Summary: Orientalism in The Tempest by Shakespeare

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Postcolonialism study of the politic, aesthetic, economy, history is not limited to 20th century. It also can encompass and include the classical work literary work, as Shakespeare. It is one of the broad schools of thought and philosophy that deeply indebted to the ideas and studies of a colonized scholar and thinker the theorist Edward Said. “The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe”, Said states in his Orientalism, “it is also the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other”. So, the postcolonial studies consider a “continuing process of resistance and reconstruction” . Said theory of Orientalism discusses the ‘Western’ way of dominating, destroying, reconstructing, and asserting authority and control over the “orient” or the “other”. Said considers the false image of the Orient fabricated by Western thinkers as the primitive 'other' in contrast with the civilized West. The West created the uncivilized, down image of the Orient by different political techniques to show the inferiority of the East and to present West as a superior in culture, language, race and any other aspect. William Shakespeare's last play, “The Tempest” can be interpreted through the post-colonial and orientalism perspective in the way that the colonizers invaded into the land of the natives, enslaved its inhabitants and imposed their own culture and language because the invaders believed that they were privileged and superior . In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, some characters were disvalued, abused, tortured and treated as inferior by those who believed they were superior to them. For example, Caliban and Arial were considered to be inferior or ‘Other’ only because they were different from the colonizers, Prospero and Miranda, in terms of their culture, race and language. In this paper I will look at Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism and how it can be applied to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The characters of Prospero, Miranda, Caliban and Arial will be explored and analyzed to see how Said’s theory of Orientalism is prevalent in The Tempest.

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Caliban is a son of a witch mother, named Sycorax and a devil father. With this family background, the superior characters in the play believed he was inferior to them. He is seen as degraded and uncivilized and throughout the play, he is often referred to as: “fish”, “monster” ,“the deformed son of a witch” and “Abhorred slave”. According to the colonizers, Caliban symbolized the undeveloped world. Similarly, the colonizers perceived the Orient as the ‘Other’ and they believed that any different race and skin color than theirs was inferior.

Prospero is the main superior dominated character, Duke of Milan; he was exiled to an unknown island (that belongs to Caliban and his mother) along with his daughter Miranda. By threats of magical retribution “art…of such power “He asserted his dominance, language and culture over the inhabitants of the island and enslaved them. when Prospero first arrived at the island, he was kind to Caliban. After knowing the island by all its information from Caliban, Prospero used his power to capture the island and enslaved Caliban the ‘Other’ on his own land. That is shown in Caliban speech: “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother Which thou takest from me. When thou camest first, Thou strok’st me and made much of me, wouldst give me Water with berries in ‘t, and teach me how To name the bigger light, and how the less, That burn by day and night. And then I loved thee And showed thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle, The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile. Cursed be I that did so! All the charms Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you! For I am all the subjects that you have, which first was mine own king. And here you sty me in this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me The rest o’ th’ island”. Caliban speech also indicate that the native would be consider as inferior by the superior colonizer power ; no matter how nice the native is they would remain as the Other and inferior.

During the Colonization in 17th century, colonizer use to enslave the ‘Other’ to work for them any difficult task; with all kind of cruelty and no respect or appreciation to what they do. Shakespeare shows this cruelty of colonizers through Prospero who controls Caliban by his magical power and torture, that Caliban refers to “…his Art is of such power It would control my dam’s god Setebos,”. For instance, Prospero would torture Caliban for not completing a few task, 'If thou neglectt’st…I’ll rack thee with old cramps, Fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar, That beasts shall tremble at thy din.” Prospero explains his harsh treatment of Caliban is because Caliban attempted to rape his daughter, Miranda 'In mine own cell/till thou didst seek to violate/The honor of my child.' Though it seems that Prospero’s harshness and violence to Caliban , is something beyond the punishment, I think that Prospero violence to Calibn deeply reflect the colonizer expectation from the ‘Other’ which is to be obedient for every order from their superior the colonizer or they will be punished and tortured in various ways .As Caliban was punished in the play for not completing the task that was ordered to.

It is interesting that the Obedient character Arial who is in complete contrast to the disobedient Caliban also being enslaved and treated as the Other, Duke pesta describe Arial as :“intelligent, loyal, innocent, and capable of the best attributes of human sympathy and the desire for justice.” before Prosper came to the island , Arial the native spirit , inhabitant of the island was imprisoned in the tree by the Witch Sycorax for being disobedient to follow her order. Prospero liberated Arial by his magic after his arrival to the island. Arial had to give services in return to the magician Prospero for a “a full year” then he could be free from Prospero magician bound . Arial was willing to follow all the orders; and also the one who was willing to save Prospero from death by reporting the murder plot 'This will I tell my master'. After being done with the all services ,Arial came to Prospero to ask for his freedom. “I prithee, Remember I have done thee worthy service, Told thee no lies, made thee no mistakings, served Without or grudge or grumblings. Thou didst promise To bate me a full year”. Prospero reply was ironical justification because he doesn’t want to lose his ‘Other’ slave services , he told Arial, should not forget that once you were imprisoned in tree, it was me who freed you , “Dost thou forget From what a torment I did free thee?”. Prospero reply is irony because Arial stayed enslave and not free but in the hand of different person. Arial obedience character shows that no matter how obedient the native is, still he represents the Other who are different in race and culture and inferior to the colonizers or the superior.

The colonizers doesn’t want to see that there are various different Culture, language, and tradition ,which should not be interpreted as they are inferior ,‘Other’ or uncivilized this colonizers view is really significant through Miranda’s heat expression towards Caliban : “Abhorred slave, Which any print of goodness wilt not take, Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee, Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour One thing or other: when thou didst not, savage,Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble likeA thing most brutish, I endow'd thy purposes With words that made them known. But thy vile race,Though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thouDeservedly confined into this rock,Who hadst deserved more than a prison”.

Colonizer consider the ‘Other’ as uncivilized savages that need to be civilized by their culture and language. So, Prospero has the same believe towards Caliban the ‘Other’. He wants to teach Caliban his language. But Caliban does not want to obey, He see how his life getting horrible in the hand of Prospero, who brought him nothing but torture, pain and enslaving. Caliban wants to keep his own language, land and culture. However, he learned Prosper, s language. So that Prospero expects Caliban to be thankful to him for educating him and making him learn the superior language. But instead Caliban protest, disobey and uses Prospero’s language to curse him: “You taught me language, and my profit on’t/ Is, I know how to curse”. This is exactly how colonized people the ‘Other’ resist and protest against colonizers. Debora Williams justifies Caliban attempt of rape in a way that :“Caliban has a child-like exuberance that is likely to soften our judgment of him, and his response to Prospero's reminder of his rape attempt is disarming: '0ho, 0 ho! would' tisle with Calibans had been done! / Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else / This “I isle with Calibans'. However, I believe that Calibn, attempt of rape is an action of resist against the colonizer Prospero. Caliban wants to regain his land and power by desire of rape to reproduced more habitants of his race, it is shown through Caliban words when his effort rape was failed “Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else/ This isle with Calibans”. 

Every colonized person believes that freedom and normality can be achieved and restored only if the colonizer destroyed or leaves their land. As Caliban state “When Prospero is destroyed”. Or Caliban attempts of killing Prospero all these reactions of resistance reflect that no colonized person can endure to be enslaved and treated as the ‘Other’. And another example is Caliban’s song while he was drunk reflect his dream for freedom from slavery and violent treatment of Prospero : “No more dam’s I’ll make for fish, Nor fetch in firing, at requiring, Nor scrape trenching, nor wash dish, Ban’ ban’ Caliban Has a new master, get a new man.” “Freedom, high-day, high-day freedom, freedom high-day freedom.” 

 Caliban and Arial represent many victims of European imperialism and colonization. Like Caliban and Arial, colonized people were enslaved, disinherited, tortured and they also protested resisted to save their own culture, language and land. And it’s really hard to imagine and live their torturing lifetime even for a second.  

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