The Tempest Two Interpretations One group of scholars is convinced that the play must be read in a colonial and political context. Another group dismisses this political reading and asserts that the play is about establishing and maintaining Renaissance ideas of power.
The Postcolonial Approach There is no doubt that Shakespeare was challenged by the events unfolding in the new world. The play is about the conflict between the prince and the savage. The savage, Caliban, challenges the princes right to sovereignty. The island is his birthright and was unjustly taken from him. Takakis interpretation of The Tempest. (142) Look at the text:
Act 1.2.334-35 this islands mine by Sycorax my mother / Which thou takst from me. Act 3.2.42 Caliban claims that Propero has Cheated me of the island by sorcery. That Shakespeare gave such speeches to Caliban indicates that he finds some legitimacy in Calibans defiance of Prospero. Struggles of Rival Interests Are virtually everywhere in the play:
Prospero and Antonio Opening scene between aristocrats and sailors Prospero and Ariel Caliban and Prospero
Antonio and Sebastian and Alonso and Gonzalo Trinculo and Stephano working with Caliban to overthrow Prospero. This shows us just how much Shakespeare is concerned with the questions of power and legitimate rule that are key to depictions of colonialism. But how does the ending fit? Prospero is successful in restoring order and harmony. Caliban seems to accept the justice of Properos
punishment of him. But, why do readers have to accept it? Whose story are we to identify with? Who gets the last word? It looks like Prospero, but Caliban is, after all, left alone on the island. All the Europeans leave. The island is, in effect, returned to him. The Other Side The play is a comment on the idea of the Great Chain of Being, which held that the
worlds creatures existed in a divinely ordered hierarchy from plants to animals to humans to God at the top. Caliban is on a lower rung than Prospero, therefore, Prosperos domination of him is right and proper. Nature/Art and Culture Caliban is a creature of nature Prospero a creature of art and culture. The play demonstrates the superiority of art
and culture to nature. Caliban Calibans attempted rape of Miranda characterizes him as base. Calibans excesses his cursing, drinking, participation in the plot to overthrow Prospero indicate that his punishment at the end is just. Caliban admits, at the end of the play, that he was wrong. Ill be wise hereafter / and seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass / was I (5.1.295-97).
Prospero A civilized man who works to establish and maintain order on the island. An artist he uses his imagination and his magic to orchestrate the play and bring it to a successful resolution. He exhibits the power of reason and the power of imagination. He is the model of a good ruler. He pursues reconciliation rather than revenge. The play is about the redeeming power of art to restore
harmony. Literature or Politics Is The Tempest a historical document or a work of art? If we reduce literature to politics, have we narrowed and limited its universal appeal? Did Shakespeare believe that the function of literature was to escape the historical moment and tell timeless truths? Why all those history plays? Why should we limit the relevance of literature by denying its uses for our own contemporary political
debates? Where do we stand? On the one hand, we can agree that, if in Shakespeares time, it was considered natural for the savage to be the slave of the civilized, then that might be Shakespeares message. On the other hand, can we stop there? Shouldnt we argue that insofar as the play endorses such a view we are obligated to resist it? Dont we have a responsibility to read against the grain?
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