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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Poor, Poor Caliban: Reflecting on "The Tempest"

Thinking about "The Tempest" in terms of post-colonialism, really the only aspect of the play that seems relevant are the relationships Caliban has with Prospero and Stephano/Trinculo, or the relationship between Prospero and Ariel (this is a pretty big chunk of the play, actually). Both characters (Ariel and Caliban) are taken advantage of (Caliban more than Ariel) by people more intelligent and powerful than them. Prospero uses Ariel's magic to control the other characters, and he uses Caliban as a sort of slave. And Stephano adopts Caliban and does more or less the same thing (that is to say, he uses Caliban as a slave). Caliban has it much worse, I think than Ariel. Prospero is much smarter and can manipulate Caliban easily. Stephano uses booze where Prospero uses brains. Caliban is helpless. He doesn't have the means (though he knows the language, he doesn't know how to use it to defend himself against magic or alcohol) to deny his "gods." These oppressors sweep in and dominate him in his home. Echoes of post-colonization. Sort of like when Europeans took peoples' freedoms and land with guns and germs, only this time it's done with magic wands and whiskey. Even in the end Caliban receives censure. But Ariel is set free. So it isn't all bad for everyone.

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