European Colonization in Shakespeare's The Tempest Essay

1279 Words 6 Pages
No Critique of European Colonization in The Tempest

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
…show more content…
Just as Native American tribes would come to distinguish between colonizers from different nations, e.g., favoring the French over the British or vice versa, Caliban becomes disenchanted with Trinculo as a master and proclaims that he will only serve Stephano. For his part, like some great father protecting his children from a European rival, Stephano rebukes Trinculo for his mistreatment of Caliban, saying that "the poor monster's my subject, and he shall not suffer indignity" (III, ii., ll.36-37). All of this closely resembles some aspects of European colonialist stereotypes of the New World's peoples and of their historical subjugation of Indians for their own good.

If Shakespeare's play does comment upon European exploration and colonization in the Western Hemisphere, however, The Tempest does not contain a critique of exploitation, but, instead, an apology for it. Caliban was initially treated as an ignorant child and only put under wraps after he attempted to force himself upon the completely innocent Miranda. The charge of "rape" is made more credible in having Miranda pass judgment upon Caliban whom she calls an "Abhorr'd slave" (I, ii., l.352). Unlike our current understanding of European colonialism, Prospero puts Caliban in chains because he has earned the status of
Open Document