Coercion and Conversion Using Christian Magnanimity in Shakespeare's The Tempest.
I, however, find such a claim to be premature. Different critics have read Caliban's freedom at the end of the play to be at the least an ambiguous notion or at the most an incident that strengthens colonialistic reading. Of the two interpretations, I am much inclined to concur with the latter because Caliban's
"so-called" autonomy at the end is a gift bestowed upon him by Prospero through an act of Christian magnanimity, an act that, under critical scrutiny, unravels itself as the most coercive and sinister strategy Prospero could have initiated. As a result, the text actually encodes a more subtle "discourse of colonialism" challenging the post-revisionists' claim that Caliban's days as a symbol of Third World colonial exploitation is over.
Before proceeding with analysis, let me trace the evolving critical reception of The Tempest leading up to the present moment. Critical response of The Tempest has undergone wide-ranging changes since its first performance in the English Court in 1611. For years, the trend was to analyze it as illustrating Shakespeare's evolving genius. The turn in the critical reception of the play came when critics began to investigate it employing historical perspective (1) and locating the setting of the play in the New World. The raging debate among Shakespearean scholars revolved around whether The Tempest was a play about the colonization of the New World. The offshoot of the historical debate was the rise of the revisionists, who read the text as a cultural phenomenon (Skura 43). They argued that the basis of the origin of the play lay on the early history of English colonialism in the Americas. As a result, they focused their attention on "one aspect of history: to power relations and to the ideology in which the power relations are encoded" (44). The revisionists, in their attempt to explore the New World associations in The Tempest, implicitly or explicitly projected Caliban as an oppressed native Indian.
Later scholars built on the above idea and read Caliban as a symbolic representation of Third World oppression by European powers. The assumptions of the metaphoric reading of the play in the hands of the revisionists require some discussion. In "Colonial Metaphors," chapter six of their Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History, Alden and Virginia Vaughan present a survey of the emblematic use of Caliban by authors from developing nations. The Vaughans relate how the scholars from developing nations symbolically identified Caliban with modern men and women, especially Latin Americans and Africans. The most widespread view held Caliban as possessing implicit virtues--his innate sensitivity, rough dignity, articulateness, and intelligence-rather than his cruder characteristics. Thus projected, for these scholars Caliban represented countless victims of European imperialism and colonization.
Going against the trend of these revisionist critics, recent Shakespeare scholars have begun to look beyond Caliban's status as a victim. Critiquing the revisionists for restricting the reading of The Tempest to reflect only postcolonial discourse by locating the setting of the play in the New World, the post-revisionist scholars have attempted to "restore" so-called "proper balance" by exploring other nuances within the text. They have tried to restore balance either by locating the play within the old world context or by deflecting emphasis away from Caliban to other characters. For example, Barbara Fuchs, in "Conquering Islands: Contextualizing The Tempest," attributes the colonial concern in the text over to the British's attempt to subdue the Irish and defend itself against Islamic threat; Jyotsna Singh, in "Caliban versus Miranda: Race and Gender Conflicts in Postcolonial Rewritings of The Tempest," splits emphasis between gender (Miranda) and race (Caliban) as the symbol of oppression; Tristan Marshall, in "The Tempest and the British Imperium in 1611," locates the dramatization of power relation in the play as the consequence of British hegemony both within and outside the country; Meredith Anne Skura, in "Discourse and the Individual: The Case of Colonialism in The Tempest," reduces Caliban to a child in a brilliant stroke of psychoanalytic reading and in like fashion to Said's orientalists; David Scott Wilson-Okamura, in "Virgilian Models of Colonization in Shakespeare's Tempest," rereads the Aeneid as Shakespeare's source of the idea of colonization in the play; Deborah Willis, in "Shakespeare's Tempest and the Disclosure of Colonialism," situates the tension on Antonio; and finally, Julia Lupton, in "Creature Caliban," sees Caliban as an indeterminate being situated between creature and mankind, thereby disrupting our attempts to individualize (by locating him within a culture or an ethnic group) and universalize (by locating him as an Adam-like creature) Caliban.
