Does Shakespeare Critique European Colonialism in The Tempest?

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Since the 1960s, several critics have found a critique of colonialism in their respective readings of Shakespeare's The Tempest. The most radical of these analyses takes Prospero to be a European invader of the magical but primitive land that he comes to rule, using his superior knowledge to enslave its original inhabitants, most notably Caliban, and forcing them to do his bidding. While the textual clues concerning the geographic location of Prospero's island are ambiguous and vague, there is a prominent reference to the "Bermoothes." We know that shortly before he wrote his final play, Shakespeare read a contemporary travel account of the Virginia Company's 1609 expedition to the New World and its experience after being run aground on the island of Bermuda. Enslavement does surface in Prospero's realm. The grand magician/scholar inflicts "pinches" and "cramps" upon Caliban to keep him in line and he manacles the young prince Ferdinand's neck and feet together. The servile state in which he keeps Caliban is plainly and understandably a cause of the "ridiculous monster's" deep resentment toward his overlord, and it is with some justification that the spawn of Sycorax invokes nature's wrath upon his tormentor, as in his curse, "all the infections that the sun sucks up/From bogs, fens, flats on Prospero fall ..." (II, ii., ll.1-2).

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Caliban himself embodies many of the characteristics that civilized Europeans came to associate with the "primitive natives" of the New World. As in the Elizabethan stereotype, Caliban is without moral restraint, and, more specifically, he is lustful in the same way that Native Americans were viewed in the early seventeenth century as dangerous despoilers of innocent white women like Miranda. And, akin to the "drunken Indian," Caliban's introduction to wine causes his spirits to soar as he exclaims, "Freedom, high-day" (II, ii., l.186) after encountering his new masters and gods, the comic characters of Stephano and Trinculo. Just as Native-American tribes would come to distinguish between colonizers from different nations, e.g., favoring the French over the British or vice versa, Caliban becomes disenchanted with Trinculo as a master and proclaims that he will only serve Stephano. For his part, like some great father protecting his children from a European rival, Stephano rebukes Trinculo for his mistreatment of Caliban, saying that "the poor monster's my subject, and he shall not suffer indignity" (III, ii., ll.36-37). All of this closely resembles some aspects of European colonialist stereotypes of the New World's peoples and of their historical subjugation of Indians for their own good.

If Shakespeare's play does comment upon European exploration and colonization in the Western Hemisphere, however, The Tempest does not contain a critique of exploitation, but, instead, an apology for it. Caliban was initially treated as an ignorant child and only put under wraps after he attempted to force himself upon the completely innocent Miranda. The charge of "rape" is made more credible in having Miranda pass judgment upon Caliban whom she calls an "Abhorr'd slave" (I, ii., l.352). Unlike our current understanding of European colonialism, Prospero puts Caliban in chains because he has earned the status of slave. To highlight this point, the sprite Ariel's bondage to Prospero is a light yoke, akin to indentured servitude. In exchange for releasing him from his imprisonment in a tree stump, Ariel has agreed to serve his new, benevolent master Prospero. Indeed, in Act I, scene ii, Prospero and Ariel acknowledge that the latter's servitude is a deal between equals, and that Prospero has kept his word to reduce Ariel's term by a full year because the sprite has performed his assigned duties "without grudge or grumblings" (l.248). Prospero later promises Ariel that he will discharge him within two days time and does, in fact, make good on his word.

Shakespeare's attitude toward European colonization of the New World amounts to a gentle rebuke of the benign, but misguided stance of Gonzalo toward the state of nature in a primitive commonwealth. Gonzalo's "ideal commonwealth" speech (Act II, scene i., ll.143-164), closely resembles the depiction of primitive society contained in the French philosopher Montaigne's essay "On Cannibals" with which Shakespeare was certainly familiar. In that piece, Montaigne described Native-American society as being without "traffic" (i.e., commerce), without "letters" (i.e., literacy and knowledge) and without "toil" (i.e., vocational work). But when Gonzalo speaks in glowing terms of a society "without sovereignty" and, even more remarkable "without sweat or endeavor," Prospero's brother Antonio asserts that under such conditions, the citizens would soon become idle "whores and knaves" (l.167). In Caliban's case at least, Antonio appears to have a point. Although Ariel provides a sterling example of a good native, we realize that such good natives are subject to enslavement and abuse by the Island's evil-minded denizens, including Sycorax and her heir-apparent in Caliban, and therefore require the protection of a learned and moral sovereign like Prospero.

One can question whether Shakespeare had any intention of weighing in on the subject of European colonization at all. The shipwreck at the start of the play is plainly not intended as a dramatization of an actual occurrence such as that of the Virginia Company. The stranding of the ships European passengers is simply a standard narrative device that the Bard employed in other of his plays, in Twelfth Night for example. Moreover, unlike the Spanish, French, and English in the Age of Discovery, it is not Prospero's intention to establish a new society on the Island or to retain his sway over its inhabitants. Rather, Prospero is pushed by circumstances into the role of the Island's sovereign power, and once his aim of exacting justice and repentance from those who have wronged him is met, he quickly relinquishes his monarchy over the Island. This, of course, does not accord with the actual, historical pattern of European conquest.

On the other hand, there is a political theme of sorts in The Tempest, that of the ideal king, for in the character of Prospero Shakespeare embeds the three characteristics of an ideal monarch: legitimacy, merit, and merciful justice. Prospero was (and remains) the legitimate Duke of Milan and Shakespeare underscores in Act II when the usurper of his realm, Antonio, schemes to overthrow King Alonso. In the end, however, both Antonio and Alonso are compelled by Prospero to recognize his status as the rightful ruler of Milan. Indeed, Prospero's legitimacy is bolstered by popular support: when Miranda asks why the conspirators did not simply kill her father and herself (rather than setting them adrift), Prospero tells her that they were deterred from such a heinous crime due to the love that the people of Milan had for him. The central criteria that Prospero uses in framing his policies on the Island is merit. Ariel earns his freedom; Caliban deserves his enslavement; Ferdinand wins the hand of Miranda through hard labor and self-sacrifice. Of greatest significance, once Prospero has extracted a confession from his transgressors, he imposes no punishment upon them. Prospero subordinates his personal desire for revenge to his appreciation of mercy and forgiveness, qualities that distinguish humanity from the beasts and that serve as hallmarks of the worthy sovereign.

Prospero and Shakespeare

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There can be no doubt that The Tempest contains numerous references to the theater, and while many of Shakespeare's plays make reference to the dramatic arts and their analogy to real life (e.g., "all the world's a stage"), it is in this, his last play, that the Bard most explicitly acknowledges that the audience is viewing a show. Thus, in the play's final scene (Act I, scene i., ll.148ff), Prospero tells his prospective son-in-law Ferdinand that the revels at hand are almost at an end, that the actors are about to retire, and that the "insubstantial pageant" of which he has been a part has reached its conclusion. It is, in fact, tempting to equate the character of Prospero with that of his creator, the playwright Shakespeare. When Prospero sheds his magician's robes in favor of his civilian attire as the Duke of Milan, with the benefit of hindsight that this is Shakespeare's last work and his crowning achievement, we are disposed to associate the learned sorcerer with the Bard of Avon. How far we are to take this identification, however, is moot.

Prospero of The Tempest, like Shakespeare in his late Romance period, is a mature man with a daughter (Shakespeare, in fact, had two daughters, his only son dying in childhood) at the height of his intellectual and creative powers. Prospero is a polymath, a scholar with a magic book from an entire library that so absorbed him that it was, "dukedom large enough" (I, ii., l.110). Prospero displays a tinge of regret for having neglected his worldly office as Duke of Milan in favor of the life of the mind. Similarly, as virtually all of Shakespeare's biographers have observed, the Elizabethan playwright's knowledge was exceedingly broad, leading many to speculate that he pursued a number of vocations before settling into a life in the theater, and we know from textual correspondences that Shakespeare was broadly read and that he continued to absorb knowledge from diverse publications until his death. We can also speculate that Shakespeare regretted remaining away from his home in Stratford, at least insofar as his career in London kept him away from his children. Lastly, following The Tempest, Shakespeare, like Prospero, retired to civilian life, there being a period of five or six years between his composition of that play and his untimely death at the age of fifty-two.

Beyond these surface biographical parallels, Prospero's role is less that of a character than that of the imaginative or creative force behind the play itself. After the pageant of the goddesses who bless the union of Miranda and Ferdinand, Prospero explains that the effigies which they have seen are "Spirits, which by mine art/I have from their confines call'd to enact/My present fancies" (IV, i., ll.120-121). Prospero underscores that what is taking place in the play is under his control and is, in fact, his creation. Thus, when Miranda worries about the fate of those exposed to the shipwreck at the start of the play, her father reassures her that despite the appearances of disaster, none of the boat's passengers or crew have been harmed in the least. Like the playwright/director/producer that Shakespeare was, Prospero remains in the background. Rather than confront the "three sinners" directly, he assigns the task of telling Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian why they have been brought to the island and of their need to repent to Ariel, the magician remaining hidden from their view.

