The Tempest and Colonialism

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.175  Wednesday, 4 May 2016

 

[1] From:        Pervez Rizvi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 4, 2016 at 3:24:10 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: The Tempest and Colonialism 

 

[2] From:        Kristina Sutherland <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 4, 2016 at 10:46:52 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Colonialism 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Pervez Rizvi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 4, 2016 at 3:24:10 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: The Tempest and Colonialism

 

Larry Weiss wrote: ‘What is as old as recorded history is conquest and subjugation, which is not the same thing as “colonialism” as it is usually understood in this “post-colonial” world.’

 

Francis Fukuyama famously theorized that history ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. I think Larry may be on to an equally brilliant thesis, that history began in 1616, moments after Shakespeare died. I'll even help him by writing a poetical opening to his essay. So, with apologies to the shade of Philip Larkin, here goes:

 

History started

In sixteen-sixteen

(As can now be seen)

Between when Shakespeare departed

And his memory was still green.

 

(Anyone curious should Google Larkin’s poem Annus Mirabilis.)

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Kristina Sutherland <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 4, 2016 at 10:46:52 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Colonialism

 

Dear scholars,

 

While The Tempest is hardly within my realm of studies, I thought I would send in a few thoughts I have about the subject of colonialism within.

 

The first is that yes, Prospero was kind to Caliban until his attempted rape of Miranda, and we may see his treatment within the play as just desserts, but Ariel has apparently faithfully served Prospero and the following exchange takes place in Act 1 Scene 2:

 

Ariel: Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains,

Let me remember thee what thou hast promised,

Which is not yet perform'd me.

 

Prospero: How now? moody?

What is't thou canst demand?

 

Ariel: My liberty.

 

Ariel is not just a servant for Prospero. He owes him his life and this seems to have made him Prospero’s slave, even though the arrangement is temporary. This promise of liberty is referred to a few more times within the text, as Prospero or Ariel continue to discuss the exchange of labor for freedom, either by themselves or with each other. The idea seems clear to me that it is not enough for the full year promised to pass - Ariel wants freedom earlier, and Prospero wants all of his tasks done before freeing his servant. Freeing Ariel is literally the last thing that Prospero does before the epilogue.

 

There is also the later exchange in 3.2 when Caliban tells Stephano “I am subject to a tyrant, a sorcerer, that by his cunning hath cheated me of the island.”

 

Shakespeare also didn’t have to go far back into history to look at the relationships between Europeans and people in foreign, “discovered” lands. Montaigne’s essay, Des cannibales, and Jean de Léry’s Histoire d’un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil were rather recent.

 

Sincerely,

Kristina Sutherland

 

 

 

A Matchless Allusion to Romeo & Juliet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.174  Wednesday, 4 May 2016

 

From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 3, 2016 at 4:31:48 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Allusion

 

I suppose Arnie Perlstein is suggesting that the lyricist of Fiddler on the Roof might at one time or another seen or read Romeo and Juliet.  Strange as that might be, it is not entirely implausible.  \

It is also conceivable that he was somehow familiar with York’s line in Richard II, II.iii.85: “Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle.”  I marvel that Arnie left it out.

 

 

 

Michael Lok

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.173  Wednesday, 4 May 2016

 

From:        Sidney Lubow <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 3, 2016 at 11:16:49 PM EDT

Subject:    Michael Lok

 

Does the name Michael Lok mean anything to anybody, if I can see the name MiCHAEL LOK in it?

 

https://www.geni.com/people/Michael-Lok/308598315100003804

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Lok

 

Sid Lubow

 

 

 

Length of Posts

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.172  Wednesday, 4 May 2016

 

From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Subject:    Length of Posts

 

Dear Subscribers,

 

It has been suggested to me again that there be a limit on the number of words in each submission.

 

Yesterday’s Newsletter had some very on posts, and I myself was responsible for not editing down one that was submitted to me from an outside source. 

 

I have no intention of counting words; however, like pornography I know a long post when I see it. Form now on, excessively long submissions will be returned, and the submitter will be asked to shorten it before I will distribute it to the list.