Where does that leave Caliban in his role as a colonial victim? If we are to follow the new trend, then we have to admit that the emphasis definitely seems to have shifted. It is indeed a fact that the textual evidences in the play locate the island or the setting of the play somewhere around the Mediterranean Sea. Despite these evidences and the assertions of the more recent critics, we can hardly gloss over the early historical readings and the works of the revisionists, which have provided the play with a colonial hue. Moreover, most post-revisionists still concede that The Tempest pertains to some sort of colonial discourse even though they disagree with its nature and the play's location. Taking all of these into consideration and through a careful analysis of the play employing Stephan Greenblatt's account and analysis of Thomas Harriot's report in his essay "Invisible Bullets," I find that The Tempest preeminently enacts colonial discursive strategies and, more importantly, the colonial practices of the New World explorers contrary to the objections of the post-revisionists. I have chosen Greenblatt's text as theoretical lens simply because I find it useful in understanding the idea of coercive power play I want to discuss in The Tempest. Rather than argue that The Tempest is specifically set in the New World, my interest here is to present the existence of a subtler manner of colonialist coercive strategy in the text that until now has remained unexplored. My hope is that my reading will restore Caliban some of his lost position. Disagreeing with the post-revisionist critics' view that the curtain needs to be pulled over Caliban as a colonial victim, I would like to show that Caliban's story has not yet been fully told and that his voice is yet to go hoarse.
In "Invisible Bullets," Greenblatt points out that Thomas Harriot was Sir Walter Raleigh's man; an Elizabethan mathematician; an expert in cartography, optics, and navigational science; an adherent of atomism; and the first Englishman to make a telescope. Significantly for us, Raleigh was also the author of the first original book about the first English colony in America, "A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia" (published in 1588). As such, Greenblatt's analysis of Harriot's text provides us with an insight into Harriot's and, by extension, the colonizers' thought process as they encountered the native culture. Greenblatt's suggestion that "understanding the relation between orthodoxy and subversion in Harriot's text will enable us to construct an interpretive model that may be used to understand the far more complex problem posed by Shakespeare's history play" ("Invisible Bullets" 786) is equally relevant for The Tempest since it exhibits obvious use of religious lingo and symbolism for coercive purposes.
In his analysis of Harriot's text, Greenblatt demonstrates that Harriot and his English compatriots employed religion and their superior European tools to coerce the Native Americans just as Moses, the "archetypal corrupter" (786), did with the innocent Hebrews. To make his point about Moses, Greenblatt cites pagan polemics against Christianity, which claims that the "Old Testament religion ... and by extension the whole Judeo-Christian tradition, originated in a series of clever tricks, fraudulent illusions perpetrated by Moses, who had been trained in Egyptian magic, upon the 'rude and gross' (and hence credulous) Hebrews" (787). Greenblatt goes on to claim that Machiavelli, from this argument, deduced that religion's primary function is not salvation but the achievement of civic discipline. According to Greenblatt, it is this idea that Harriot observed and explored on the natives, thus making him like Moses, the archetypal corrupter. Although religion is described as a sophisticated confidence trick, Machiavelli himself realized that such a trick was possible only when applied to a people without civilization, a people who had not been already corrupted. Harriot and the civilized English people had the "simple" Indians upon whom to use this theory. Greenblatt continues:
In encountering the Algonquian Indians, Harriot not only thought he was encountering a simplified version of his own culture but also evidently believed that he was encountering his own civilization's past. . . . Only in the forest, with a people ignorant of Christianity [emphasis mine] and startled by its bearers' technological potency, could we hope to reproduce accurately, with live subjects, the relation imagined between ... Moses and the Hebrews. ("Invisible Bullets" 789)
So, Harriot and his compatriots use religion and their technological superiority as a means to maintain civic order and discipline, to curb a people, to rule over them. Conceiving the native Indians as child-like and primitive beings, Harriot, according to Greenblatt, presumed that the Indians seeing the mathematical instruments, sea compasses, the loadstone, perspective glass, guns, books, writing and reading (emphasis mine), spring clocks, etc., were awed into thinking that these were the works of gods rather than of men. Greenblatt suggests that Harriot was deluded into believing that the savages felt the English possessed the truth of God and religion and that the Indians thought they had to learn such truth from the English.
But more crucially, Harriot and his English compatriots' need to coerce and convert the Native Indians was not solely motivated by their need to maintain civic order and discipline. Rather, Greenblatt reasons that it was the European gentlemanly ideal to be waited on by others that prompted the English to coerce and convert the Native Indians. The New World held out the prospect of such status for all but the poorest cabin boy. Therefore, for the survival of the English colony, "Harriot tests and seems to confirm the most radically subversive hypothesis in his culture about origin and function of religion by imposing his religion--with its intense claims to transcendence, unique truth, inescapable coercive force--on others" (Greenblatt 791). Ironically, instead of undermining the very foundation and belief of Christianity, the implementation of such a hypothesis only worked to strengthen it.
