Monday, October 17, 2011


For those of you who noticed, I retracted my last post.  Here's a rule: When your own post bores you, it's not a good thing. 

I began reading The Tempest over the weekend (I'll be back to Henry IV, part 1 later in the week!) and I have to say I'm excited.  This is classic Shakespeare!  Admittedly, there was not a whole lot of interest in this play until the 19th century, and even then real analysis of the work came with the advent of post-colonial theory. 

I'm a little unsure about the whole "Tempest as colonial advocate" idea, mostly because the postcolonial mess that the world extricated itself from in the mid-twentieth century was not at all the same world that existed in Shakespeare's time, although the foundations for European empire were starting to be laid.  That's a topic for a different post though. 

I'm a little intrigued by Shakespeare's treatment of human nature, though.  Let's take Caliban.  His mother Sycorax, a "foul witch," died before the events of the play, and Caliban was adopted by Prospero when he came to the island.  By both Prospero's and Caliban's accounts, Prospero raised Caliban well and educated him, until he attempted to rape Miranda (Hide your kids, Prospero.  Hide your kids). 

Prospero explains this by saying to Caliban "thy vile race, though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures could not abide to be with."

In other words, it doesn't matter that Caliban got educated.  He is what he is.  This is probably not a racial discourse (Sycorax, his mother, is from Argier {=modern Algiers, in Shakespeare's day the seat of the Barbary Pirates, who were mainly comprised of Arabs and the native Berbers} and is described as "blue-eyed") but more to explain the fact that some people (Miranda and Ariel) are good and some people (Caliban) are not.  Angela made a good point about Shakespeare's treatment of fate in her post about MacBeth.  The Tempest would seem to be another play in which Shakespeare states that human destiny and character is fixed.  Does Shakespeare believe that fate governs peoples' lives? 


  1. PS. I hope it's okay for me to cite your post, Angela. :)

  2. I'm flattered. :P A comment on your own post though - do you think any of Shakespeare's characters will change? I don't know that every player in Shakespeare's world had fixed fates. Do you think he tended to have more fixed characters though in order to help the audience connect to and categorize them?

  3. In answer to your question, I think he did have some characters who were fixed. Caliban, for example, never really changes, and neither does Ariel. There are some characters who change, such as Leontes and Alonso, who repent of what they've done. The others, though, seem to be more didactic characters. Even Leontes at first is kind of static and one-dimensional, embodying jealousy. I think his fixed characters are meant to teach us about ourselves.