Confronting Colonialism in A Tempest
A Tempest by Aime Cesaire is an attempt to confront and rewrite the idea of colonialism as presented in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He is successful at this attempt by changing the point of view of the story. Cesaire transforms the characters and transposes the scenes to reveal Shakespeare’s Prospero as the exploitative European power and Caliban and Ariel as the exploited natives. Cesaire’s A Tempest is an effective response to Shakespeare’s The Tempest because he interprets it from the perspective of the colonized and raises a conflict with Shakespeare as an icon of the literary canon.
In The Tempest by William Shakespeare one might argue that colonialism is a reoccurring theme throughout the play because of the slave-master relationship between Ariel and Caliban and Prospero. It is also noticeable through the major and minor changes in status among the temporary inhabitants of the island like Trinculo and Stephano (Brower 463). These relationships support the theme that power is not reciprocal and that in a society someone will be exploited.
Shakespeare first introduces the idea of colonialism when he allows Prospero to be ruler over Caliban, the native inhabitant of the island. This is a direct link to the colonization by the Europeans in the late 1400’s. Caliban reveals this idea of colonization in Act I Scene 2 when he says, “ This island’s mine by Sycorax, my mother, /Which thou tak’st from me…For I am all the subjects that you have, /Which first was my own king; and here you sty me/In this hard rock, while you do keep from me /The rest o’ th’ island” (Shakespeare 37). Shakespeare’s diction in this dialogue as well as in Prospero’s response that follows it, “Thou most lying slave,” reveals the master slave relationship that resulted from colonization. Prospero, Trinculo and Stephano seek power assuming that no one will be able to triumph over them. Prospero later supports the theme of colonialism when he introduces the idea for Miranda and Ferdinand to go back to Europe and rule. This relates to the external influence that Europe had on the colonized areas although some leaders withdrew from the island. This adds to the controversy of colonization in The Tempest.
The primary reason that colonization in The Tempest has become controversial is because Shakespeare directly relates it to reforming the “savage” natives of a land that is undiscovered by Europeans. It has also been suggested that Shakespeare’s The Tempest was directly influenced by a publication and three pamphlets that were widely known and were circulating during the time that The Tempest was written that give a detailed account on a storm that prevented the arrival of colonists to Virginia in 1609 (Hawkes). The “Sea Adventure” was a fleet that carried the admiral Sir John Somers and the future governor of Virginia Sir George Somers and was separated from the other eight ships by a fierce...