 

Sincerely,

Hardy M. Cook

Editor of SHAKSPER

 

 

The Tempest and Colonialism

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.171  Tuesday, 3 May 2016

 

[1] From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         April 29, 2016 at 4:43:35 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Colonialism 

 

[2] From:        David Basch <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 1, 2016 at 11:53:30 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Colonialism 

 

[3] From:        Charles Weinstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 2, 2016 at 1:30:30 PM EDT

     Subject:    Colonialism 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 29, 2016 at 4:43:35 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Colonialism

 

I think that Pervez Rizvi is just a wee bit outside when he argues that “Colonialism is at least as old as recorded history,” and so Shakespeare could well have had it in mind when he wrote The Tempest. What is as old as recorded history is conquest and subjugation, which is not the same thing as “colonialism” as it is usually understood in this “post-colonial” world. Shakespeare wrote many plays specifically depicting conquest and subjugation, but none that can reasonably be taken to comment on the colonialism that contemporary critics have in mind when they read the play in that context, i.e., the policy that Rudyard Kipling urged the United States to adopt when he encouraged it to “take up the white man’s burden.”

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        David Basch <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 1, 2016 at 11:53:30 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Colonialism

 

Concerning the pieces about the Tempest as a play about colonialism, I think that here we have an example of how critics’ obsessions take control of what the play is about, making the play about their own personal ratiocination.

 

On the other hand, in one of the popular student review books, the reviewer identifies Prospero as an allegorical representation of the Supreme Being, God, which makes the play’s island a microcosm of the world. In this, Caliban is the evil inclination and Ariel is the good inclination, serving the Lord.

 

Note how Prospero, which name means in Italian, “I make happy,” may derive from the Psalm (84:5), which reads, “Happy are those who dwell in your home,” and is concerned with the repentance of the evil men that have arrived on the island. Note how Caliban tempts Trinculo and Stephano andthe role of Ariel as angel-protector of the good people.

 

As was explained by Colin Still who wrote a book about the Tempest in this vein, when men sin they exile God from their hearts. The narrative of the play is in this vein the restoration of God to hearts through repentance—all things to be discovered in the play. This takes the play into an opposite, more nuanced direction from the “colonialism” thesis.

 

It is amazing how the play turns into a Rorschach text when critics focus on parts, while ignoring other parts, that may take them far afield. The challenge for critics is to rise above their own preoccupations to identify the match that encompasses even the parts they have ignored, thus approaching the theme the great playwright intended.

 

David Basch

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Charles Weinstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 2, 2016 at 1:30:30 PM EDT

Subject:    Colonialism

 

[Prospero] is not a colonist....He was cast away by his usurping brother and landed on an island previously inhabited by Sycorax.  But she, too, had only landed there having been cast away, this time legally, by the citizens of Argier, ‘for mischiefs manifold and sorceries terrible’, who only spared her life because she was pregnant.  Whether Sycorax as an exiled aggressor has more right to the island than Prospero as an injured victim is a moot point, but it is in any case not one raised by the play.  After Sycorax’s death Prospero landed there, freed Ariel and attempted to educate Caliban (1.2.257ff).  Prospero has made the island as inhabitable as he could, until the propitious time arrived when he could bring his enemies within his power and go home.  Having not killed but forgiven them—which is after all the main and surprising event of the play—he will return to Naples to celebrate the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda, thence retire to his vita contemplativa in ‘Milan, where / every  third thought shall be my grave.’ (5.1. 310ff).  He is happy to leave ‘this bare island’ (Epilogue, 8), where Caliban can now live alone, if he wants to, whatever the legitimacy of his claim.  (From his final words, ‘I’ll be wise hereafter / And seek for grace (5.1. 198f) it looks as if Caliban prefers to serve Prospero.  Since Ariel will ‘to the elements / Be free’ (321f), the island may well be uninhabited again.)  Prospero’s stay on the island, then, is enforced, not voluntary, and while he can use its natural resources to stay alive, all the normal features of the hated colonist—murdering the natives, stealing their land, exploiting their goods, produce and wealth for profit back to one’s home country—are conspicuously lacing.  If modern critics want to denounce colonialism they should do so by all means, but this is the wrong play.”  Brian Vickers, Appropriating Shakespeare (1993) at 246.

 

I would further note that Prospero treats Caliban with kindness until he attempts to rape Miranda.  Caliban does not deny this charge; on the contrary, he revels in it:  “O ho! O ho! Would’t had been done!” etc.  He makes clear that he will repeat the attempt if he ever gets the chance; and indeed, he spends the rest of the play trying to kill Prospero and rape Miranda by proxy, using Stephano as his surrogate.  Quite obviously, Prospero and Miranda are compelled to subjugate Caliban in simple self-defense, the way we imprison recidivist sexual offenders.  These facts, and especially Shakespeare’s depiction of Caliban as a determined and incorrigible rapist, would seem to complicate efforts to regard him as Prospero’s victim.  But then some people will ignore a great deal in order to reach their desired interpretation.  

 

--Charles Weinstein 

 

 

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