Colonialism and Post-Colonialism in The Tempest

Colonialism began much earlier with the discovery of America. It was a big issue during Shakespeare's time. The opening up of new frontiers and new land being discovered stimulated European information. Shakespeare's imagination has taken this into account. Exploration of new geographical spaces and control of those lands by the explorers is basically what we know by colonialism.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Interpreted as white man's burden, colonization was a means of conquering new lands and imposing the colonizer's culture from on the native people. Prospero's capture of Sycorax's land and his treatment of the natives of the island have prompted many critics to interpret the play as working out the drama of colonization. Caliban's protest against Prospero and his resistance to colonial power using the language taught by the colonizer helps us interpret the play as a postcolonial text.

The Tempest has often been interpreted as a play about colonialism primarily because Prospero comes to Sycorax's island, subdues her, rules the land and imposes his own culture on the people of the land. In this interpretation, Prospero is not seen primarily as a kind father of Miranda and kind ruler instead usurping Caliban's Island from him (Caliban). But putting him under slavery and undermining him as a monster, we can take Prospero as a representative of the Europeans who usurped the land of native Americans and enslaved them. He, as a sense of superiority, takes Caliban as half man.  Pushing the native to the side, he places himself at the helm of affairs. He displaces Caliban's mother and treats her as a beast. He has full control over everything on the island. He makes Caliban work as his servant and calls him a thing of darkness. Caliban is being dehumanized or treated as subhuman. Like European fantasizes the other people as a wild man, Prospero, in this play, describes Caliban as deformed, evil smiling, treacherous, drunkard, violent, savage, and devil worshipping etc. According to Prospero, he is not even human rather born devil.

Prospero; ''This thing of darkness, I call my own''

 This shows the colonizer's attitude of looking down on the colonized people. Caliban is seen as a despicable entity. The whites looked down on the people of another color. Some are born to dominate while others are born to be dominated. Caliban is treated as inferior. The colonizer used words like light, knowledge and wisdom to refer himself while he used terms like darkness, ignorance and elemental to describe the colonized. This binary opposition shows how Prospero as a colonizer creates essences about the colonized people. Prospero sees himself as a ruler carrying out the project of civilization mission. The way light dispels darkness and knowledge dispels ignorance Prospero as a colonizer educates and civilizes Caliban but without much success. The civilizing mission is always accompanied by the politics of domination over the colonized. These elements allow us to study the play in the light of colonialism.

In colonial perspective, we see the play through the eyes of colonizers. But if we see the play from post-colonial perspective, Caliban is emerging against from the very beginning of domination. The hatred towards the colonizer is very great and strong among the colonized. Prospero manipulates everybody and every action in the play. Everybody on the island is manipulated by Prospero the way a puppet master controls his puppets. Caliban as a colonized wants to strike back on the colonizer. Caliban is disobedient and creates problems for the colonizer. He attempts to rape Miranda and it is a threat posed to the safety of the colonizer. He tells Prospero that the land that Prospero rules was forcefully taken away from his mother. Like Caliban's protest, in world history, too protest has begun with the birth of colonialism itself. He simply says, ''I wish it were done''. Despite this, Caliban again and again claims that the land is to be inherited on him. It means he seems to be justified in claiming that the island originally belonged to him.

Caliban: ''I must eat my dinner. This Island is mine, by Sycorax, my mother.''

When Prospero tries to teach the language Caliban always refused to recite. Caliban, therefore, remains at the end what he was at the beginning. No change occurs in Caliban's nature. Here, Prospero, like White men is in the illusion that they are working for them (calonized). But such notion is failed because Caliban does not learn his (Prosper) language, even at the end of the play. The play shows the resistance of dominance class.  Whatever he has learnt, he uses it in cursing Prospero. These attempts by Caliban to protest and resist the colonizer can support our post-colonial interpretation of the play.