We gain the sense that Prospero performs multiple functions in the theater of his own creation. Among these roles is that of critic. Prospero repeatedly assesses the performance of his actors. Thus¸ in Act III, scene iii, he says to Ariel, "Bravely the figure of this harpy hast thou/Perform'd, my Ariel" (III, iii., ll.81-82). He also places Ferdinand in the role of a traitor/lackey and judges the young man's performance of that part as a means of determining his worthiness to wed Miranda. To his credit, Prospero also critiques his own direction, apologizing to Ferdinand for inflicting punishments upon him that may have seemed too austere (IV, i., ll.1-2). Like Shakespeare, then, Prospero's relation to the theater is multi-dimensional; he is an actor in the play, he is the creator of its most spectacular scenes and its over-arching dramatic lines, he is the director of others, and, lastly, he acts as critic of the performances turned in by his actors and his own part in the play.

Shakespeare's plays were performed on an outdoor stage without lighting. Starting in the early afternoon, they had to be completed before sundown and many of theme require temporal precision in the entrances and exits of cast members and the use of special effects, e.g., the moaning of the ghost in Hamlet. That being so, both the amount of time elapsed and the occurrence of narrative events was crucial to the success of the performance. In his capacity as stage manager, Prospero is continuously concerned with time. At the very start of the play, Prospero says to Miranda that "The hour is now come/The very minute bids thee ope ear" (I, ii., ll.37-38) to the story of how they were shipwrecked together on the island a dozen years or more beforehand. The reason that it is time for Miranda to learn of her background (and it is remarkable that she has not asked about it sooner) lies in dramatic circumstance: it is time for Miranda to be told who she is because the miscreants who wronged her and her father are now in lace to repent of their misdeeds. Prospero repeatedly alludes to the need to keep his plans on schedule, uses the word "now" more than forty times at salient instances coming at the start of Act V, when he proclaims to Ariel and his audience, "Now does my project gather to a head," (V, i., l.1). Like an Elizabethan stage manager, Prospero controls the pace and flow of events, making sure that the proceedings occur within the allotted time period, in proper order, and at the exact moment in the story's progression. Nevertheless, the identification between Prospero and Shakespeare is not exact. For one thing, Prospero on the Island and in Milan, is an aristocrat, a noble bound by solemn obligation to rule over his subjects. Shakespeare, on the other hand, while honored by royalty never rose above the upper ranks of the Elizabethan middle-class. By the same token, Prospero has no commercial life, no concern with money or material gain. The same cannot be said of his creator, Shakespeare having extensive financial interests in real estate, commodity trading, and, above all, the theater itself.

Ariel and Allegory in The Tempest

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The temptation to regard The Tempest as an allegory has proved irresistible to critics, although opinions differ on what it might be an allegory of, and what the principal figures might represent. In this essay I wish to discuss the character of Ariel, who has received less attention than either Caliban or Prospero. If The Tempest is an allegory then each of its characters should fulfil some representative function. Prospero is generally associated with the playwright (or even, which amounts to much the same thing in some views, with God) as he controls the action on stage. Caliban is taken to represent the physical aspect of humanity, or the 'will', his uncivilised condition making him close to the beasts. In this view, Prospero represents intellect (in seventeenth-century terms 'wit', or 'reason'). The opposition of 'infected will' and 'perfected wit' is a common trope of Protestant discourse, as in Sir Philip Sidney's 'Defense of Poesie'. Ariel, then, ('an airy spirit' in the 'Names of the Actors') might represent a third part of the self, the soul or spirit, but at this point the allegory seems to break down, in that Ariel is clearly not Prospero's immortal soul, or the divine part in man, as he is under the control of Prospero as intellect, and in fact performs the action of the play just as Prospero directs it.

Frank Kermode, in his introduction to the Arden edition, criticises the tendency to allegorical interpretation, and seems to have imbibed something of the late Shakespeare's insistence on the importance of Chastity. 'It is not surprising that The Tempest has sent people whoring after strange gods of allegory' (p.lxxx) and most modern attitudes to the play are largely the product of romantic criticism with its dangerous and licentious enthusiasms.' (p. lxxxi). In his valuable discussion of Ariel (Appendix B, pp. 142-145), Kermode opines 'These traces are no doubt due to the element of popular demonology in the play, and it would be foolish to expect absolute lucidity and consistency in the treatment of these ideas. It is surely remarkable that, in all that concerns Ariel the underpinning of 'natural philosophy' should be as thorough as in fact it is' (p. 143). This suggests to me a certain reluctance on Kermode's behalf to acknowledge Shakespeare's expertise in 'popular demonology', perhaps considering such knowledge to be beneath the immortal bard. Why? Is not Shakespeare's possession of such knowledge rather to be assumed than taken as a matter for surprise? He shows the fairly expert knowledge of other now unfashionable disciplines such as astrology and the semi-magical Paracelsan medicine which would be natural for an inquisitive and informed member of his culture. In Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy (translated by 'J.F.' in 1651) Ariel is a 'daemon', 'the presiding spirit of the element of earth' (Kermode, p. 142), but the resemblance is more nominal than essential. Ariel moves comfortably in all elements, and also controls lesser spirits (with which Prospero has no direct contact) to accomplish Prospero's design.

Ariel it is who performs the action of the play, the motor that powers the plot, the animating force which accomplishes Prospero's design. To enumerate all Ariel does would take some time, but his chief actions are in creating and managing the storm which opens the play (although we are not told this until 1:2:195-206), in charming to sleep (often through the use of music), in changing shape to represent a Harpy, an electrical storm, a firebrand, a marsh-light, and possibly either Ceres or Juno (Kermode, p. 105, l. 167), in becoming invisible, in dressing up like a water-nymph (of which more later), in becoming invisible, in leading the enchanted from place to place, and in controlling and setting on lesser spirits. Ariel is reported as flying, flaming, entering the "veins o'th'earth", and going beneath the sea. In the negative, Ariel has told no lies, made no mistakings, and obeyed Prospero without grudge or grumble, and Prospero states that ariel is 'a spirit too delicate to act her [Sycorax's] earthy and abhorred commands' and was therefore imprisoned 'by help of her more potent ministers'.

Prospero's relationship with ariel is close and affectionate. Although at our introduction to Ariel (1:2) they are arguing, and Prospero threatens and bullies Ariel, saying 'thou liest, malignant thing', (Ariel later repeats 'thou liest' several times to Caliban), once the action of the play begins on the island their relationship is shown in a better light. Prospero calls Ariel 'my bird', 'my industrious servant', 'my chick', 'My tricksy spirit', 'my diligence', 'fine Ariel'. Ariel asks Prospero 'Do you love me, master, no?', and Prospero replies 'Dearly, my delicate Ariel' (4:1:48-49). Some of this is a sort of shared aesthetic appreciation: 'Bravely the figure of this Harpy hast thou performed, my Ariel: a grace it had devouring' (3:3:83-84), and some of Ariel's eagerness to please Prospero can be attributed to the promise of imminent release, but there seems to be a genuine affection between the two which adds resonance to a crucial moment in the play, when Ariel seems to convince Prospero of the need for forgiveness and reconciliation.

Ariel: if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.
Pros.: Dost thou think so, spirit?
Ariel: Mine would, sir, were I human.
Pros.: And mine shall.
Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier mov'd than thou art?
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th'quick
Yet with my nobler reason gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance. (5:1:18-28)

This affection is only reinforced when Prospero expresses his regret at losing Ariel: 'Why that's my dainty Ariel! I shall miss thee; But yet thou shalt have freedom, so, so, so.' (5:1:95-96).

For Nora Johnson, in her subtle analysis of The Tempest, which sees it as a commentary on theatrical representation, takes the closeness of Prospero and Ariel's relationship to imply something further. She describes Ariel as 'the delicate theatrical spirit', noting that 'it is Ariel who performs the real theater in the play, who stages tempests and provides musical interludes' (p.278). In connection with Ariel's being instructed to appear as a water-nymph (1:2:301-305) she remarks 'Prospero's possession of Ariel is itself an occasion for erotic display', since there is no apparent motive for this costume change: 'there is no reason – except pleasure – for an invisible nymph to dress up.' (p.283). This does seem gratuitous (although Kermode remarks that water-nymphs had previously appeared on the London stage, and were recognisable to the public), and I think Nora has a point. Ariel must have been played by a particularly attractive boy to warrant such an extravagant use of costumes. Whether Shakespeare 'intended' that Prospero should be seen to gain erotic pleasure from Ariel's display is uncertain: elsewhere Ariel is 'but air', and no suggestion of a mutual sexual relation is likely. It is perhaps the audience which is being titillated by this voyeurism.

As a spirit, Ariel is asexual, but nevertheless adopts female forms: the Harpy and either Ceres or Juno are female. At no point does Ariel impersonate a male figure. If Ariel had a sex, on this evidence it would be female. Nora Johnson perceives one more transformation; in the Epilogue, Prospero 'seems to be Ariel, longing to be freed.' (p.285).

The Epilogue has been much discussed, with some critics interpreting it as evidence for The Tempest being Shakespeare's 'farewell to theatre'. Others disagree. Grant White, cited in Furness' New Varorium edition (n.1, p.267) is forceful and entertaining in his dismissal of the Epistle as not being Shakespeare's at all: 'Will any one familiar with his works believe, that after writing such a play, he would write an Epilogue in which the feeble, trite ideas are confined within stiff couplets, or else carried into the middle of a third line, and left there in helpless consternation, like an awkward booby, who suddenly finds himself alone in the centre of a ballroom?' Frank Kermode, in his recent Shakespeare's Language (1999) is clearly such a one. 'The Epistle – one of ten of shakespeare's that survive – is a conventional appeal for applause. There is no good reason to suppose that this example of the genre is dedicated to personal allegory.' (p.300). From their different perspectives on the likely authorship of the Epilogue, both agree that it does not form part of a farewell to theatre on Shakespeare's behalf.