The Tempest also encodes a similar set of subtle power plays in the actions of Prospero over Caliban. Prospero's arrival and contact with Caliban replays Harriot's account of the Englishmen's encounter with the Algonquian Indians. Prospero and Miranda's initial response on seeing Caliban is that they had encountered a simplified version of their own being, their civilization's past. Prospero mentions that before Caliban had transgressed, Prospero had treated Caliban "with humane care, and lodged" him "In [his] own cell" (1.2.349-50). Miranda, too, corroborates Prospero's initial treatment by saying, "I pitied thee, / Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour / One thing or other" (1.2.356-58). So, the missionary project was underway from the very beginning.
Reading the above lines in light of Greenblatt's account of Harriot, we can infer many layers of meanings. First, Prospero and Miranda consider Caliban to be their simplified version. They therefore set themselves to educate this uncivilized, simple savage and convert him into a human being. Second, they take Caliban into their fold because they believe he can be taught their language, culture, and religion so as to control him. The third point is that Prospero keeps Caliban in his own cell, for he needs Caliban to serve them, to feed them. If we look back at Caliban's speech, Caliban, like the Algonquian Indians, "showed [Prospero] all the qualities o' th' isle, / The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile" (1.2.340-41). As Caliban is treated well initially, he responds in like manner.
Prospero uses his civilization's advancement to impress Caliban, and he temporarily succeeds. He introduces Caliban to "Water with berries in't" (1.2.337), which probably is wine, and to language: "To name the bigger light, and how the less, / That burn by day and night" (1.2.338-39). In addition, he impresses Caliban with his magic that Caliban says comes from the books that Prospero possesses. Caliban is amazed and starts reciprocating when he says, "And then I loved thee" (1.2.339). The love here is genuine as he is treated well, albeit like a child.
But the missionary effort of Prospero is thwarted when Caliban "seeks" kinship with Prospero by trying to have sex with Miranda. The word to underscore in Prospero's accusation of Caliban is "seek" (1.2.350) which means "there was no actual rape" (Seed 210). From a position of servant slave, Caliban sought to raise himself. Prospero does not tolerate such ingratitude (unwanted sexual advance on his daughter) on Caliban's part for two reasons. First, Prospero and Miranda consider Caliban as uncivilized, as childlike, as the Other, similar to them but significantly different. Therefore, Prospero's anxiety is about possible miscegenation, which Caliban reminds him in his retort, "Thou dist prevent me; I had peopled else / This isle with Calibans" (1.2.353-54). That the offspring will be Caliban's and not have anything of the mother was the typical fear of the English colonizers. Shakespeare gives voice to the colonizers' fear through Caliban's retort. As noted by Patricia Seed, Caliban's transgression threatens not just Miranda but Prospero himself:
Caliban's claims and desires conform to the theme of the English narratives of colonization of the always potentially violent and therefore treacherous native who offers a fearsome threat to the sexual integrity of white women-and hence implicitly to the English man overseas. The theme of dangerous sexual relations between colonizer and colonized reflects a ... distinctively English colonial anxiety. (211)
It is this English colonial anxiety that Prospero and Miranda exhibit in their swift denunciation of Caliban. The second reason for Prospero's rage at Caliban is more interesting. If Caliban is offered equal status, then Prospero and Miranda will miss being "waited on by others," which, according to Greenblatt, was "the hallmark of power and wealth in the sixteenth century" ("Invisible Bullets" 790). At stake was not just their survival but also their lifestyle if they did not maintain the status quo.
The reliance on the Other to wait on them was so strong among the Europeans that they would resort to violence if they felt their lifestyle being threatened. Greenblatt provides an example in "Invisible Bullets" when he mentions how the French turned to extortion and robbery that led to bloody wars when the Indians got weary of the arrangement of providing food for the French settlers, day in and day out. Greenblatt also mentions that a similar situation seems to have arisen in the Virginia colony. In the case of the Tempest, Caliban, by making sexual advances, threatened to end the previous convenient arrangement. Thus, Caliban's act becomes an opportunistic pretext for Prospero to enslave him and seize the island. After Caliban dares to transgress by desiring kinship with Prospero, Prospero and Miranda equate him with beasts. Earlier they had seen some hope. As a result, Prospero had intended to convert him into a more excellent slave and that way gift him spiritual freedom from his bestiality. But Caliban's strong rebellious nature frustrates Prospero's mission.
