The Tempest Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

The Tempest book cover
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In The Tempest, who is savage, and who is civilized? How do you determine this?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The words "savage" and "civilized" are culturally loaded terms that have no purchase in contemporary academic discourse. They're seen as stark examples of an outmoded, colonialist mindset that once divided the world up into civilized races (i.e., white Europeans) and savages (i.e., everyone else). Successive generations of post-colonial scholars have seen in The Tempest a prime illustration of such an attitude, with Caliban as the savage and Prospero as the bearer of white European civilization.

Yet such an interpretation raises more questions than it answers. Although a post-colonial reading of The Tempest can be suggestive and insightful, it is by no means exhaustive. As one might expect from Shakespeare, the picture portrayed in the play is a good deal more complex.

For instance, the character of Miranda might, on the face of it, seem to be the epitome of white European civilization. Yet in actual fact, she's "savage" by virtue of her innocence of human society. By the same token,...

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