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Had I Plantation Of This Isle: Colonialism In The Tempest

2300 words - 9 pages

The role of colonialism in Shakespeare's late Romance The Tempest is difficult to ignore. Cast off on a remote island, Prospero uses magic to conquer his new territory, making all of those that lived there before him fall under his command. There is a sense of revolution about Caliban, one who seeks to reclaim his homeland for his own and separate himself from the rule of his master. However, critics like Barbara Fuchs wish to pigeonhole this sense of colonialism into domestic issues, such as the British relationship with Ireland, while ignoring the relationship the play shares to the beginning of Britain's expansion into the New World--a world that had only been unlocked some one hundred years previous to the writing of the play. Fuch's notes in her essay that, "It is an axiom...that The Tempest is a play about the European colonial experience in America" (265). This relationship of colonization is an easy one to prove. First, by looking at the pattern of British colonization beginning in the late 16th century it is possible to begin drawing ties between the reality of Shakespeare's time and the fiction of Shakespeare's world. Second, the slave Caliban exhibits all of the characteristics of a conquered native--or one who is forced to give up his right to his land for the sake of a new master. Third, Prospero's treatment of both the island and its inhabitants are extremely reminiscent of the British colonialist experience, to such a degree that it is hard to not draw a connection between the two. At its core, The Tempest is a play about conquerors and the conquered, and its connections to British colonialism are easily seen.
British colonialism followed a pattern in conquering colonies that is important to recognize before it is applied to the play. The pattern can be broken into two steps. First, the conquerors would establish a presence in the new colony. This was done in a variety of ways, but most often it was done by showing by simply showing up and planting a flag (Barton). Because of the disparity of technology and arms, the natives put up only slight resistance (Barton). It is also important to remember that the New World was only a hundred years old in European eyes, and that almost all of the settling up to the end of the 16th century had been in the Caribbean and in South America--North America was largely untouched by the Spanish and Portuguese until the British and French came and staked their claim. Following the establishment of their presence would come the suppression and domination of the colonized society. Gerry Kearns notes that because the colonial subject was "male, English, white, Protestant, heterosexual, middle class and at home in England" anyone else, i.e. anyone, "female, foreign, black, heathen, proletarian, homosexual, or home abroad" was considered second-rate (451). This would lead to a suppression of the culture in an attempt to force it to blend into British society. However, because it is often difficult to...

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