Postcolonial Criticism Of The Tempest

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When Prospero - the hero in William Shakespeare’s last play The Tempest, buries his magical books near the cliff of the island, he sings out the first song of the “Anthropocene” at the edge of the great globe. As the Duke of Milan, he and his daughter are exiled to an isolated island for 12 years, during which process he uses his magic to enslave the native people on the island, Caliban. Steve Mentz, in his essay “Enter Anthropocene, c.1610”, interprets The Tempest though as a critical len of the 1610 Anthropocene and postcolonial criticism. Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin define Anthropocene as a geological epoch when human activity begin to take the dominant role in changing the earth in a global scale, with a global stratotype section…show more content…
As a duke who has been displaced by his young brother for years and has no male heirs, Prospero’s dukedom is indeed ambiguous (Butler xxxviii). The historical factors about Prospero’s family and his situation cannot be resolved by magic, which can take him to reconsider the advantage of magic. His awareness on the limitation of his technology - the magic, has shown in the description such as “this rough magic” and “this airy charm” (5.1.50-57). “Rough” indicates the dark side of magic, since his magic is mainly for taking on revenge and enslaving others, while “airy” shows its powerlessness and despair (5.1.50-57). This gloomy and even a little tragic scene provides a negative perspective on the of human’s initiative in terms of technology, where Mentz holds a similar opinion. As he argues, “‘ecological globalization,’ takes the soup out of human hands...We’re in it, not cooking it” (Mentz 5). He uses a refined metaphor that describes the Anthropocene as a soup and humans as elements inside the Anthropocene but cannot fully control it. Humans are encouraged to hold a modest and practical worldview on the technology rather than exaggerate human initiative too much.
Besides the death of over-enthusiastic attitude on the technology, the age of death also contains another layer of meaning - face up to the idea of death in order to rethink about the human’s limited initiative.
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The solemn temples are just fake visions which do not really exist. All the elements of the happy moments are composed of things that are not genuine, shapeless, and easily disappear, indicating Prospero’s tragic viewpoint that human happiness is short and illusory. Trevor Nunn gives high praise of this passage in his documentary on The Tempest. “I think that’s what it is, of the honored role of life and death”, as he says in a peaceful tone, “and that we are all apart of that on the draw.” Prospero, or Shakespeare himself, reached to a point to understand life and death both have significant values. “The 1610 Anthropocene means death, not heat, is humanity’s primary historical driver” (Mentz 4). Besides virus and illness which can lead to human into the “age of death” as Mentz proposes (5), human’s clear awareness on death and their real position to the universe is a vital contributor as well. Regardless however powerful his magic is, Prospero describes his life experience as “our little life”, indicating life is just a short glimpse and his modest worldview. Living in the postcolonial stage, Prospero is quite aware of his position in relation to the world - tiny and powerless. Death acts as a mirror for people in the Anthropocene to see themselves in the endless universe, to make them understand the limited lifespan and cherish every second when they use their initiative to make the world in the
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