Cultural Diversity In The Tempest Essay

1663 words - 7 pages

Cultural Diversity in The Tempest

 
     If we look at Shakespeare's atypically short play The Tempest, the character of Caliban represents a "noble savage" who is enslaved, exploited, and endowed with low-self esteem due to the ethnocentric views of those who encounter him.  In much the same way as the British originally exploited the Hindus or Americans exploited Native Americans, Caliban is considered the "property" of those who encounter him, solely because he is not of the same heritage, customs, and manners of his oppressors. 

 

The ostracism and exploitation of Caliban because he is perceived as a brutish animal compared to "civilized" folks is in keeping with the theme and intent of the play-to show that reality is more a manifestation of mentality and conscious perception than concrete black and white, definable phenomena.  As one scholar of Elizabethan imagery suggests, "The poet who imitates not the visible world but the intelligible as manifested in the visible will not consider that the use of artifice to emphasize form makes imagery less 'true to nature'" (Scanlan  1).  In The Tempest  we see a great deal of artifice to understand what is manifested in the visible, however, with Caliban we see that all the artifice in the world does not help him be accepted by those who inhabit the island once his own.  Prospero has enslaved the son that Sycorax "did litter" on the island, and his lovely daughter Miranda says of his slave, "'Tis a villain, sir,/I do not love to look on" (Shakespeare  5).

 

Of course, Prospero says he enslaved Caliban because he tried to coupled with his daughter, however, Caliban, sounding like someone who has had their land and culture stolen from them, replies to this, "O ho, O ho!-would it had been done!/Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else/This isle with Calibans" (Shakespeare  5).  We can see in this statement Caliban's desire to rebuild a population on the island that is of his genetics and culture.  Caliban, echoing the noble savage, talks of the lovely self-sufficiency of the island and his life before Prospero enslaved him.  He talks of the fruits and all the qualities of the island that he introduced to Prospero, regrettably.  However, sounding like the British imperialist or the ethnocentric American who annihilated native cultures that stood in the way of their land grabs, Prospero contends he tried to educate and provide culture for the native but the vileness of his race prevented Caliban from learning, "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/...I pitied thee,/Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour/One thing or other:  when thou didst not,/Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like/A thing most brutish, I endow'd thy purposes/With words that made them known:  But thy vile race/Though thou didst learn, had that in't which/Could not abide to be with: ...

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