The Tempest. An Imperialist Heaven or Hell?Shakespeare lived and wrote in the Elizabethan age, a time when hissociety was branching out and making itself known throughout the world bycolonizing other cultures.
Great Britain was reaching for new heights of power. In the play Shakespeare questions the value of this new concept of Britishimperialism. The Tempest is called Shakespeare’s American play, because hecalls into question England’s right to colonize other nations, much as Americancolonists did with America 200 years later. The Tempest was Shakespeare’s last play.
For his entire life he hadwritten plays to please the Queen. For this play it appears he made acontroversial statement by challenging the values of his Queen and his country. Evidence of this is abundant in the play. The story rotates around thefact that Prospero, a European noble, had imposed himself on an island, alreadyinhabited. Prospero is depicted as a worthy man, who was usurped from his throne. The reader has automatic sympathy for the character.
This allows him more leewayfor wrong doing by creating room for it within the reader’s mind. Prospero cameto the island with his daughter to find it already inhabited by two savages. Upon arrival, Prospero brought his new ideas with him, and began to force themupon these two savages, Sycorax and Caliban. He believed that his new ideas werebetter, such as slavery opposed to freedom, which he imposed on Caliban. Dull thing, I say so; he, that Caliban, Whom now I keep in my service. (Act.
I, Sc. II, Ln. 285,6)This view of whose ideas were better is an obvious matter of opinion, one ofthe biggest drawbacks to transforming old ideas into new. Prospero was the first male that Caliban had seen in his life.
As a lower being Caliban worshipped and praised Prospero, as the quote below shows,until Prospero began to mistreat him. I know it by thy trembling: now Prosper works upon thee(Act II, Sc. II, Ln. 81-3)This worship caused Prospero to act as a ruler above him, eventuallypushing him to be the tyrant over Caliban, including robbing Caliban of hisfreedom.
Keeping within his worship, Caliban lost his self-confidence and anydrive for good deeds. Because Prospero had imposed himself upon Caliban,Caliban’s life began to decline. Without drive, or freedom for that matter,Caliban turned to a vegetable only working as a slave to Prospero. Again, theact of asserting that your ideas are superior can cause indelible harm to therecipient of that opinion. Throughout these ordeals, Prospero thought that he was helping Caliban,(again opinion) while actually destroying him.
But these supposed helpfulteachings to Caliban eventually turned on Prospero. Near the end of the play,Caliban finds Stephano and Trinculo on the island. These men appeared to be muchlike Prospero in dress, and in speech. Because he had been trained by Prosperoto worship and follow, he immediately began to worship Stephano and Trinculo. This is what turned against him.
By that time, Caliban had developed a deephatred for Prospero and sought revenge against him. He discussed killingProspero in his sleep with Stephano and Trinculo, which they agreed to becausethey would gain control of the island. Prospero escaped death by a hair, in thathe had a sprite, Ariel, to spy on the plotting Englishmen. This was an exampleof his own imperialistic ideas turned against him, leading almost to his death. But these wrongs did not stop at Prospero and Caliban.
New ideas wereimposed also by Ariel, Prospero’s servant sprite. Ariel was a lively spirit thatwas immortal, and therefor capable of much more than any human. Ariel proposednew ideas to the king, Alonso and all of his men, Gonzalo, Antonio, Sebastian,Adrian and Francisco. These men had perceived themselves as almighty as theyparaded around the island in fear of nothing.
Ariel enlightened them to theirfault and may have even shown them their mistakes. You are three men of sin, whom Destiny,— That hath to instrument this lower world. . . . .
. . . . . Your swords are now too massy for your strengths, And will not be uplifted.
. . . . . .
that you three From Milan did supplant good Prospero:. . . . .
. him and his innocent child. . .
(Act III, Sc. III, Ln. 53,4/67,8/68-70)The harshness of Ariel’s speech throws the nobles back, but contests their power. As Europeans, they view themselves greater than any, which is challenged byAriel, who obviously posses more power than them.
This is displayed by Arielforcing them to drop their swords, through his magic. Ariel also brings abouttheir faults, making them seem less divine. Ariel does that by bringing up moralissues, such as their dethronement of a Duke, and his exile into the sea withhis sole child, alone. And not only does this bring up the moral issues, butalso forewarns them to Prospero’s wrath, for Ariel made it clear to the noblesthat he was under the assignment of Prospero. This speech obviously raised doubtwithin the king’s, and especially Antonio’s mind, as he resigned his position inthe end of the play. These new ideas proved to be well worth it, for the greatchain of being was to be restored.
New ideas can serve good as well as bad. This is the case with Miranda. Miranda, the sole daughter of Prospero, grew up in a world knowing only herfather and a beast. This allotted her only a few of the emotions or experiencesnormal children have during growth. She had been raised almost as a queen, andknew of nothing else.
One of the newest ideas to her was love, which was broughton by Ferdinand. Ferdinand also fell in love with Miranda, who followed himunconditionally for she knew of nothing else, besides her fatherly relationship. This proved to be good for her, for now she had protection as she would soon beentering a new world of community and civilization. But new ideas also may havea poor effect on her.
Because Miranda had no outside contact, she was amazed by the sight ofmore than one man. O Wonder, How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in t!(Act. V, Sc. I, Ln. 182-5)This true amazement and awe for mankind may cause her harm later in life for notall people are as kind to her as she had been treated by Prospero and Fredinand. Specifically, the group that Miranda labeled as goodly is a group of corruptand drunken old men, not men of worth.
This proves to us that she is notprepared for the world, and by seeing these men as good, she will have a warpedview of evil versus good. All throughout The Tempest, representations of new versus old arementioned, most in poor nature, although there remains a small case fortransforming old ideas into new, but in general simplicity will work best. Ithink Shakespeare tried to make a statement with this play that might stir upsomething in the reader’s mind, possibly even question the basic concept ofadvancing on in life.