To return to Ariel, the star performer, shape-changer and musician, Prospero and Ariel share an excitement in performance which, after their initial contractual wranglings, binds them close together in a common purpose and mutual pleasure. Although Ariel is 'but air' there are signs of sympathy with human suffering. Humanity seems to leach across the barrier. If The Tempest is an allegory, then Nora Johnson is probably closest in describing Ariel as 'a delicate theatrical spirit' a figure representing the essence of theatre. If performing Ariel must have presented great technical challenges on the Jacobean stage, the problem for a modern production is to encourage the suspension of disbelief in the audience whilst avoiding comparison with the fairies and principal boys of Pantomime.


1. Sometimes called 'Apology for Poetry'.

2. Nora Johnson, 'Body and Spirit, Stage and Sexuality in The Tempest' (in) Political Shakespeare, (eds) Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen, Volume 9 of Shakespeare, the Critical Complex, Garland Publishing, New York and London, (1999), pp. 271-290.

3. Horace Howard Furness (ed.), The Tempest, A New Varorium Edition, J.P. Lippincott, Philadelphia, (1895).

Caliban: A Character Study

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Caliban is the only authentic native of what is often called 'Prospero's Island'. However, he is not an indigenous islander, his mother Sycorax was from Argier, and his father Setebos seems to have been a Patagonian deity. Sycorax was exiled from Argier for witchcraft, much like Prospero himself, and Caliban was born on the island. Caliban's own understanding of his position is made eloquently plain when we first meet him:

I must eat my dinner.
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first,
Thou strok'st me, and made much of me, would'st give me
Water with berries in't, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night. And then I loved thee,
And showed thee all the qualities o'th'isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile.
Cursed be I that did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax – toads, beetles, bats light on you!<
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o'th'island. (1.2.330-344)

We can clearly sense Caliban's resentment of what he sees as a colonial occupation of his island. The story of his upbringing is not so simple, however. It seems that when Prospero and his infant daughter arrived on the island twelve years before, Caliban was an orphan, his mother having died. This is not entirely clear: in conversation with Ariel (formerly Sycorax's spirit) Prospero recalls the 'blue eyed hag', 'The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy, Was grown into a hoop' (1.2.258-259), but it is not clear whether he ever met her.

What we do know, as is agreed by Miranda, Prospero and Caliban himself, is that Prospero brought up Miranda and Caliban together, and that they had a close relationship, although perhaps not as close as Caliban might have wished. Prospero and Miranda were both involved in Caliban's education, and the three lived as a family until Caliban overstepped a boundary clear to the two Milanese.

Prospero: Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness! 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 honour of my child.
Caliban: O ho, O ho! Would't that it had been done!
Thou didst prevent me. I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans.
Miranda: Abhorred slave,
Which any print of goodness will not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes
With words that made them known.

Miranda is frankly snobbish here, but is excused by the fact that Caliban has attempted to rape her. Caliban is not at all ashamed of the incident. For Miranda, this justifies his current treatment, proving his natural inferiority:

But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures
Could not abide to be with. Therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock, who hadst
Deserved more than a prison. (1.2.358-362)

Miranda's mention of 'race' (although Caliban is almost certainly unique) introduces the question of whether it is Caliban's parentage (his genetic inheritance) which has caused him to act disgracefully, or whether his action was merely natural and understandable, except to the civilised invaders. Prospero and Miranda clearly adhere to a theory of genetic determinism, as Prospero will later reconfirm:

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost;
And as with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers. (4.1.188-192)

The nature/nurture dichotomy remains a central figure in discussions of genetic inheritance versus education as influences on behaviour. There is some suspicion that Prospero's view of Caliban is coloured by his disappointment as a teacher, and also that Prospero is rather impatient in this role (as might be inferred from his conversation with Miranda in 1.2.).

Caliban's response to this abuse is understandable:

You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!

Caliban rejects his education, although he cannot escape the need to express his rejection in the form he rejects. What he can do is turn his education to his own purposes; he can curse those who criticise him. This is not truly all that Caliban can do with language, however, as we shall see.

Caliban's account of his interaction with Prospero and Miranda indicates a resentment occasioned by what seems to him a betrayal (1.2.332-337, above). This is a mistake which Caliban repeats all too readily when he meets Stephano and Trinculo, two shipwrecked court functionaries (Butler and Jester), who ply him with alcohol (a typical means of enslaving the 'natives'). They describe Caliban as a 'fish', a 'mooncalf', a 'shallow', 'weak' and 'most poor credulous monster' (2.2). Caliban, drunk, declares 'I'll show thee every fertile inch o'th'island, and I will kiss thy foot. I prithee be my god' (2.2.144-145).

Caliban persuades Stephano and Trinculo to overthrow Prospero and gain control of the island. That he imagines they would be capable of it shows his credulity. When Ariel provokes an argument between the three, and then plays a tune, Caliban comforts his allies with his finest speech:

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I had then waked after long sleep,
Will make me dream 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. (3.2.136-144)

But Ariel leads them through thorns and dirty pools, and the two Neapolitans are distracted by the simple device of hanging out fancy cloths, which they gather, despite Caliban's protests.

I will have none on't. We shall lose our time,
And all be turned to barnacles, or to apes
With foreheads villainous low. (4.1.247-249)

The three are then hunted by spirit-dogs set on by Prospero and Ariel.
When they are released from the charm, Caliban is impressed by Prospero's appearance, as he is now dressed for court. Prospero describes Caliban as a 'demi-devil' (5.1.272) and declares 'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine' (5.1.275-276). Caliban is chastened, and seeks Prospero's pardon.

I'll be wise hereafter,
And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass
Was I to take this drunkard for a god,
And worship this dull fool! (5.1.295-298)

In Caliban, Shakespeare combines something of the traditional Elizabethan figure of the 'savage' or wild man with reports of the native peoples of the New World. From Prospero and Miranda's perspective, Caliban is genetically inferior, irredeemably savage and uneducable. They feel their care and kindness have been betrayed. Caliban also feels betrayed: he has lost his island to the foreigners, who have taken advantage of him, and now treat him as a slave, held in check by cramps and pinches. Both cases are understandable. For Prospero, Caliban seems to represent a personal failure and disappointment; the persistence of evil in the face of humane treatment. In this, he is like Antonio, who had betrayed Prospero in Milan.

Caliban is certainly naïve; his reaction to Stephano and Trinculo demonstrates this. The question remains open as to whether at the end of the play he has learned from his mistakes. When Stephano and Trinculo are deflected from their plot by Prospero's trick, Caliban is angry, calling the booty 'luggage', but he is nevertheless impressed by Prospero's change of costume, so his credulity may not have been entirely overcome. While he does say that he will 'seek for grace hereafter', which would indicate a religious impulse for self-improvement, Prospero's judgement remains negative; he is a 'thing of darkness' still. Prospero, however, has reacted excessively to Caliban's actions throughout the play; Caliban's rebellion never posed any real threat, but causes Prospero to abandon the Masque he has arranged for Ferdinand and Miranda's betrothal in some confusion.

Caliban remains the focus of much critical interest, he is an intriguing figure with many resonances in a post-colonial age, and one whom Shakespeare treats with typical balance, allowing expression to both sides of the question, and leaving much to the interpretation.

Themes in The Tempest

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The Tempest is generally considered to be Shakespeare's last sole-authored play. As early as 1875 it was identified as one of a group of late Shakespearean 'Romances' with Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and Cymbeline. The Tempest differs markedly from these others, however, in containing the action within the 'classical unities' of time and place (meaning that the duration of the performance is equal to that of the events depicted, and that the action is confined to one geographical area, requirements which the other romances entirely disregard.) The Tempest is a very beautiful play, beautifully constructed and beautifully written. Such is its atmosphere that many commentators have considered it to be a religious, or at least 'spiritual' play.

There is no single source for the play, as far as anyone can prove, but it issued from and into a culture newly excited by reports from Virginia and the Bermudas, and seems to have drawn on these contemporary accounts, on Ovid's Metamorphoses, (both in the original Latin and in Golding's translation), on Virgil's Aeneid, on the genre of 'Romance', and perhaps on the Bible. A further source seems to be Michael de Montaigne's 'Of Cannibals', a work which equates the state of nature to an Edenic innocence, and civilisation with the Fall. The Tempest has generally been read with two interlinked interpretive strategies: it has been seen as a personal allegory, and as a highly Christian work.