Caliban's resentment and curses are a natural outcome of the injustice meted out to him, for he was not antagonistic toward Prospero initially. Caliban did not have any reason to dislike Prospero as Caliban was treated well as long as Prospero found him useful and dutiful. But when Caliban desires to forge a kinship with Prospero, Caliban is transformed into a slave and tortured overnight. The choice language used by Prospero to describe Caliban as a "vile race," "most brutish" (1.2.360), "poisonous slave got by the devil himself" (1.2.322), "lying slave" (1.2.347), etc., was not uttered during their initial encounter, or Caliban would not have "loved thee" (1.2.339). Instead, a more patronizing relation of a missionary educating the uncivilized seemed to be in progress then, until things took a swift turn with Caliban attempting to rise above his social rank.
Incidentally, Prospero's initial civilizing mission starts with Caliban's language acquisition, which is not unlike the explorers of the New World, for linguistic conversion was but the first step to proselytize the natives. Greenblatt, in his Learning to Curse, talks of the role of language for colonizers. He references Peter Martyr's letter to Pope Leo X where Martyr writes about "the large landes and many regyons whiche shal hereafter receaue owre nations, tounges, and maners: and therwith embrase owre relygion" (16). What is apparent in Martyr's writing is the sequence in which proselytization of the natives actually took place. First it was the reception of the Europeans, next acquisition of their language and manners, and subsequently adoption of their religion. The discourse makes the process smooth and even desirable on the part of the natives. In the same chapter Greenblatt quotes Samuel Daniel's poem of 1599 and explains that Daniel "does not consider the spread of English a conquest but rather a gift of inestimable value. He hasn't the slightest sense that the natives might be reluctant to abandon their own tongue; for him, the Occident is 'yet unformed,' its nations 'unknowing'" (17). The sentiment expressed by Daniel in his poem is but a reflection of his nation's sentiment at that time, and, likewise, Shakespeare seems to have captured that same sentiment in Prospero and Miranda's treatment of Caliban in The Tempest. For Prospero's act of educating Caliban betrays a similar assumption (like Martyr and Daniel) on Prospero's part: he presumes Caliban would be grateful for educating him.
What Prospero fails to realize is that language acquisition also means that it gives "voice unexpectedly to hidden hopes" (Vaughan and Vaughan 166). I am not suggesting that Caliban didn't possess language before his encounter with Prospero. He must have communicated with Sycorax, his mother. Actually, the fact that Prospero and Miranda consider his language mere "gabble / A thing most brutish" (1.2.359-60) can be used to draw parallel with the Europeans' first reaction to the Indian languages. Greenblatt, in Learning to Curse, notes, "The view that Indian speech was close to gibberish remained current in intellectual as well as popular circles at least into the seventeenth century" (19). Interestingly, the gibberish language would not have affected Prospero as much as it does when Caliban uses Prospero's own language to curse him. Caliban's proficiency in English means he can now use this language as a means of resistance, to voice his opposition.
Caliban utilizes the acquired language as a means of resistance in spite of being victimized both physically and culturally. Even as he employs the learned language to voice his resistance by cursing, his anger and frustration indicate a sense of tragic loss. For implicit in his famous outburst--"You taught me ... language!" (1.2.366-68)--is the line, "The red plague rid you / For learning me your language!", which displays not just Caliban's rage at Prospero for teaching him their language but also a sense that he is furious at losing his own language in turn. That Caliban is not shown to "gabble" in the play anymore perhaps means he has lost his tongue. However, Prospero and Miranda, in their zeal to educate, do not understand Caliban's predicament, his sense of loss. They mistakenly believe, like Peter Martyr and Samuel Daniel, that the native would be eager to learn and speak their language.
Stripped of his language, Caliban seeks different means to resist complete conversion despite being aware of Prospero's power. The more Prospero uses force to cow down Caliban, the more Prospero alienates Caliban. Caliban's resentment of Prospero builds to such an extent that he is willing to forge an alliance with any group that will help him overthrow the tyrant. Set in this mood, he meets Trincolo and mistakes him to be Prospero's spirit. Later he mistakes Stephano to be a god, but not before he has gulped down some amount of the "celestial liquor" (2.2.117). Once again, we find Caliban being coerced like the native Indians by the European colonialists' use of their so-called superior technology. For Prospero, it was magic, books, and language; for Stephano, it is the "celestial liquor" (2.2.117). What Prospero couldn't achieve through force, Stephano achieves through alcohol. Stephano's "celestial liquor" works wonders on Caliban because Caliban is immediately taken over in a drunken stupor.
