Q1. How does Shakespeare present Prospero’s relationship with Ariel and Caliban throughout the course of the play? Look at the language used when speaking to, and of each other.
Do you think the dynamics of the relationships support a colonialist reading, or is this incidental?The time at which Shakespeare wrote The Tempest saw a new dawn in sea travel. It was written in 1611, two years after the ill-fated journey of the Sea Adventure to Virginia. This early attempt a colonisation was doubtless an influence Shakespeare’s storyline in The Tempest. It is unlikely that Shakespeare consciously included this colonial theme in his writing, as there is only circumstantial evidence of a colonialist reading. However, we can further explore this theme by looking at the relationships of Prospero, the supposed ‘colonist’, with Ariel and Caliban, the assumed natives.The relationship between Prospero and his deformed slave is obviously a tempestuous one. Caliban is an unusual character in that he claims ownership of an island he may not be native to.
He quite obviously resents Prospero’s mastery of the island and indeed himself. Prospero has his own grievances with Caliban, who attempted to rape his daughter Miranda. Caliban shows no remorse or guilt over his actions and even adds insult to injury by claiming he regrets not being successful,”O ho, O ho! Would’t had been done!Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled elseThis isle with Calibans.
“(1, 2, 349-51)Whether Caliban can actually be seen as a native is unclear. He certainly seems to fill the credentials for the European stereotype of the New World native. His initial presentation, his receptiveness to alcohol and his kinship with nature are very much akin to the European perception of the native Indians.
But, on the other hand, Caliban’s physical description and apparel are clearly European – he wears a ‘gabardine’ and appears more as an, ‘Old World wild man’ according to Anne Skura. He has a definite affinity with nature and the island, but his mother – the witch Sycorax was no native. If Shakespeare wanted the reader to see Caliban as a native, he was very indistinct in his presentation of the character. Caliban could be seen as both an Old World monster and a New World native. My general consensus is with Skura. Most of the critics that support the colonialist interpretation tend to ignore Caliban’s obvious European traits and rationalise them to create a ‘Native Caliban’.Could Caliban be the personification of the fear many Europeans had of strangers? He is certainly what many of them would expect to find in the New World. He is described as a ‘beast’ or a ‘monster’ on countless occasions.
Caliban’s character never fails to surprise. The view that natives were languageless and uneducated is shattered by the fact that Prospero and Miranda have taught Caliban the fundamentals of language. Caliban’s somewhat ‘evil’ nature compels him to use it to curse – throwing back the good that Prospero has done him,”You taught me language, and my profit on’tIs, I know how to curse. The red plague rid youFor learning me your language!”(1, 2, 362-364)Teaching Caliban to speak has been a double-edged sword for Prospero. Caliban has been employed by Prospero as a servant.
Language has augmented Caliban’s intelligence, leading him to question his position on the island. Cursing could be Caliban’s way of venting his frustration. He does seem to delight in shocking the audience; the above quote would have appalled a Shakespearean audience. Of course, Caliban can surprise us by uttering some of the most beautiful poetry found within the play,”…Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.Sometimes a thousand twangling instrumentsWill hum about mine ears.
The clouds methought would open and share richesReady to drop upon me…(3, 2, 141-147)This act alone shows us that Caliban is not quite as ‘evil’ as he would have us believe. He does have a gentle side that he often refuses to let surface. This could be another reason why Prospero treats Caliban unfairly. Not seeing this aspect to his character, Prospero does not see any of Caliban’s redeeming qualities.
Prospero’s apparent hatred of Caliban initially does seem absolute. Caliban betrayed his trust. But, Prospero does need Caliban and Caliban knows this. Prospero and Miranda once were nobility, and would be unable to defend themselves alone on the island.
Caliban does all of the work a slave would do – gathers wood and food for them, cleans. They would be lost without him.In Caliban’s absence, Prospero talks about him in much the same manner as he does in his presence, and vice-versa. Prospero talks of Caliban with a great deal of contempt, which at times seems unnecessary. But, it is Caliban’s delight in fantasising about Prospero’s downfall that is the most interesting and indeed amusing,”All the infections that the sun sucks upFrom bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall, and makeHimBy inchmeal a disease!”(2, 2, 1-3)Despite all of this, by the play’s climax, Prospero has acknowledged Caliban as more than a servant. Prospero has to concede that Caliban is his responsibility and that he is also a personification of the darkness in his own personality,”…
This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”(5, 1, 275)Skura also notes this point in her commentary. Caliban is a threat to Prospero’s supremacy on the island. In this respect, Caliban is akin to a New World native threatening European supremacy. But, quite aside from that, Caliban, like Prospero’s dark side, does hold a threat to Prospero.
It is a part of himself that he does not want to acknowledge, but, because it is ubiquitous to him, he has no choice. This he realises by the play’s conclusion.Prospero’s other poignant relationship is that with Ariel – the ‘airy’ spirit. The circumstances surrounding Ariel’s entrapment on the island are uncertain. He may very well be a native himself – and in this case the true claimant to the island. But, some doubt does surround this, Ariel could very well have journeyed to the island with Sycorax the witch under her command. We certainly know that he was her slave before his imprisonment and her death.Ariel’s relationship with Prospero is quite different to that of Prospero and Caliban.