The play draws a number of oppositions, some of which it dramatises, and some of which it only implies. Prospero, a figure exhibiting many resemblances to the Elizabethan idea of the 'Mage', (of whom the best known is probably Dr. John Dee), is opposed to both his corrupt brother, usurper of his role as Duke of Milan, and to Sycorax, an evil witch and mother of the 'deformed slave' Caliban. Sycorax does not enter the action of the play, having died before it opens, but enough is made of her evil disposition and behaviour to show Prospero as a model of human virtue in comparison. This despite Prospero's own use of magic to accomplish his will, and his bullying of the spirit Ariel and his threats to and punishments of Caliban. Prospero's role is central to the play, he is in control of the action throughout, through the exercise of his 'Art'. A further contrast is drawn between Miranda, Prospero's daughter, and Caliban. Both were brought up together by Prospero since his arrival on Caliban's Island, but Caliban has not responded suitably to Prospero's civilising education. Miranda, however, in line with the tenor of Shakespeare's late plays in particular, is a model of chastity and virtue. Caliban's 'ingratitude' would seem to result from what we would call his genetic inheritance. Miranda calls him:

Abhorred slave
Which any print of goodness will not take (1:2:353-354) [FN4]

And Prospero

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost. (4:1:188-190)

The opposition of nature and nurture is made explicitly here, a distinction which has had its cultural importance restated in new terms since Darwin and the revolution in genetic biology. The Tempest is involved in a discussion of 'nobility', seen here as a matter of inheritance, but in the opposition of Prospero and his brother Antonio we see that inheritance has two sides. Antonio betrayed Prospero and stole his inheritance (materially; his Dukedom), so virtue, 'nobility', is not entirely a matter of having noble parentage.

A further denotation of nobility, in line with fashionable Neo-Platonism is that the beautiful are good, and the ugly, wicked. This is explicit in Miranda's case, both in herself and in the attitudes she expresses:

There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple:
If the ill spirit have so fair a house
Good things will strive to dwell with't. (1:2:460-462)

Caliban, on the other hand, is 'deformed', and described as a 'fish' and a 'monster'

As with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers. (4:1:191-192)

It is not so simple, however. At this very point Prospero has sunk to a level not much above Caliban's:

I will plague them all
Even to roaring (4:1:192-193)

And Caliban himself is capable of making one of the finest speeches of the play, and of saying, when Prospero has thought better of punishing, and renounced his supernatural power:

I'll be wise hereafter
And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass
Was I, to take this drunkard for a god,
And worship this dull fool. (5:1:294-297)

As Frank Kermode wisely notes in his introduction to the Arden Edition (1961): Nature is not, in The Tempest, defined with the single-minded clarity of a philosophical proposition. Shakespeare's treatment of the theme has what all his mature poetry has, a richly analytical approach to ideas, which never reaches after a naked opinion of true or false.

Nature contra Nurture is only one theme among many in The Tempest, and many critics have concentrated on the resolution of the play, which is seen as a Christian affirmation of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. Prospero seems to be persuaded by Ariel that forgiveness rather than punishment is the better course.

Ari. If you now beheld them your affections
Would become tender.
Pros. Dost thou think so, spirit ?
Ari. Mine would, sir, were I human.
Pros. And mine shall. (5:1:18-20)

No discussion of themes or of structural oppositions between characters can give a picture of the extraordinary atmosphere of The Tempest, which might certainly be considered either magical or religious. The Masque element in The Tempest (which has provoked a considerable amount of discussion) might be seen as a parody of the increasingly fashionable and elaborate masques of the Jacobean court in which Shakespeare's rival and friend Ben Jonson specialised. These Neo-Platonist concoctions of comedy, high-sounding philosophy, songs, complicated stage machinery, mythological drama, sumptuous costume and all-night dancing became almost a religion at Charles' court.

Prospero interrupts his masque, performed by spirits in mythological guise, on the recollection of the conspiracy of Caliban, Stephano and Trincuro, who are, however, stuck in a filthy pond, and clearly offer no present threat, if any at all. They are like the comedic villains of the anti-masque, and here Shakespeare plays with the emerging conventions of the masque just as he composes a perfectly-formed classical drama. In The Tempest the villains reverse this effect by interrupting the divine masque, cancelling its magic, but only for the 'real' Prospero, the 'real' magician to defeat evil and bring all to a reconciliation.

It is at this moment (4:1) that Prospero, so much in control of events on the island (if only through a quite neurotic vigilance) seems closest to the harassed and not altogether likeable Duke in Measure for Measure, another play in which a Duke controls the action from the stage. With all his power, which is expressed most fully oratorically, both at this point (4:1:148-158) and in his abjuration of magic (5:1:33), Prospero seems sometimes in danger of becoming despotic. As Caliban says when we first meet him:

For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own King: and here you sty me
In this hard rock. (1:2:343-345)

That there is some justice in Caliban's attitude to his 'master' has been the focus of some recent critical attention. Shakespeare, who seems always to have had a keen interest in questions which we would now call 'political' introduces the question of power in the first Act.

What cares these roarers for the name of King ? (1:1:16-17)
If you can command these elements to silence
use your authority. (1:1:21-23)

It is only Prospero who does have the authority to still the storm, which was raised at his command, and this (perhaps) gives him the authority to be Duke of Milan again; at least it gives him the opportunity, in that he is able to shipwreck his treacherous brother on his island. Yet we are shown him threatening both Caliban and Ariel in order to maintain his control. His continual insistence on Miranda and Ferdinand's chastity seems somewhat neurotic, although critics have excused this as normal parental concern, or as one of the necessary conditions for white magic. It is Prospero's eventual relinquishing of power which entitles him to regain it. In my opinion, Shakespeare is associating true authority with renunciation, not with the exercise of tyrannical power.

1. Edward Dowden, Shakspere, His Mind and Art, (1875).

2. The most extreme and recent example being The Tempest as Mystery Play: Uncovering Religious Sources of Shakespeare's Most Spiritual Work, Grace R.W. Hall, McFarland & Company, Jefferson: North Carolina, (1999).

3. From John Florio's translation of Montaigne's Essayes, (1603).

4. All citations and references are to Frank Kermode's Arden Edition, to the excellent introduction of which I am indebted throughout.

5. In the Masque, the anti-masque is a comedic prelude in which the villainous characters (of lower-class origin) plot against virtue and established power-relations. In the Masque proper divine beings (frequently played by courtiers) would step in and defeat the evil plot, whereupon the cast would leave the stage and dance with the audience.

6. Paul Brown, 'This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine' (in) Political Shakespeare, (eds) J. Dollimore & A. Sinfield, Manchester University Press, Manchester, (1996), pp. 48-71.

Father-Daughter Relationships in Shakespeare's Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest

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"This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; ...
My daughter.” - T.S. Eliot, "Marina".

The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the ways in which father-daughter relationships define both structure and theme in Shakespeare's Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. While avoiding the issue of the exact nature of Shakespeare's crisis of c. 1607-1609, we shall nevertheless agree with Dover Wilson that a conversion of some kind took place as a result of that crisis, allowing the frame of mind which was to produce the transition from the tragedies to the romance plays. Perhaps, as Wilson asserts, "by the help of a woman (...perhaps by his
daughter), the spiritual convalescent recovered his lost self and his love of the countryside...” Indeed, it is not unreasonable to assume that Shakespeare's return to Stratford at this period, and his renewed contact with his daughters, Susanna in particular, provided the environment in which the concerns of family, continuity and reconciliation became pressing. The birth of a granddaughter, Elizabeth, in 1608, and the death of his mother in the same year can only have added to his preoccupation with family matters and with women.

Shakespeare had given his audience notable daughters before, in Ophelia and Cordelia among others, but it is not until Pericles that his point of view becomes that of a father recognizing redemption and even immortality in the person of his living daughter. Thus, daughters become important not only thematically but formally, in the interplay and structure of lost and found, dead and alive, impure and pure, estranged and reconcilled.

Even E.M.W. Tillyard, who disagrees with E.K. Chambers’ extreme statement of the reasons for the change in dramatic direction from the tragedies to the romances admits that "Shakespeare at the time of Pericles was being impelled along some new way of expression." Whether that play is a result of a collaboration or a reworking by Shakespeare of an earlier manuscript, we shall assume, with most critics, that Acts III to V are substantially his. While the play as a whole is structurally weak, with Acts I and II almost unrelated to III, IV and V, the last three Acts in themselves form a unified whole. Although, as in The Winter’s Tale, Pericles has lost both daughter and wife, in Pericles the action centers on what becomes of Marina. Thus, the reunion of the father and poor child who feels "This world to me is like a lasting storm,/Whirring me from my friends" (IV, i, 20-21) is the end toward which the action moves. The ultimate discovery that Thaisa is alive and her reunion with Pericles is almost an afterthought to the emotional mutually discovery of daughter and father.

Indeed, this weakest of the three plays under discussion contains the strongest statement of the significance for the father of rediscovering his daughter. It is as if she redeems him from all of the misfortunes of his life; "I am wild in my beholding./ O Heavens bless my girl? But, hark, what music?/...The music of the spheres! List, my Marina" (V, ii, 224-31). In Pericles, too, we come to identify the daughter with the uncontrollable force of the sea and of storms. Marina, by her birth at sea during a raging tempest, comes to symbolize not only the reconciliation of life and death but the uncontrollable effect of children upon their parents. Marina grows to maturity without benefit of her father's direct intervention, and she is yet "able to freeze the god Priapus, and undo a whole generation" she is so pure. In finding her, Pericles is born again, and the family unit through which he sees his immortality, is restored.

