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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: July ::
Re: Prospero's Children
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0542.  Sunday, 9 July 1995.
 
From:           Tom Ellis <
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Date:           Saturday, 08 Jul 1995 17:19:43 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0540  Q: Prospero's Children
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0540  Q: Prospero's Children
 
To Peter Donaldson:
 
I don't have any information about Prospero taken as Caliban's "literal"
father, although the concept is intriguing, especially as he refers to Caliban,
obviously without any knowledge of the latter's paternity, as a "bastard." (How
would he know?)
 
You might be interested, however, in a recent book by Alden T. & Virginia M.
Vaughan called *Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History* (Cambridge U. press:
1991) which reviews the theatrical history of stage representations of Caliban
from Shakespeare's time to ours.
 
I am interested these days in Shakespeare's portrayal of Caliban as an early
prototype of the English cultural mindset, right at the start of the Virginia
colony, which was later to evolve into a rationalization for slavery. It is
noteworthy, for example, that Prospero's reference to Caliban's "vile race" is
(to my knowledge) Shakespeare's only use of the word "race" to denote a
(non-European) human subtype--the very usage that was later to evolve into the
rationalization for slavery--especially since Linneus and the other 18th
Century philosophes routinely used "race" as a synonym for "species," thus
setting up the context for the rhetorical tropes of racism and slavery, which
simply conflated (or confused) the two separate meanings "species" and
"subgroup" then attached to the pernicious word "race."
 
The line you cite--"This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine"--thus emerges as
an early prototype of what was to evolve into Southern Paternalism regarding
master-slave relations.
 
All of which leads to another possible variation on the Tempest: How about
Prospero as Jefferson...?
 
--Tom Ellis
Hampton University
 

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