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An Analysis Of Shakespeare's The Tempest

3488 words - 14 pages

An Analysis of Shakespeare's The Tempest

There are many ways of interpreting Shakespeare's The Tempest. A Post-Colonialist critic, such as Stephen Greenblatt, will look at the influence of historical and political implications of colonialism on the text. Along these lines, a Reader Response critic, such as Paul Yachnin, will look specifically at Shakespeare's audience and their concerns at the time in which the play was written. Very different from these approaches, a Psychological critic, such as Bernard Paris, will completely ignore what was in the author's and audience's minds, and look at the psyche of the main character in the play. Regardless of which critical approach is used to analyze the play, all interpretations should be considered objectively for they all provide a great deal of insight for studying the text. However, I believe that it is imperative to keep in mind that the story offered in The Tempest is told from the point of view of the main character, Prospero. This has a definite impact on the interpretations and their validity.

According to Stephen Greenblatt the preoccupation with political power was not unfamiliar to Shakespeare and his audience. In his essay, "The Best Way to Kill Our Literary Inheritance Is to Turn It Into a Decorous Celebration of the New World Order," Greenblatt argues that recognizing the presence of issues such as colonialism and slavery in The Tempest will deepen the pleasure of the ordinary reader. He explains that it is very difficult to look at The Tempest without thinking about imperialism. The play, which is set on a mysterious island inhabited by natives and taken over by a European prince, is filled with allusions to the process of colonization. For example, one can find connections with what was written in the Virginia Company's official report on the state of its New World colony and the account by William Strachey of a violent storm and the shipwreck off the coast of Bermuda. Greenblatt also points out the large number of texts that Shakespeare had available to read when writing the play. For example, Shakespeare probably read the letter by Bartolome de las Casas to Prince Philip of Spain in which he argues that his countrymen should leave the New World since they were only bringing exploitation and violence. Shakespeare is also known to have read Montaigne's essay "Of Cannibals", where the French essayist wrote admiringly of the Indians and lamented the whole European enterprise (114). Montaigne protests that, "there is nothing in that nation [the American Indians], that is either barbarous or savage, unless men call that barbarism which is not common to them" (119). With all of this literature so readily available and so much discussion on the topic, it is impossible to ignore the presence of these ideas in Shakespeare's mind and their influence on his writing. The relationship between Prospero and Caliban is like that of Europeans and the "savage" natives in the New World....

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