Ronald Takaki’s interpretation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, included in A Different Mirror, was originally published in a 1992 article subtitled “The Racialization of Savagery.”
Takaki emphasizes the importance of reading The Tempest within the historical context of its production and consumption in England. First performed in 1611, Shakespeare’s play presents themes that the English people and the subjects of the growing British Empire were grappling with at the turn of the 17th century. He notes, for example, that the play is almost contemporary with the British settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. While acknowledging that Shakespeare did some research on the peoples of the “brave new world” whom the British explorers had encountered, he stresses that the portrayal of the “Other” is also based on European interactions; in particular, he identifies England’s Other as Ireland.
A significant point in Takaki’s interpretation is the racialization of Otherness in Shakespeare’s work, which occurs primarily through the character of Caliban. He identifies the numerous places where the author emphasizes the differences between Caliban and all the other characters, including his questionable humanity. Takaki notes that the idea that “savages”—beings or “creatures” encountered in foreign lands—were not fully human was routinely used by Europeans as a justification for subjugating them. Takaki indicates that Caliban was associated not with enslaved Africans but with indigenous Americans.