The Tempest Research Paper

1799 Words8 Pages
Tempest of Colonialism The Tempest, believed to be written in 1610-1611, is a play by William Shakespeare. The knowledge of when the play was written in conjunction with the actual contents of the play allow for unique insight into both the society of England during the early 1600's and into the mind of one of the greatest playwrights of all time. The Tempest most strikingly reveals Shakespeare's strictly English perspective on what defines power and who has the right to rule. Specifically, it is a prime example of the power dynamics of colonial thinking present in England during the early 1600's and Shakespeare's adherence to this dynamic. In accordance to this dynamic, The Tempest shows that Shakespeare defines power as dominance through…show more content…
As Shakespeare also heralds civility as dictating the right and duty to rule, he presents the right to power as an equally inherent trait. This idea meshes with the 1600’s constructed hegemony of civility with which to lord over the savage. Since this hegemony is dependent on the existence of inherently uncivil peoples, Shakespeare goes so far as to portray language in The Tempest as a precursor of civility. Miranda lords this fact over Caliban when she states that she “pitied thee, / Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour / One thing or other: when thou didst not, savage, / Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like / A thing most brutish, I endow'd thy purposes / With words that made them known.” (1.2.357-361) This passage clearly dictates the idea of Miranda’s/Prospero’s language (English) as a necessary standard of civility. Miranda describes Caliban’s native tongue as “A thing most brutish” (1.2.360) and describes her teaching Caliban her own language as an act of pity. The spreading of English, a civil language, further reflects Miranda and Propsero as a colonizers. However, Shakespeare makes it clear that simply learning a language of civility cannot overturn a savage’s corrupt nature as he then has Miranda scolding Caliban as by “thy vile race, / Though thou didst learn, had that in't which / good natures / Could not abide to be with.” (1.2.361-363) Brown also reflects on the…show more content…
Dominance through civility is strange idea but it’s important to understand such that we can gain a better understanding of Shakespeare’s works and the surrounding culture of 17th century England. The significance goes beyond that however as this idea has been regurgitated in various forms throughout time as the justification for all manner of pivotal historical events. The Tempest shows us that in England existed a hegemony of civility which existed as a direct contrast to “savages” and “masterless men.” This hegemony justified colonization of others lands by building a worldview around the idea that their civility is of an inherent nature and that it is their duty and right to rule over those who lack that quality. While for many this idea of an inherent superiority over the uncivil beasts (as Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban were portrayed) was sufficient justification for their rule, there also existed the idea that if this tribal culture was not contained/dominated, it could contaminate the righteous civility. Caliban’s accused rape of Miranda best reflects this idea as Miranda is an allegory for the stereotypical virgin court lady. Caliban telling Propsero that if he had succeeded he would have populated the island with Calibans plays on the fear in two ways. Firstly, Caliban would have taken Mirandas virginity as was against the rules of civility to

More about The Tempest Research Paper

Open Document