Besides being deluded because of drunkenness, another reason for Caliban to so easily align with Stephano is the working of his resentment against Prospero. This resentment, as noted by Julia Lupton, "comes to speech in two ... articulate forms of discourse: as curse and as counternarrative" (11). Caliban builds the counternarrative by saying to Stephano, "As I told thee before, I am subject to a tyrant, / A sorcerer, that by his cunning hath / Cheated me of the island" (3.2.41-43). He produces the counternarrative so that, as pointed out by Lupton, he can create a new political community against Prospero. Whether drunk because of the wine or with the dream of freedom, Caliban mistakes Stephano's drunken boldness to be Stephano's power and in return promises Stephano with riches of the island. A term of exchange is drawn between the two in return for the overthrow of the tyrant. With the prospect of freedom playing in his deluded and drunken mind, Caliban bursts out in a freedom song: "No more dams I'll make ... high day, freedom!" (2.2.178-85).
Meanwhile, "Ariel [by] mimicking the skeptical voice of Trinculo" (Lupton 12) tries to foil Caliban's counternarrative.
This results in an "inarticulate fist-fight rather than the creation of a new political community around shared narrative and set of values" (12). Ariel, the double of Caliban (because a serving slave), interrupts the proceedings and tries to frustrate the building of a bond among the three. He eavesdrops on their plan and creates confusion. The resultant information Prospero will use first to humiliate the conspirators and then for his advantage in the final scene.
Interestingly, in trying to forge a new political community, Caliban for the first time exposes the finer side of himself. He forgets his resentment for a while in his delusion that he has a political alliance that can overthrow Prospero. The result is the poetic outpouring, which he directs to soothe his newfound companions' fear of him, the "so-called" savage. The lyrical outburst is symptomatic of Caliban's attachment to the island. He delights in the "sounds, and sweet airs" (3.2.38), and the music of the land. The dream that he registers and longs for reflects his lost freedom, the freedom that has been usurped by Prospero. He says,
. . .in dreaming, The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again. (3.2.142-45)
The (English) language here may be Prospero's, but the feelings and imagination are Caliban's. It is not that Caliban cannot use the acquired language for profitable use. The above lines exemplify Caliban's creative and poetic side. Moreover, even by cursing, Caliban most profitably uses this acquired language as a means of resistance to Prospero's rule.
What enables Caliban to resist Prospero's technological or magical power and cunning? Why is Caliban not meek and submissive as he was in the beginning of the play? Perhaps the knowledge of the music and sound of his island "enable [him] to exceed the limits or constraints of his subjected status" (Fox-Good 261). He may not "gabble" (1.2.359) anymore, but he is still in tune with his land. The "noises" of the island, the "sounds" and "sweet airs" give him "delight and hurt [him] not" (3.2.38). Gathering strength from the songs and music of the island, Caliban "plans to overthrow Prospero, not just politically but linguistically--telling Stephano first to 'possess his books,' the play's metonym not only for Prospero's art and cunning but for language, the word itself" (Fox-Good 261). Caliban reminds Stephano to "First possess [Prospero's] books, for without them / He's but a sot" (3.2.91-92); he urges Stephano to "Burn" the books, which are but the instruments of entrapments.
In spite of the rejuvenated Caliban, Prospero, the supreme manipulator that he is, very deftly employs Ariel's report on Caliban's conspiracy not only to out-maneuver the conspirators but to produce a subtler outcome in the final scene. By then Prospero has successfully manipulated the storm, separated Ferdinand from his father, manipulated Miranda's choice of husband, and influenced Ferdinand's selection of Miranda. But the final stroke of the manipulative genius is revealed in the concluding scene. Prospero has realized that no amount of violence can guarantee him loyalty from his antagonists. This he learns from his treatment of Caliban, as the more torture he inflicts on Caliban, the more he recoils from him. Thus, even after Prospero has worked his magic to such an extent that all his enemies "Lie at [his] mercy" (4.1.265), he decides against punishing the vanquished lot. By act 5, scene 1, he lays out his plan: "The rarer action is / In virtue than in vengeance" (5.1.27-28). He had thoughts of vengeance in him but cleverly alters them in the end. By bringing his antagonists to the point where he can execute his will on them, he exposes their vulnerability. But by forgiving them all, he makes them forever grateful and humbles them; in other words, he manipulates them into acknowledging his Christian humanity.
