Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

The Tempest Exposes The Issue Of Colonialism English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2436 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

Reference this

Postcolonial critics 'develop a perspective […] whereby states of marginality, plurality and perceived 'Otherness' are seen as sources of energy and potential change.' William Shakespeare's The Tempest exposes the issue of colonialism. 'Colonialism is the building and maintaining of colonies in one territory by people from another territory.' Postcolonial criticism 'is a specifically post-modern intellectual discourse that consists of reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism.' This essay will discuss a post-colonial approach to colonialism in The Tempest in relation to the view that the character Caliban represents American Indians or the 'Other'.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

Caliban is dehumanised in the play as he is constantly referred to as a 'monster' in different ways: ''servant-monster,' 'brave monster,' 'man-monster' or simply 'monster' unqualified.'' [2] The word 'servant' refers to the notion that Caliban is a slave for Prospero. A slave is seen to be dehumanised as they do not possess the same free will as other humans: 'And the point is to identify him with a kind of subhuman freak imagined in Europe even before the discovery of red men in America […]' [3] The view that Caliban does not possess free will emphasize his 'Otherness' in comparison to other powerful characters in the play such as Prospero.

Caliban's dehumanisation is further highlighted when he is called a 'savage man'. [4] The word 'savage' implies Caliban's low status. His dehumanisation is further shown through his extra sexual powers: '[…] in the nightmares of Mediterranean humanists, had been endowed with sexual powers vastly in excess of their own.' [5] His low status and extra sexual powers further stress his 'Otherness' in contrast to other characters with a high status and ordinary powers of a human such as Miranda.

In consequence to being treated as an 'Other', Caliban retaliates by attempting to rape Miranda. Prospero says:

I have used thee,

Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee

In mine own cell till thou didst seek to violate

The honor of my child.

Prospero asserts he treated Caliban with 'human care' by accepting him into his 'own cell' although he was inferior 'filth' to him. However he attempted to 'violate' Miranda's 'honor' by attempting to rape her. A daughter's honour to a father is precious so Caliban uses it as a tool of revenge:

He becomes thus the first nonwhite rapist in white man's literature, ancestor of innumerable Indian warriors and skulking niggers who have threatened ever since in print, as well as on stage and screen, the fragile honor of their oppressors' daughters.' [6] 

Caliban's 'marginality' is a 'source of energy' for revenge of the oppression of slaves which empowers Caliban. Although Caliban seeks revenge on Prospero, his dehumanisation continues as he is described as a 'devil, a born devil, on whose nature/Nurture never can stick.' The noun 'devil' implies he is an evil creature which must be punished by force as he will never learn to be good. 'And it is his unredeemable carnality which, as both Prospero and Miranda insist, condemns him to eternal slavery, since, incapable of being educated by virtue, he must be controlled by force.' [7] The audience is made aware how powerless the 'Other' is to their oppressors.

Racism is evident in the play as Miranda says to Caliban: 'But thy vile race, /Though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures/Could not abide to be with.' The adjective 'vile' suggests an evil, unpleasant race. She asserts that even though he could learn, it is because of his race that he can never be good. Caliban responds in a moving way:

And showed thee all the qualities o' th' isle….

Cursed be I that did so!...

The use of the ellipses and exclamation mark highlight Caliban's anger as the ellipses provide a break in the rhythm of the speech and then erupts the powerful statement 'Cursed be I that did so!' to stress his anger with himself of ever trusting his to-be oppressors. 'There is, moreover, a kind of music in Caliban's speech, one is tempted to say 'natural rhythm, […]' [8] The break in rhythm is an example of the break in tranquility in Caliban's character due to his oppressors treatment of him.

Caliban remembers the alternative world of freedom in which he dreams of and wishes not to be woken from:

Be not afeared. The isle is full of noises,

Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about my ears, and sometimes voices,

That, if I then had waked after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again. And then, in dreaming,

The clouds methought would open and show riches

Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked,

I cried to dream again

The use of senses illustrates Caliban's imagination to the audience as he describes what he hears: 'a thousand twangling instruments', what he feels: 'sweet airs' and what he sees: 'The clouds methought would open and show riches'. The word 'cried' in the last line of the passage is a powerful reactive human emotion in which he humanised once again. 'Once awakened from the long dream of primitive life, fallen out of the mother into the world of the father, there is no falling back into that ultra-uterine sleep, only the hope for another kind of happiness, a new freedom on the farther side of slavery.' [9] This dream of an alternative world is a human reaction to escape the harsh consequence of being 'marginal'.

The longing for freedom is also seen when Caliban sings while he is drunk:

No more dams I'll make for fish.

Nor fetch in firing

At requiring,

Nor scrape trencher, nor wash dish.

'Ban, 'Ban, Caliban

Has a new master-Get a new man.

Freedom, heyday! Heyday, freedom! Freedom,

heyday, freedom.