In this affiliation, there is a certain degree of respect that lacks in the master-slave relationship of Prospero and Caliban. Caliban is a self-accepted underdog. He realises that he is different from others and therefore can never be more than a sideshow attraction.
This can be seen clearly on a number of occasions, for example, when he offers himself to Stephano the drunken butler as a servant. We could also say that Caliban is not acting as the underdog in this situation and that he is actually quite scheming. Caliban is allowing Stephano to think he is the leader, but really he has a grander design. Caliban is plotting Prospero’s defeat, is this something the natives would do to their oppressors? Later he renews his servitude to Prospero, realising who the greater leader is.Although Ariel is not quite human himself, his magical abilities give him a great deal of power over Caliban and make him an indispensable servant to Prospero.
Prospero does use Ariel very much as a tool or device in the earlier portions of the play. The powerful Prospero may have released Ariel from his tree-prison, but he has given him a new incarceration as his own slave.McMullan supports this view. Prospero has made Ariel subservient to his command and makes haste to remind the spirit of his place. A colonialist reading could be interpreted from this as a reflection of the strained relationships between European settlers and the New World natives. These natives were often forced to perform acts of service to their Old World oppressors, in much the same way as Caliban and Ariel serve Prospero.
“Thou liest, malignant thing! Hast thouForgotThe foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envyWas grown into a hoop? Hast thou forgot her?”(1, 2, 257)This colonialist theory can be dismissed in the case of Ariel. The spirit obviously enjoys the work he performs for Prospero. Prospero is a fair master and although Ariel does not have complete freedom, he has a free reign over the island and makes Caliban’s life miserable. The New World natives, in general, did not enjoy the work they were forced to do.
Ariel’s work is not laborious in the way that Caliban’s is. He simply performs Prospero’s magical bidding in hopes of eventual freedom.Caliban and Ariel, as Prospero’s servants, both show a common trait of naivety and a degree of innocence. Although New World natives would almost definitely show this trait in the face of the informed Europeans, this could also be seen in the actions of the Old World wild man. Caliban does seem much more aware of this than Ariel, even claiming that Prospero has taken advantage of this quality. Ariel, although lacking of human emotion, seems to crave the approval of his master as the play progresses. He frequently questions Prospero’s love for him,”Do you love me, master? No?”(4, 1, 48)Prospero has promised to release Ariel from his service upon his own escape from the island.
As this time draws nearer, the relationship between Prospero and his servant improves greatly. Prospero increasingly praises Ariel, referring to him as a ‘loyal servant’ and ‘delicate’. This shows us another side to Prospero, he can be kind and gentle and he will miss Ariel.One can get the impression that the reason why he has kept Ariel waiting so long for his freedom is because he is fond of his spirit friend. Ariel has always done his bidding and been happy about it, and if he sets him free, he will lose a faithful servant.
Prospero’s final act of bestowing freedom on Ariel shows us how Prospero has changed throughout the course of the play, from a dictator-like sorcerer focused on retribution, to a forgiving father figure.Many critics of The Tempest have picked up a colonialist reading that may or may not have any founding. Gordon McMullan argues for the view that Caliban and Ariel are indeed natives and Prospero is the European oppressor attempting to force his beliefs on the ‘languageless’ natives.
McMullan shows a great deal of empathy for Caliban and Ariel and their oppressed situation on the island. Prospero is presented as an Old World ruler.Skura’s argument is altogether more convincing. She points out that most readers will be familiar with the fact that colonialism was poignant during the seventeenth century, but not familiar enough to know that the dawn of the century it was not. Skura’s argument attempts to dismiss the colonialist theory. Her argument mainly revolves around Caliban and proving that he is not native to the island.Another idea that potentially disproves a colonialist argument is from a literary stance. Although Shakespeare could have written the Tempest about European ventures in the New World, he could just have easily have been influenced by other writers such as Virgil and Homer.
Shakespeare was not the first writer to explore this theme through the medium of the written word. The Aeneid by Virgil and The Odyssey by Homer both include stories about sea voyages and adventures in unknown countries. It is likely that Shakespeare read these texts, if so, it is doubtless that he was greatly influenced by them when writing the Tempest.The views of the critics are very influential on our own interpretation of The Tempest with reference to colonialism. Personally, I think that it is unimportant.
In my opinion, any comments it may seem that Shakespeare made on the subject are incidental. As aforementioned, England was not a major colonial player at the beginning of the century and Shakespeare was not completely familiar with all of the facts about the New World and the people who inhabited it.However, Spain had established colonies in South America many years before and the Spanish viewed the British colonies as a threat to their supremacy in the New World. How much Shakespeare knew about the Spanish colonisations is vague, but as Shakespeare himself was British it is doubtful he knew much. Prospero’s treatment of the island residents could be seen as proof, but I am not so sure. Prospero does treat Caliban and Ariel with needless cruelty, but this behaviour is found all over the world even today.
So, The Tempest could be a comment on colonialism, but it could just as easily be a comment on the class system of any country in the world, Italian politics or anything else for that matter.