It is this benevolent Prospero that we encounter in the concluding scene. By then Caliban and the others are persuaded that Prospero can destroy their lives if they displease him. Caliban's wonder at the manipulative genius is exhibited when he says, "How fine my master is!" (5.1.264) in comparison to Stephano. Simultaneously, though, Caliban's dread of Prospero is clear when he says, "He will chastise me" (5.1.265). But instead of punishing Caliban, Prospero exhibits compassion: "The thing of darkness I acknowledge mine" (5.1.278), and the utterance works like magic. His magnanimity becomes the greatest coercive strategy here. Caliban, the rebel, is suddenly as terrified with what Prospero can do as he is awed at his magnanimity and compassion. He says in fear, "I shall be pinched to death" (5.1. 279), and yet at the same time Prospero's compassionate act genuinely forces him to say, "I'll be wise hereafter / And seek for grace" (5.1.298-99). To utter the phrase "seek for grace" means he has succumbed to the Christian theological discourse; "to be wise" means he will reject his earlier gods, Setebos and Stephano.
Forgiveness is necessarily understood as a private affair. But Prospero provides it a public, performative character. Of course, forgiveness, too, has a public, performative side to it, but such forgiveness is a political act. Prospero strategically positions his performance of forgiveness to subdue all his antagonists. Seeing Prospero in an act of compassionate behavior, everyone falls prey to his political craftsmanship. By restoring Ferdinand to Alonso, Prospero wins over the king and also forges a bond of kinship that he had denied Caliban. Likewise, his forgiveness irredeemably reduces Antonio in the eyes of the king. Prospero in one stroke becomes twice closer to Alonso. Prospero forgives his brother, who had tried to usurp his dukedom, as an act of Christian piety. The same is seen in his treatment of Caliban when he forgives Caliban for sinning with a plot to kill him.
The irony, however, is that the same Christian piety would not prompt Prospero to set Caliban totally free. We understand forgiveness as the surrender of resentment. We expect transgressors to be treated in a different manner once they are forgiven. But the earlier treatment of Caliban continues unabated. Prospero still calls him "as disproportioned in his manners / As in his shape" (5.1.294-95) and addresses him as "sirrah" (5.1.295), which means Caliban is still a slave to him. He still calls him "this thing of darkness" (5.1.278); he doesn't even accord him the level of humanity by calling him a person. The only difference in Prospero's treatment is that he doesn't kill Caliban for plotting to kill him. Possibly he doesn't need to, as Caliban is a total convert, a proselytized being. Under the pretext of Christian piety, the colonial project is only strengthened.
Prospero's public and performative acknowledgement of Caliban has a more sinister function. Greenblatt, in Marvelous Possessions talking of Columbus's taking possession of the newly discovered land, says that "Taking possession is principally the performance of a set of linguistic acts: declaring, witnessing, recording. The acts are public and official" (57). Similarly, by saying, "This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine" (5.1.278), Prospero enacts the ritualistic possession of Caliban and, by extension, the island "on his behalf and on behalf of his descendants" (Greenblatt, Marvelous 57). The witnesses are Alonso, the king, and the nobility of Naples and Milan. The whole act is a declaration, which is witnessed and recorded, so Prospero's legitimacy over Caliban and the island is fixed forever.
In his proclamation of ownership over Caliban and by extension over the island, no one contradicts Prospero. The textual evidence suggests that Caliban does not contradict because he is both terrified of Prospero's power and awed by his proclamation, which Caliban (like many other earlier critics/scholars) mistakes for his magnanimity, his act of forgiveness. Consequently, with no one to contradict his proclamation of ownership, Prospero "acts entirely within ... 'the scriptural operation' of his own culture, an operation that leads him not simply to pronounce certain words or alternatively to write them down but rather to perform
them orally in the presence" of the king and the nobility" (Greenblatt, Marvelous 58), thus providing his public, verbal act the legitimacy of an official standing.
Various scholars have provided varied opinions on the conclusion of the play with many debating over the extent of Caliban's freedom. Julian Lupton says that Prospero's acknowledgement of Caliban is Prospero's acceptance of "both commonality with and responsibility for his creature" (19). Deborah Willis, talking of the final scene, says, "Neither 'humane education' nor punishment and enslavement have produced virtue in [Caliban]; rather, his transformation is the product of events largely outside Prospero's control" (285). Willis calls it "not a full conversion" (285). I feel both the critics' interpretations are misinformed. Prospero's acknowledgment is simply a ploy, a show of magnanimity to gain the trust and service of Caliban and also an act to legitimize his claim. Deborah Willis cleverly notes that neither "education nor punishment and enslavement have produced virtue in [Caliban]," but to situate Caliban's transformation on outside events would put a veil upon Prospero's manipulative act. Caliban's transformation, I argue, is total. The sudden transformation is a little rushed, but it is complete. Incidentally, by finding an analogy between Caliban and Adam, Lupton does a great service in proving irrevocably that the attempt of Prospero reflects what Harriot and company had tried over the Algonquian Indians.
How do we know that Caliban is totally transformed? And what has he transformed into? These are relevant questions that require further exploration. The answer lies in Caliban's final lines:
I'll be wise hereafter And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass Was I to take this drunkard for a god And worship this dull fool. (5.1.298-301)
It is interesting to note Caliban says that henceforth he will be seeking "grace" and penitence for his crime. Before that Caliban had adopted a stance of resistance by cursing. Even when he spoke the most lyrical and poetic lines in act 3, scene 2, he talked of magic and dreams. And when he first entered the stage in the final scene, he swore by "Setebos" (5.1.263). But after Prospero acknowledges him, his language undergoes a dramatic change. He talks of seeking grace and abandoning his earlier gods. It is as if he's taken over by the maxim "To err is human, to forgive divine," where Prospero's forgiveness has been equated with divinity. He is persuaded that Prospero and, by extension, the Christian God are all-powerful. Whatever expectations he had of finding a stronger power, he has lost it now. More than that, he is in Prospero's total sway of magnanimity. The act of Prospero's compassion has completely transformed him. It is as if he has realized his mistake, and, like a converted Christian, renounced the pagan and false gods to "seek for grace" (5.1.299). The Tempest, by projecting this transformation (a religious conversion) of Caliban, participates in the colonial discourse.
That brings us to the Vaughans' question: Is Caliban free? When seen as a person who has been proselytized, who has been coerced to give up his way of life, we question Caliban's freedom. Moreover, with Prospero's legitimate claim over Caliban and the island, Caliban's political freedom is always dependent upon the mother country, i.e. Milan. The possible indication at the end is that the island will remain an outpost of the Milanese nation. In other words, Caliban would be as free as Prospero would allow him to be. What is more striking about Prospero's subjugation of Caliban, however, is that Shakespeare dramatizes it not just as any story but the story of the inevitable extinction of Caliban and his people; in the fnal scene Caliban is left without any partner to people the island. Caliban has already lost his language, he has lost his religion, and now he is the last of his kind. A more tragic story of the colonized is yet to be written. Therefore, is it time for us to give up on the colonialist approach of reading The Tempest as the post revisionists would want us to? I say not yet. For a new chapter has to be written on Caliban's proselytized freedom, on his "postcolonial" days to complete the story of his tormented emancipation.
Alden T. Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan would want us to believe that the "Third World adoption of Caliban is ironic." They argue that, "Although [Caliban] readily symbolizes its oppressed and exploited peoples, he originally was a European construct--the product of an English imagination" (162). The Vaughans, however, forget that Caliban's resistance is made more effective when he uses the language of the colonizer. He is most effective when he appropriates the colonizer's language for his own political ends. Though he doesn't succeed, he nevertheless effectively frustrates Prospero. And since Europeans and the West in general have been perpetrators of imperialistic design since the renaissance, it becomes even more effective, therefore, when the artistic creation of the best among the European minds is adopted as a metaphor for the forcibly dispossessed. A metaphor from a developing nation would not evoke much response or interest among the colonizers. English being the most popular language in the world today and Shakespeare being the greatest exponent of the use of the language, his characters will be perennially discussed, debated, and identified with. Hence, it is not surprising for authors from the developing countries to choose Caliban as a metaphor of human oppression. And as far as the question of whether the high tide of Caliban's Third World role probably has passed, the answer would be unlikely. For as long as there continues to be Western imperial and colonial designs over the developing world, (2) Caliban will perform an important emblematic function as a figure of rebellion as well as a terrible reminder of the Other succumbing to the coercive imperial power.
Fox-Good, Jacquelyn. "Other Voices: The Sweet, Dangerous Air(s) of Shakespeare's Tempest." Shakespeare Studies, vol. 24, 1996, pp. 241-74. EBSCOhost, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mlf&AN=1996023190&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Frey, Charles. "The Tempest and the New World." Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 1, 1979, pp. 29-41. JSTOR, doi: 10.2307/2869659.
Fuchs, Barbara. "Conquering Islands: Contextualizing The Tempest." Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 1, 1997, pp. 45-62. JSTOR, doi: 10.2307/2871400
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----. Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture. Routledge, 1990.
----. Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World. U of Chicago P, 1991.
Lupton, Julia Reinhard. "Creature Caliban." Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 1, pp. 1-23. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2902320.
Marshall, Tristan. "The Tempest and the British Imperium in 1611." The Historical Journal, vol. 41, no. 2, 1998, pp. 375-400. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2640111.
Seed, Patricia. "'This Island's Mine': Caliban and Native Sovereignty." "The Tempest" and Its Travels, edited by Peter Hulme and William H. Sherman, U of Pennsylvania P, 2000, pp. 202-11.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington. 4th ed. Longman, 1997, pp. 1529-58.
Singh, Jyotsna. "Caliban versus Miranda: Race and Gender Conflicts in Postcolonial Rewritings of The Tempest." Shakespeare's Romance: New Casebooks, edited by Alison Thorne, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, pp. 205-25.
Skura, Meredith Anne. "Discourse and the Individual: The Case of Colonialism in The Tempest." Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 40, no.1, 1989, pp. 42-69. JSTOR, doi: 10.2307/2870753.
Vaughan, Alden T. "Shakespeare's Indian: The Americanization of Caliban." Shakespearean Quarterly, vol. 39, no. 2, 1988, pp. 137-153. JSTOR, doi: 10.2307/2870626.
Vaughan, Alden T., and Virginia Mason Vaughan. Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History. Cambridge UP, 1996.
Willis, Deborah. "Shakespeare's Tempest and the Disclosure of Colonialism." Studies in English Literature, vol. 29 no. 2, 1989, pp. 277-289. JSTOR, doi: 10.2307/450475.
Wilson-Okamura, David Scott. "Virgilian Models of Colonization in Shakespeare's Tempest." ELH, vol. 70 no. 3, 2003, pp. 709-737. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30029896.
(1) In order to locate the New World association in The Tempest, Charles Frey, in his 1979 essay "The Tempest and the New World," suggests outside reading in travel literature of the New World, especially the French and Italian accounts of Magellan or El Cano's circumnavigation of 1519-22, both of which were widely circulated and popular during Shakespeare's time. Likewise, Alden T. Vaughan's "Shakespeare's Indian: The Americanization of Caliban" is an interesting survey of the American link beginning from the historical critics to the revisionist scholars. Vaughan locates four distinct phases among The Tempest's critics. He sees Sidney Lee as the most important Shakespearean scholar who systematically claimed an American root for Caliban. American scholars like Reverend Frank M. Bristol, etc., joined the bandwagon soon enough. In spite of opponents like E. E. Stoll, the American identification of The Tempest became popular because of scholars like Lee, Raleigh, and Cowley. While Lee and others were concerned whether the New World connection was intentional on Shakespeare's part, the next growth in this area was the figurative use of The Tempest exemplified by Leo Marx in 1960. Critics like Marx and Fiedler were more interested in the appropriateness of the play's emblems for subsequent American history rather than Shakespeare's analogical intentions (Vaughan 146). O. Mannoni used Caliban as an emphatic symbol of the world's oppressed peoples, later carried on by "negritude" writers of the early 1960s. As the third phase, Vaughan marks the entry of the English and American historians in this arena. Finally, Vaughan moves on to the New Historicists and states that they are not concerned with either intentionalist readings or the newer allegorical approach but focus on "the congruities between Shakespeare's plays and its contemporaneous historical and imaginative literature" (151). He notes that the intentionalist reading of The Tempest is fast fading but predicts the new emphasis will last along with the metaphoric readings.
(2) The unending involvement of Western troops in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies' continued involvement in the affairs of developing countries under the pretext of spreading democracy and freedom around the world, the economic colonization of the developing world, etc., exemplify enduring European/Western imperialist designs.
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|Publication:||Papers on Language & Literature|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
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