The relative failure of Pericles as a play which can sustain our continuing interest hinges on elements other than the father-daughter theme. It has been noted that the play provides "proof that the parent-child, particularly the father-daughter, relationship was assuming increased importance in Shakespeare's mind toward the end of his life." The Winter’s Tale portrays the loss of a daughter and wife, but with the circumstances radically altered. Leontes does not lose his daughter, but rather casts her out to die; he does not lose his wife, but kills her because of his irrational jealous rage. Perdita is not born in a storm, but is cast out to die in the midst of one. Yet structurally, Perdita is the thread which connects the finally repentant Leontes with the instruments of his redemption. The action of the play, up to the point at which Perdita is left to the elements, centers upon Leontes’ insane outburst against his wife and against his friends. The death of Mamillius shocks him out of his madness, but leaves him with a seemingly impossible situation. With his wife dead and his daughter cast out, even the hint of the Oracle that she might be found seems unlikely to be fulfilled: Paulina, "...therefore betake thee/To nothing but despair. A thousand knees,/Ten thousand years together, naked, fasting,/Upon a barren mountain, and still winter In storm perpetual, could not move the gods/To look that way thou wert" (III, ii, 207- 12). Yet in III, iii, which is primarily concerned with Perdita, the raging storm of the first two acts is calmed, and the pastoral romance which is to mark the rest of the play begins. From this point on it is the action of Perdita and those around her which moves the play towards its conclusion.

Yet, unlike Pericles, The Winter’s Tale does not have as its climax the recognition of father and daughter. That scene is narrated, while the restoration of Hermoine to Leontes becomes the dramatic focus of the conclusion. If Perdita is structurally so important, then why does Shakespeare seem to drop her at what might be the most emotionally satisfying moment in the play? G. Wilson Knight argues that although Perdita's recognition is central to the play, it is a restoration and not a resurrection, as in the case of Hermoine. Thus the father-daughter relationship takes second place to the miracle of the statue coming to life, yet "creation is satisfied by the return of Perdita, who is needed for Hermoine's full release." Indeed, Perdita also serves to provide Leontes with a substitute for the dead Mamillius in Florizel, the son of his childhood friend. So in The Winter’s Tale we might see the daughter as primarily a structural element necessary for the resolution of all of the father's sorrows rather than serving as a symbol of new life in herself. Other elements of structure which turn on Perdita have been noted: "Perdita's two ocean voyages" and her relationship with Florizel as contrasted with the relationship between her father and mother. We might see, then, in Shakespeare's decision to sacrifice a recognition scene with Perdita to one with Hermoine an acknowledgement that in this play the lost daughter was a means of bringing about reconciliation, but not the embodiment of Leontes' immortality. Indeed, in the resurrected Hermoine's only speech Perdita is the only topic, and it is her role in bringing about the ultimate miracle with which Hermoine is concerned:

You gods look down,
And from your sacred vials pour your graces
Upon my daughter's head! Tell me, mine own,
Where hast thou
been preserved? Where lived? How found Thy father's court? (V, iii, 122-25)

Frank Kermode points to another element with which Shakespeare identifies daughters: time. Not only does the daughter form a link to life beyond the father's natural life, but she forms a link between his youth and old age. This she does in many ways, not the least of which is in serving as a reminder of her mother, an element which we will discuss shortly. Kermode notes that "At one masterly moment Perdita herself stands like a statue beside the supposed statue of her mother, to remind us that created things work their own perfection and continuance in time, as well as suffer under it. Perdita brings with her the element of ill, giving her father a second chance, a chance to undo the evil which he has done to his wife. Likewise in Pericles, Marina has brought her father back in time to a point where the death of his wife can be relived, and undone: "Oh, come, be buried/A second time within these arms." A final argument for the identification of Perdita with the element of time in The Winter’s Tale is the fact that Shakespeare's primary source for the play was Robert Greene's book Pandosto, The Triumph of Time, "Wherein is discouered by a pleasant Historie, that although by the meanes of sinister fortune, Truth may be concealed, yet by Time in spiqht of fortune it is most manifestly reuealed." (1588)

Shakespeare's identification of daughters with the element of time (and of course timelessness) appears in The Tempest in the first bit of dialogue between Prospero and Miranda. Prospero asks her "What seest thou else/In the dark backward and abysm of time?” and reminds her that "Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since,/Thy father was the Duke of Milan and/A prince of power” (I, ii, 48-54). Yet in The Tempest, as in no other romance and perhaps no other Shakespeare play, do we feel that time stands still. The strangeness of the setting, the uncertain categorization of Ariel and Caliban--spirits, animals, men?--and the workings of Prospero's magic, make us feel that we have arrived at a place much like Eliot’s intersection of "time with the timeless." Thus Miranda must have dimensions in addition to her function as a link to the past and to the future for her father. We would argue that Miranda functions primarily as a symbol of Prospero's enlightenment, an exposition of the philosophy that "child is father to the man", rather than a necessity of structure in this play. Although she is in many ways less interesting than Perdita, and has a less obvious impact upon her father than Marina, she is nevertheless the embodiment of all of Shakespeare's positive identifications with daughters. Her innocence, her acceptance of the new and unknown, and her basic belief in the goodness of whatever she encounters stands in contrast to Prospero's cynicism: "O, wonder!/ How many goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world/That has such people in't!" (V, i, 182-85). Prospero's response? “’Tis new to thee." Yet Prospero does give up his magic and consent to a reconciliation with his brother under Miranda's influence.

It is interesting to note that the motif of loss which runs throughout both Pericles and The Winter’s Tale appears in The Tempest in reverse. Here, father and daughter have been cast out together. Prospero has raised and educated Miranda without other human help, and they have developed an affectionate respect for each other. Towards the end of the play, after Prospero has given his blessing to the match of Miranda and Ferdinand, he says "... for I/Have lost my daughter.” Alonso asks when, and Prospero answers truthfully "In this last tempest." Ferdinand adds to the reversal of loss through the sea and storm when he says, "Though the seas threaten, they are merciful./I have cursed them without cause" (V, i).

The Tempest, despite critical commentary to the contrary, may be seen as a most personal commentary by Shakespeare on a number of things: his craft, good and evil, growing old, children, poetry. It seems absurd not to identify Prospero in some ways with Shakespeare, and we would agree with Dover Wilson's assertion that "The Tempest is a play ... for fathers! We see Miranda and Ferdinand through a father's eyes. They are Prospero’s eyes, of course ... but inasmuch as we also see Perdita and Marina in the same light, the eyes must be Shakespeare's too." We recall that both Marina and Perdita are treated, once recognized by their fathers, with total indulgence. Prospero as a father is more real. He is jealous of Ferdinand, and treats him quite badly, as if to flaunt his magical powers over this young man who would take his daughter away. His warnings for the necessity of chastity before marriage are almost crude, and he speaks of Miranda as "a gift” which he will give to Ferdinand only if he proves worthy. Yet, as any real father knows, the "giving" of a daughter to another man is necessary in the natural order of things, and will ultimately provide a continuity of life through grandchildren. We must keep in mind that the prime premise of this play is that Prospero has decided upon exposing himself and Miranda to the larger world before the opening of the play, and that the storm with which the action starts is a product of Prospero’s art. Unlike Pericles and Marina or Leontes and Perdita, Prospero and Miranda are not hapless victims of the storm. The Tempest is seen as a necessary part of a return to a mortal life--one in which Prospero admits "Every third thought shall be my grave."

There is another interesting difference in Shakespearefs treatment of the father-daughter theme in this play, to return to an issue which we briefly mentioned above. Both Marina and Perdita were said to resemble their mothers, both physically and in their strength, goodness and innocence. Pericles says:

My dearest wife was like this maid, and such a one
My daughter might have been; my Queen's square brows
Her stature to an inch, as wandlike straight,
As silver-voiced, her eyes as jewel like
And cased as richly, in pace another Juno ...
(V, i, 108-112)

Leontes too sees in his newly found daughter the image of his dead Queen:

the majesty of the creature, in resemblance of the mother;the affection of nobleness, which nature shows above her breeding and many other evidences--proclaim her, with all certainty, to be the King's daughter.

Our king, being ready to leap out of himself for joy of his found daughter, as if that joy were now become a loss, cries, "Oh, thy mother, thy mother.”

Of Miranda's mother, however, we know little other than that she was "a piece of virtue" and that Miranda was her only child. It is clear that since being cast out of his home with his young daughter, Prospero has depended upon her as a source of not only family continuity but spiritual inspiration: "O, a cherubin/Thou wast that did preserve me!" It is as if his knowledge of Miranda's powers to "preserve" him allows him to invite the evil visitors to his kingdom. He must be secure in his trust in Miranda's ability to resist evil. Indeed, as a social creature she has been untested: "I do not know/One of my sex; no woman's face remember,/Save, from my glass, mine own. Nor have I seen/ More that I may call ment than you, good friend,/And my dear father" (III, i, 47-52). In a sense, then, we may see Miranda as symbolizing for Prospero women in general--mother, wife, daughter.

Harold Goddard has said of The Tempest that "In Othello and King Lear we thought we caught glimpses into a region on the Other Side of the Storm. Nearly all of this play takes place there." Yet enchanted as this island may be, what happens here between Prospero and Miranda has more of the ring of reality to it than the two previous father-daughter pairs.