The repetition of 'nor', 'freedom' and 'heyday', the alliteration of 'fish', 'fetch' and 'firing' and rhymes at the end of each line are all poetic devices used in the song which is something new as the first non-white American poem: 'Particularly in its Whitmanian long last lines-howled, we are told by the two mocking European clowns who listen-he has created something new under the sun: the first American poem.' [10] Caliban's dream of change sparks 'potential change' in what is considered to be 'American'.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

Caliban's drunkenness adds humour to the play when Stephano and Trinculo come to rescue Caliban. They exit 'reeling ripe' and prophesying that they will remain 'pickled forever.' [11] At the end of the play, Caliban says: 'What a thrice-double ass/Was I, to take this drunkard for a god.' Before in the play, he said: 'That's a brave god, and bears celestial liquor,' His realisation of how he acted while drunk is humourous for the audience as he becomes 'the first drunken Indian in Western literature.' [12] The characters' 'Otherness' is a source of energy for the audience as they are funny.

As in the case of rape explained before in the essay, Caliban's marginality has caused violence. Caliban wishes to attack his oppressor 'with a log/ Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake, / Or cut his weasand with thy knife.' The violent verbs 'batter'. 'paunch' and 'cut' shock the audience with the harsh imagery used. At this point in the play, Caliban's calm nature is not seen but only a violent creature is shown. Again, the consequence of his marginality has propelled his energy for violence.

However, Caliban believes his strongest weapons are his books as it is referred to many times in his speeches: 'Having first seized his books…Remember/First to possess his books, for without them/He's but a sot…Burn but his books.' The importance of literature is prioritised in the repetition of the word 'first' and their sanctity is emphasised as he refuses to burn any books. He believes this weapon will create an ideal world which will annihilate 'all authority and all culture, a world eternally without slaves and clowns'. [13] Caliban emphasises the power of literature to potentially change the world.

The feeling of alienation due to being the 'Other' is revealed in the repetition of the adjective 'strange' throughout the play: 'strange drowsiness,' 'strange beast,' 'strange music,' 'strange Shapes,' 'strange stare,' 'strange story'- all climaxing in Alonso's description of Caliban: 'This is a strange thing as e'er I looked on.' Here, we can see that nearly every aspect of the play is 'strange' in some way. There is no sense of belonging felt by any of the characters.

In the most general sense, moreover, both the Old World of Apollonius and the New World of Caliban are worlds inhabited by terrifying and hostile strangers, or conversely, ones in which the castaway European feels himself a stranger in a strange land. [14] 

In this sense, all the characters in the play can be called as the 'Other' and no one belongs to the land the play is set in.

However, in another sense, Prospero is shown to have taken Caliban's island. Prospero states: 'Here in this island we arriv'd' while Caliban claims: 'This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother/ Which thou tak'st from me' The repetition of the noun 'island' emphasises the subject of the play as Prospero 'arrives' at the island 'taking' it from Caliban. Prospero's claim mirrors the 'crucial days of the relationship between the Europeans and the island's inhabitants'. (Palmer, p.204) Prospero is seen as the 'Other' in which his energy is a source of change to the island by attempting to rule it.

The idea of the 'Other' being perceived as a slave is further emphasised by Caliban's statement that he agreed to have Prospero as his 'King' but was deceived. 'Which first was mine own King', now protests that 'here you sty me/ In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me/ The rest o'th'island'. The contrast of the beginning and end of the story is shown in the contrast of these two statements. At first he saw Prospero as a King but is now against a 'hard rock'. Caliban 'recalls the initial mutual trust which was broken by Prospero's assumption of the political control made possible by the power of his magic.' (Palmer, p.205) Prospero's assumption that magic has enabled his control over Caliban is the source of energy to enslave Caliban.

This enslavement is further emphasised by the statement: 'We cannot miss him: he does make our fire, / Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices/ That profit us' The words 'fire' and 'word' symbolise one of the bare necessities of life which is warmth. This again mirrors the European and inhabitants' relationship. 'Through its very occlusion of Caliban's version of proper beginnings, Prospero's disavowel is itself performative of the discourse of colonialism, since this particular reticulation of denial of dispossession with retrospective justification for it, is the characteristic trope by which European colonial regimes articulated their authority over land to which they could have no conceivable legitimate claim.'(Palmer, p.206) Caliban's significance highlights the importance of the 'Other' as a source of energy.

The threat of the 'Other' to disturb potential change is shown in Prospero's abrupt stop that he 'had forgot the foul conspiracy Of the beast Caliban and his confederates Against my life: the minute of their plot Is almost come.' His fear is further shown in the conversation between Ferdinand and Miranda:

Ferdinand: 'This is strange; your father's in some passion That works him strongly.

Miranda: Never till this day Saw I him touch'd with anger, so distemper'd.

The noun 'beast' highlights Prospero's fright of Caliban and Caliban's effect on Prospero is described through phrases such as 'works him strongly' or with 'passion' or 'touch'd with anger' or 'distemper'd' to emphasise the size of his anger towards Caliban. 'So while, on the face of it, Prospero has no difficulty in dealing with the various threats to his domination, Caliban's revolt proves uniquely disturbing to the smooth unfolding of Prospero's plot.'(Palmer, p.207)

The postcolonial approach that states of marginality, plurality and perceived 'Otherness' are seen as sources of energy and potential change can enhance my understanding of The Tempest in different ways. The notion that the character Caliban is seen as the 'Other' channels his energy through violence to revenge his oppressor. Shakespeare warns the audience of potential consequences of oppression. However, this source of energy due to the 'Otherness' of Caliban's character can have a positive effect on the audience through humour. His weakness compared to his oppressors prompt the audience to sympathise with his calm character which encourages potential change in colonialism today.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: