What do we learn about colonialism in William Shakespeare's play The Tempest?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Shakespeare wrote The Tempest between 1610 and 1611, 30 to 31 years after Michel de Montaigne published an essay titled "On Cannibals" in 1580. During this same time period, the New World was being colonized, and Montaigne's essay sets out to describe the natives as "cannibals," synonymous with savages, and to argue that modernizing and taming such cannibals/savages is in alignment with "Nature," meaning a good and natural thing to happen ("On Cannibals"). It has been argued by scholars like Michael O'Toole, in his essay "Shakespeare's Natives: Ariel and Caliban in The Tempest," that Shakespeare referred to colonization in his characters in order refute claims made by Montaigne in his essay.

According to O'Toole, we can especially see Shakespeare referring to colonization in his characters Ariel and Caliban. Both characters are natives of the island and have been enslaved by Prospero just as natives of the New World were enslaved in colonial times. What's more, both are extremely different characters....

(The entire section contains 490 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team