We have attempted to sketch some of the ways in which the father-daughter relationship figures in three late plays, but have as yet not addressed what is perhaps the most obvious of questions. Why fathers and daughters rather than fathers and sons? One critic asserts that "It is not too far-fetched to suggest that these plays owed their existence partly to the fact that the King's Men had a boy actor who was a considerable success in such parts as Marina, Perdita, Imogen, and Miranda." We would note that when Shakespeare's son Hamnet died in 1596 and left him with two daughters, Shakespeare himself must have had to rethink his future in female terms. Indeed, the fact that Hamnet's twin Judith was overshadowed by daughter Susanna indicates the anger Shakespeare felt at the loss of his son. Susanna, the prime inheritor with her husband and daughter of Shakespeare's estate, may indeed have inspired the poet's late interest in father-daughter relationships when it became obvious that she was to provide his link with the future.

Yet another critical question arises when one considers Shakespeare's general disgust with women and specific revulsion with sex in the 14 plays after 1600. While Timon of Athens is the most extreme example of these feelings, there are clearly lines in Pericles and certainly in The Winter’s Tale which reveal a low opinion of women. Leontes’ nasty little speech in I, ii extends his jealous loathing of Hermoine's supposed infidelity to all women: "And many a man there is, even at this present,/Now, while I speak this, holds his wife by the arm,/ That little thinks she has been sluiced in 's absence,/And his pond fished by his next neighbor, by/Sir Smile ...” Even Prospero, as we mentioned above, has unpleasant words for the sexual union of his daughter should it occur before marriage: "... but barren hate,/Sour-eyed disdain, and discord shall bestrew/The union of your bed with weeds so loathly/That you shall hate it both" (IV, i, 19-22). It would seem that married or unmarried, a woman is not to be trusted: "... Should all despair/That have revolted wives, the tenth of mankind/Would hang themselves" (WT, I, ii, 200-202). How then reconcile Shakespeare's predominantly gentle and loving treatment of daughters in the romances with his lapses into rage at the vileness of women as sexual beings? We can only quess at some answers suggested by the little we know of Shakespeare's life, and by the texts of the plays.

Shakespeare shows himself to be ambivalent, in these last plays, towards women. They may be loyal or disloyal wives, whores, outspoken friends (Paulina) or daughters. Of woman in her various forms he was most concerned at this point in his life with his daughter, who had just provided him with a grandchild. He had clearly been disillusioned by marriage, and by mistresses. Yet he needed to reaffirm his own longings for immortality--how ironic that he could not see it in his plays--through his children and their children. His remaining children were daughters. In Lear we find a father who manipulates his daughters: "Tell me, my daughters,/...Which of you shall we say doth love us most?" (I, i, 49). In Pericles ("Come, queen of the feast,/For, daughter so you are"), in The Winter’s Tale ("A man, who hath a daughter of most rare note...”), and in The Tempest ("I have done nothing but in care of thee,/Of thee, my dear one, thee, my daughter") we find fathers who worship their daughters. As Goddard has stated "One of the certainties about the later Shakespeare is his conviction of the reciprocal necessity of childhood to age and of age to childhood." For Shakespeare the man and Shakespeare the poet and Shakespeare the father, daughters were the "stuff/As dreams are made on."

1. J. Dover Wilson, The Essential Shakespeare, p. 135.

2. Anthony Burgess, Shakespeare, p. 239.

3. E.M.W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Last Plays, p.24.

4. Harold Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, Vol.2, p. 243.

5. G. Wilson Knight, "'Great Creating Nature’: An Essay on The Winter’s Tale"in Shakespeare; Modern Essays in Criticism, Leonard Dean, ed., pp.443-445.

6. Knight, p. 452.

7. Hieatt, Charles W., "The Function of Structure in The Winter’s Tale" in Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 8, 1978, p. 238.

8. Frank Kermode, "Introduction" to Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, p. xxxv.

9. Kermode, "The Source of The Winter’s Tale" in Shakespeare, op. cit., p. 155.

10. G. Wilson Knight, "On Shakespeare's Tragi-comic Romances" in Siegel, His Infinite Variety, p. 401.

11. Goddard, p. 277.

12. G.B. Harrison, "Introduction" to Shakespeare, The Complete Works, p.1351.

13. Ivor Brown, The Women in Shakespeare's Life, p. 48 and passim.

14. Wilson, p. 119.

15. Burgess, passim and Brown, passim.

16. Goddard, p. 287.


Brown, Ivor, The Women in Shakespeare's Life, New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1969.

Burgess, Anthony, Shakespeare, New York: Knopf, 1970.

Eggers, Walter F., Jr., "'Bring Forth a Wonder’: Presentation in Shakespeare’s Romances" in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 21, No. 4, Winter 1979, pp. 455-477.

Frey, Charles, "Interpreting The Winter’s Tale" in Studies in English Literature, Vol. "18, No. 2, Spring 1978, pp. 307-329.

Goddard, Harold C., The Meaning of Shakespeare, Volume 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.

Hieatt, Charles W., "The Function of Structure in The Winter’s Tale" in The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 8, 1978, pp. 238-248.

Kermode, Frank, ed., William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, New York: Signet, 1963.

Knight, G. Wilson, "'Great Creating Nature’: An Essay on The Winter’s Tale" in Shakespeare; Modern Essays in Criticism, Leonard F. Dean, ed, New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Langbaum, Robert, ed. William Shakespeare, The Tempest, New York: Signet, 1964.

Shakespeare, William, The Complete Works, G.B. Harrison, ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1952.

Siegel, Paul N., ed., His Infinite Variety; Major Shakespearean Criticism Since Johnson, New York: Lippincott, 1964.

Spencer, Theodore, "Shakespeare and the Nature of Man: The Tempest" in Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism, Leonard F. Dean, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Tillyard, E.M.W., The Elizabethan World Picture, New York: Vintage, n.d.

__________, Shakespeare’s Last Plays, London: Chatto and Windus, 1962.

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Wilson, J. Dover, The Essential Shakespeare, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964.

The Tempest: Illusion and Reality

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This essay will discuss the part that illusion and reality plays in developing and illuminating the theme of Shakespeare's The Tempest. This pair of opposites will be contrasted to show what they represent in the context of the play. Further, the characters associated with these terms, and how the association becomes meaningful in the play, will be discussed. Quotes used in this essay are taken from the Folger Library edition of The Tempest, edited by Louis B. Weight and Virginia A. LaMar, published by Pocket Books, New York, 1961. Quotations will be formated according to Act, scene and line.

A good starting point to discuss the use of illusion and reality in The Tempest is to focus on the setting in Act I, scene ii. Here, the reader (or viewer) realizes that it takes place entirely in Prospero's cell which is a small room where he practices his magic arts. Miranda here asks her father, Prospero, to make sure that the people on the ship will be safe even though he has created a storm which threatens to capsize their boat and drown them all. Prospero reassures her. He says that he has no intention of allowing the people to die. To reassure her further, he continues by explaining his motives in creating the storm. Here the reader learns that Prospero and Antonio are brothers, and that Prospero is the rightful Duke of Milan but that his brother usurped his kingdom and exiled Prospero and his daughter Miranda. Fortune saved the two from their rotting ship which had been set to drift, and brought them to the island where Prospero has been granted supernatural powers by the enemies of Antonio.

From the above description it is clear that the play embraces both the natural and the supernatural world. Twelve years before the action takes place, we are told that Prospero was a prince who had a different type of power than he has now.

Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since,
Thy father was the Duke of Milan and
A prince of power (I, ii, 65-68).

Previous to this declaration it is clear that Prospero now has power, but it is power associated with the supernatural. His power is not granted to him by mortals, but it has been given to him by those above human status. His power is symbolized by and vested in his cloak. It is something which can be physically removed.

I should inform thee further. Lend thy hand
And pluck my magic garment from me. So,
[takes off his magic robe.]
Lie there, my art (I, ii, 28-31).

Within this, there are elements which may be associated with illusion and reality. Miranda knows that she is Prospero's daughter and she is used to life on the island. But she can also recall a time when she was not there in the world of magic—a time when her father was Duke and had only powers that natural men possess. The irony is that Miranda recalls the natural world as if it were an illusion and believes her present day existence to be reality.

Pros. Canst thou remember
A time before we camst unto this cell?
I do not think thou canst, for then thou wast not
Out three years old.
Mir. Certainly sir, I can ...
'Tis far off,
And rather like a dream than an assurance
That my remembrance warrants. Had I not
Four or five women once that tended me?

We see from the passage above that Miranda is not sure whether her life before the island was a dream or whether it was reality. She is a character who is associated with the distinction between the two, because she lives on the island with her father who can conjure up an image of reality—such as the storm at sea—and yet her experience of the natural world against which such experiences might be compared seems to her to be a dream.

Prospero is the main character who embodies the concepts of illusion and reality. He and his servant, Ariel, create the illusion of a storm and a wreck, a banquet and a masque. But the real world is apparent to the audience from the beginning of the play even though it is not intrusive throughout. Thus there are levels on which reality seems most operative, and levels on which illusion seems to come to the fore. Neither has exclusive hold on the play.

On many levels, Prospero serves as a symbolic figure. He and Ariel represent intellect which is pure and in some ways not contaminated by the workaday world of mortal men. When Prospero had the throne, he felt that the world of books was enough for him. Prospero is so interested in the world of ideas that he does not concern himself at times with the attainment of power and wealth.

