated serves a great purpose in analyzing these relationships. As in many texts of this time, Shakespeare is endorsing many ideologies of his time, and, although many have labelled him ahead of his time in many respects in his writing, he is, essentially writing
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Sycorax and Miranda may appear odd choices, given that Sycorax is not physically present in the play, while Miranda’s role is quite minor. This is precisely why they have been chosen for discussion of racial representations in the text. For these two characters, through their absence and silence reveal the text endorses the white imperial rule.

Despite her physical absence from the play, Sycorax is a very real presence in a theoretical sense. She performs a vital ideological function in the play. She is the wicked ‘other’ through which Prospero’s dominance on the island is legitimized. Sycorax functions as Prospero’s evil, female non-European other. Shakespeare draws a number of parallels between the two characters, which ultimately privileges the role of Prospero, through the evilness of Sycorax. Prospero invokes her when the island’s aboriginal population goad him for their freedom.

Prospero’s response to Ariel’s request for freedom is to systematically list all of Sycorax’s evil qualities. “She’s from Agier” where she was expelled from for “sorceries terrible”. She would have been executed, except for the pregnancy, and instead was sent to an island where she “littered” her son Caliban. Sycorax imprisoned the spirit Ariel when she would not meet her “earthly and abhorred demands”.

The construction of Sycorax as an evil witch is therefore used to give Prospero’s annexation of the island moral authority. He reminds Ariel “once in a