Propero's brother, Antonio, may be associated with illusion and reality as well, but his association stems from his own illusions and perceptions of reality. Antonio, for instance, is power-hungry. He so wants to be granted the throne that he is willing to wrong his own brother in order to get what he wants. But one may formulate the question about the nature of real power. Even though Antonio achieves his bid for the throne, is he really more powerful than his brother who has been exiled to the island? What is power? Who is really in control? The obvious answer is that it is Prospero who ultimately can control Antonio. Prospero causes the illusionary storm. He makes the ruler fear for his life—and thus one can see that even though Antonio may have control over the people on land, once he is pitted against the natural elements he has no more control than any other mortal man. Antonio is thus suffering from illusions. He is not accepting of his own limitations and morality, and thus he does not have a firm grip on what reality is, and why he lives in an illusory world.

A word should be said here about the use of supernatural elements in the play. Even though there is a supernatural structure, one may not assume that the supernatural is equivalent to illusion and that the natural is equivalent to reality. As pointed out in the paragraph above, Antonio's world may be set in reality, but Antonio's mind conjures up an illusory existence. Prospero, on the other hand, may have magical powers, but he does have a firm grasp on reality. Further, Prospero’s magic is good magic, not bad. He is a truly good character even though he has supernatural power.

Just as the topic of illusion and reality may be discussed from the point of view of any one particular character, it may also be discussed from the point of view of audience perception. Hence, three characters must be mentioned in light of this special reference.

The relationship among Prospero, Ariel and Caliban is one of the key relationships in this play. Most members of an audience recognize the fact that each of these three characters has a meaning which is beyond the literal. They are each more than a regular human being, even though by virtue of their physical appearance, they may appear to be nothing more—such as in the instances of Caliban and Prospero. Ariel, on the other hand, is different.

Ariel gives the appearance of lacking in physical substance. He forces the audience to suspend disbelief in the supernatural. They must accept that, among other qualities, Ariel has the ability to travel instantaneously. He can go through Earth, Water, Air and Fire. He is at once a regular human being and something outside of that. Viewers of The Tempest must learn to accept that illusion is as much a part of the play as is reality.

In other words, the viewers must suspend disbelief. They must know that characters are able to operate outside of common reality while at the same time they are part of that reality.

In reference to characters of the other extreme, one recalls Prospero's brother, Antonio, who has betrayed Prospero. Miranda suggests that someone who is really of one's own flesh and blood would not really betray his own brother. Prospero replies that this is really an illusion of blood relationships. He says that what may appear to be reality is not absolute reality. He therefore forces the audience to consider what they know about illusion and reality, about the natural and the unnatural.

Pros. Mark his condition, and the event; then tell me
If this might be a brother.
Mir. I should sin
To think nobly of my grandmother.
Good wombs have borne bad sons. (I, ii, 139-144).

Prospero is really the key character about which the nature of illusion and reality centers. He is the one who appears to have been stripped of all his power, and yet he is truly the most powerful; he lives in a world where he can conjure up an illusion of a storm; he lives between a course of regular human action and magic; and he is perceptive about philosophies on the topic of illusion and reality.

In The Tempest, illusion and reality are opposites which may be considered on many different levels throughout the entire length of the play.

The Tempest: An Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1519

The Tempest was originally performed in late 1611, and was published in its current form in the First Folio of 1623. It is the one play by Shakespeare not derived from one or more of the many sources commonly utilized by all playwrights of the Elizabethan era, although a contemporary German play possesses an analogous exile theme. The story of the shipwreck was probably taken from Sir George Somers' narrative of a Bermuda shipwreck of 1609.

The play itself is a masque-like comedy; it far surpasses the majority of those traditional pieces with similar themes which were continuously being updated by other writers of Shakespeare's day. It is a tale of magic and wonderworking, of retribution and forgiveness, of shipwreck and enchanted isles. The Tempest is also the last of Shakespeare's completed plays.

Prospero, Duke of Milan, a studious man who had delegated to his ambitious brother Antonio many of the affairs of government, was 'extirpated’ by him and sent to sea, with his infant daughter. Providence brought him safely to an island used as a place of exile by the witch Sycorax, where he lived for many years, studying the art of sorcery. When the play opens, he has long ruled the island, commanding the spirits of the air, and enslaving the brutish, misshapen Caliban, progeny of the witch. Through his spells he causes to be swept ashore by a tempest, a ship bearing the ally of Antonio, the King of Naples, and his son Ferdinand, and Antonio himself. As Prospero tells Miranda, his daughter:

This King of Naples, being an enemy
To me inveterate, hearkens my brother's suit,
Which was, that he, in lieu of the premises
Of homage, and I know not how much tribute,
Should presently extirpate me and mine
Out of the dukedom, and confer fair Milan,
With all the honours, on my brother: Whereon,
A treacherous army levied, one midnight
Fated to the purpose, did Antonio open
The gates of Milan, and, in the dead of darkness,
The ministers for the purpose hurried thence
Me, and thy crying self. (I, ii)

To suit his purposes, which include revenge, Prospero separates and bewitches the various groups of his prisoners. He works upon them through the instrumentality of his servant, the spirit Ariel. First, he secures the young Ferdinand as husband for Miranda, making certain that a happy match exists for the pair. Then he reveals himself, regains his dukedom, pardoning the penitent wrongdoers. This consummated, he restores the mariners to their ship and all prepare to embark on the voyage to Naples. The Tempest is definitely a court play, with some of the conventional aspects of such dramatic pieces. It is, on the whole, superbly wrought, full of grace and enriched with many of the poet's finest lines. Consider, as a sample, this brief exerpt, spoken by Ferdinand of Miranda, at the beginning of Act III, Scene i:

There be some sports are painful, and their labour
Delight in them sets off: some kinds of baseness
Are nobly undergone; and most poor matters
Point to rich ends. This my mean task
Would be as heavy to me as odious, but
The mistress which I serve quickens what's dead,
And makes my labours pleasures... my sweet mistress
Weeps when she sees me work, and says, such baseness
Had never like executor. I forget:
But these sweet thoughts do refresh my labours,
Most busy lest, when I do it.

The Tempest, though far from lacking dramatic or human interest, has something in its literary spirit of the nature of a clear and solemn vision. For instance, Prospero, the great enchanter, is altogether the opposite of the vulgar magician who populates other of Shakespeare's plays, as well as works of many of his contemporaries. With command over the elemental powers, which study has brought him, Prospero possesses a moral grandeur and a command over himself, in spite of his occasional fits of intellectual impatience and involuntary abstraction. He looks 'down' on life, and sees 'through' it, though he will not refuse to take his part in it. Here, the supernatural powers of the world attend to and obey their ruler, mankind, (or at least initiated representatives of it, such as Prospero). The persons in this play, while remaining real and living, are conceived in a more abstract manner, more as 'archetypes' than in any other of Shakespeare's works. Prospero, for instance, is the highest wisdom and moral attainment; Gonzalo is a humorous incarnation of common-sense; all that is meanest and most despicable appears in the characters of the wretched conspirators, (Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, etc). Miranda, whose name seems to suggest wonder, is an almost elemental being, framed in the purest and simplest type of womanhood, yet made substantial by contrast with Ariel, who is an unbodied joy, too much a creature of light and air to know either human affection or sorrow. Caliban, (a name formed from the word 'cannibal'), stands at the other extreme, with all the elements in him--appetites, intellect, imagination--out of which mankind emerges into early civilization, albeit with a moral nature which remains malignant and gross. Over all presides Prospero like a providence; and the spirit of reconciliation, of forgiveness, harmonizing the contentions of men, appears in The Tempest in a noble, expansive manner. To this extent, The Tempest resembles and surpasses other Shakespearean works such as Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale, as a seriocomic exposition on the ability of the majesty and mystery of the world's primordial forces to overcome the similarly primordial passions of humanity. Majesty and mystery, Shakespeare seems to be saying, lay at the core of the passions of man as much as do fear and loathing; if the former can be recognized and controlled the bard goes on, then so can the latter.

The Tempest is not, however, merely an allegory; it is definitely not a religious drama, although elements of the supernatural are included. If it were either, Prospero's great 'revels' speech, (Act IV, Scene 1, 146-163, exerpted below), would say, not merely that all earthly things will vanish, but that an eternal world will take their place. He does not:

Our revels are now ended ... our actors
were all spirits, and
Are melted into ... thin air,
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-clapp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind: we are stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

In a specifically religious context, Prospero's renunciation of magic would represent the resigning of his will to divine will, one that can command the elements to silence and work for peace in the present. In Christianity, the higher level of nature is God's original creation, from which man 'escaped’ with the fall of Adam and Eve, in Eden. Yet it is the witch Sycorax who controls the moon, (the symbol of the music of the spheres, or the higher level of nature, in Shakespeare's era), in The Tempest. This sinister power is not associated with prospero, however, whose magic and music belong to the sublunary plane of existence.

Prospero takes the 'society’ of Alonso's ship, (albeit a very limited one, composed more of archetypes than real people), immerses it in magic, and then sends it back to the world. Its original ranks are restored, but its members are provided with a new wisdom in the light of which, for instance, Antonio's behavior can be seen as 'unnatural,’ (or atypical of his self-motivated behavior before encountering his brother Prospero once again). In the Epilogue, (p. 78), Prospero hands over to the audience what his art has 'created,’ a vision of society permeated by values of tolerance and forgiveness. At this closing juncture, he says in part:

Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint: now, 'tis true,
I must be here confin'd by you,
Or sent to Naples...
Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev'd by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults. (V, I)

Prospero, through his control of both elemental forces and himself in his quest for vengence, (or at least righting the wrongs done him), is the prime mover of The Tempest. He exists in a higher level of 'nature' than do the other characters because he has educated himself in obedience to primordial laws and exercised the habit of virtue. To this extent, the entire society formulated on the island by Prospero's ministrations is a natural society. Prospero's daughter, Miranda, occupies the highest level of this society, because of her chastity and innocence, which place her in harmony with higher nature. The discipline required to exist in this higher nature is imposed on the other characters by Prospero's magic. Throughout The Tempest the emphasis is on moral and spiritual rebirth; this suggests rituals of initiation and festivity in a way which represents the culmination of achievement in Shakespeare's dramatic art.

The Tempest and Colonialism Revisited

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1662

There is much in the topical dressing of The Tempest which relates it to the colonial adventure of the plantation of Virginia and with the exotic Bermudas. Critical opinion has varied as to whether The Tempest is closely related to colonialism as undertaken in the Jacobean period; E.E. Stoll wrote in 1927 that 'There is not a word in The Tempest about America … Nothing but the Bermudas, once barely mentioned as faraway places.' On Stoll's side we can say that the action takes place somewhere between Tunis and Naples, presumably therefore in the Mediterranean, and that the characters who are shipwrecked are returning from Tunis after a wedding, not in the least intending to set foot upon, let alone settle or conquer, uncivilised lands.

Against this, we must say that The Tempest participates in a contemporary cultural excitement about the voyages to the Americas and the exotic riches of remote places. There are traces in The Tempest of a number of colonial and Bermuda voyage narratives, such as Sylvester Jourdan's 'Discovery of the Bermudas' (1610), The Council of Virginia's 'True Declaration of the state of the Colonie in Virginia' (1610), a letter by William Strachey which circulated under the title 'True Reportory of the Wrack', but was not published until 1625, and stories collected by Samuel Purchas in Purchas his Pilgrimage (1613). Caliban's god Setebos is reported from Magellan's voyage as being a Patagonian deity.

There is little doubt that the extraordinary shipwreck of some would-be Virginian colonists on the Bermudas flavours Shakespeare's The Tempest. Shakespeare's patrons the Earls of Southampton and Pembroke were investors in the Virginia Company. The Essex group at court supported a Protestant-expansionist foreign policy which did not suit King James, who was anxious not to antagonise Spain. Relations with Spain were one of the main reasons that James executed the Elizabethan imperial hero Sir Walter Raleigh, who championed the settlement of Guiana. If the general romance of the sea voyage enters into The Tempest, as it does in Pericles, this alone does not permit a view of the play as 'about' colonialism. The chief focus of a post-colonial investigation of The Tempest is through the character of Caliban, seen not as the 'deformed slave' of the dramatis personae but as a native of the island over whom Prospero has imposed a form of colonial domination.

Caliban's second speech states this case as clearly as could be wished. On being summoned from his 'sty' by Prospero he responds with curses and proceeds to give his view of their interaction:

I must eat my dinner.
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first
Thou strok'st me, and made much of me; would'st give me
Water with berries in't; and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I lov'd thee
And show'd thee all the qualities o' th'isle,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and feretile:
Curs'd be I that did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own King: and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o'th'island. (1:2:332-346)

We have already seen Prospero bullying his other servant, the spirit Ariel, into compliance with his wishes (1:2:240-300). Prospero's dominance seems here on the edge of collapse, held in place by threats and the exercise of continual vigilance. He seems a man set uneasily at the apex of mutinous and unstable forces. As the Boatswain has already made clear (although he does not know that Prospero has created the storm) the bases of authority are under question in The Tempest:

What cares these roarers for the name of King? (1:1:16-17)

Caliban's narrative of Prospero's conquest of the Island seems self-sufficient, and if Shakespeare were a cultural relativist this might stand as the position of Caliban within the play, but there is a crucial incident which seems to have turned the relationship between Prospero and Caliban sour, and this Caliban does not mention. Prospero regards Caliban as genetically (rather than culturally) 'inferior', inherently incapable of civilised behaviour:

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; (4:1:188-189)

This condemnation is mingled with the frustration of the teacher who has failed with a difficult pupil:

On whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost, (4:1:189-190)

We have already seen throughout 1:2 that Prospero is fussy and disciplinarian in his tutelage.

Miranda shares her father's dislike of Caliban for the same reason: Caliban has attempted her rape, an event which he at least recollects with some satisfaction:

Pr: Thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.
Cal: Oho, Oho! would'st had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans. (1:2:349-352)

Prospero keeps Caliban in order with 'pinchings' 'old cramps' 'aches' and so-on. Caliban is clearly afraid of him, and seeks to rebel. Caliban's plot with Stephano and Trinculo is futile, as he comes to realise; he has fallen in with fools, who, in common with many Europeans have used alcohol to gain influence over the natives.

Caliban's plot forces the abandonment of Prospero's magical/ritual masque, the moral authority of which is directed towards Miranda and Ferdinand's chastity, a point which Prospero repeatedly stresses. His fear for Miranda's chastity demonstrates his anxiety to impose 'civilised' behaviour on the island, and his fear that it may not hold; it is part of his power complex.

Paul Brown's thoughtful article 'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine' seeks to 'repunctuate' The Tempest in order to examine its relationship to colonialist discourse. He discusses the liminal figure of Caliban, who combines the discourses of 'masterlessness' and 'savagism' (as well as the 'salvage' or wild man), 'masterlessness' having been a continual fear of authority, as expressed in the parish poor laws, and 'savgism' relating directly to the 'uncivil' who inhabit the areas at the edges of the dominant culture.

Brown states that 'Prospero's island is ambiguously placed between American and European discourse' (p.57). The discourse of the Americas is of course colonialist, but Prospero's island is located in the Mediterranean. Caliban is seen as the victim of the language he has been taught: 'Whatever Caliban does with this gift announces his capture by it.' (p.61). Nevertheless, Caliban has the ability to represent his powerlessness and express his resentment.

You taught me language; and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language. (1:2:365-367)

He can use this language for his own ends, however, as his arguments with Prospero show. When Stephano and Trinculo discover him Caliban repeats the attitudes and behaviours he regretted in his relationship with Prospero.

I'll show thee every fertile inch o'th'island; and
I will kiss thy foot: I prithee, be my god. (2:2:148-149)

While Brown reads The Tempest as a colonialist text, he cannot claim it as an unequivocal praise of or encouragement to the colonial enterprise. In a good discussion of the significance of the disruption of the masque scene, he states that Prospero 'has insisted that his narrative be taken as real and powerful--now it is collapsed, along with everything else, into the 'stuff' of dreams. The forging of colonialist narrative is, momentarily, revealed as a forgery.' (p.67). Though he claims Prospero's narrative as 'colonialist', I would relate it to more general questions of authority.

Prospero himself will return to Milan to contemplate death: the Island has not been the scene of a colonial settlement, but the arena in which Prospero addresses the wrongs of his European past in order to establish a European future. As with other late plays by Shakespeare it is for the new generation to enact a reconciliation which was unavailable to Romeo and Juliet, for example. Miranda, Prospero's daughter, and Ferdinand, the King of Naples' son are to be married, and their optimism balances Prospero's more jaundiced view.

Mir. How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!
Pros. 'Tis new to thee. (5:1:183-184)

Although Prospero succeeds in promoting this marriage, in punishing his betrayers, his brother Antonio, and Alonso, King of Naples, and bringing most of them to repentance, he confesses

Sir I am vexed
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled. (4:1:158-159)

At the end of the masque, and once the larger, island-wide performance has been enacted, he renounces his magical power and prepares to return home, no longer the divine controller of the island's drama, but a mortal like other mortals. The Tempest has been insistently been read as shakespeare's farewell to the theatre, and the island functions well as an analogue for the stage (especially in view of Shakespeare's adherence to the classical unities of time and place in this play), just as Prospero can stand for the writer/director. Neither the discourse of colonialism nor an autobiographical interpretation can contain and exhaust the latencies of this subtle and beautifully constructed text. The Tempest remains a wonderfully written, highly atmospheric and fairly mysterious text. Shakespeare's greatest strength is his ability to bring into his texts a complex nexus of views and debates which continue to resonate, and to defy resolution, for generations of play-goers and scholars. Despite Brown's commitment to reading The Tempest as an 'intervention' in the colonialist debate, he concludes that it is 'a site of radical ambivalence.' (p.68).

1. Facsimile reprint ed. J.Q. Adams, New York, (1940).

2. A good review of the increasing tendency to see The Tempest as colonialist, and Caliban as a Native American is Alden T. Vaughan 'Shakespeare's Indian: The Americanization of Caliban' in Political Shakespeare, (eds) Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen, Garland Publishing, New York and London, (1999), Volume 9 of Shakespeare: The Critical Complex.

3. In Political Shakespeare, (eds) J. Dollimore & A. Sinfield, Manchester University Press, Manchester, (1996), pp. 48-71.

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Conquering Islands: Contextualizing The Tempest

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