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Theme of Colonization in “The Tempest” Essay Sample

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Theme of Colonization in “The Tempest” Essay Sample


Colonization is a recurrent theme dealt by Shakespeare throughout his play The Tempest. The paper would evaluate and discuss the story being the range of interest of an expedition to colonize part of America as it inspires Shakespeare to write ‘The Tempest’. The European greed is a driving force of so-called civilization in the veil of colonization. They do not stop to think and consider Calibans feelings. As a native of the island they see him as the demoralized, detribalized, suffering monster. In ‘The Tempest’ Shakespeare establishes the stereotypes of the colonizer and the colonized. Characters that come across, as the colonizers are Miranda, Prospero, Stephano and Trinculo. Caliban is made out to be the colonized native. However Shakespeare does not allow characters to fit neatly into one stereotype.


The first colonizers who come across are Prospero and Miranda. They behave as colonizers in different ways. They are presented as colonizers in that they stole Caliban’s island. Evidence of this may be noted in Act 1 Scene 2 when Caliban says, ‘This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother/Which thou tak’st from me…’ however further on lines 348 and 349 it reveals that Caliban tries to rape Miranda and is not sorry for it. He wishes he could have succeeded as he says,

‘Thou didst prevent me – I had peopled else

This isle with Calibans’ (Act I Scene II)

This seems to be the reason for Prospero treating Caliban this way and shows Calibans savage, vindictive nature. They are also presented as colonizers by the way they economically exploit Caliban and view and treat him as inferior. This is evident in Act 1 Scene 2 when Prospero calls to Caliban and says,

‘Come forth, I say; there’s other business for thee.

Come, thou tortoise, when?’ (Act I Scene II)

This quote shows they have exploited him by making him work for them and treating him as an inferior by relating him to an animal by calling him names such as ‘tortoise’. However Prospero also says, ‘we cannot miss him’ which shows how Prospero and Miranda rely on him and should treat him with a little bit more respect. Other ways in which Prospero may be viewed as the colonizer are he forced Caliban to learn his language and Miranda calls Calibans language ‘gabble’. He also insults Calibans mother and refers to Calibans race as ‘vile’. This is how colonizers would have behaved. They would see their race as far superior.

Prospero is also viewed as a colonizer because he uses force to control Caliban. He says, ‘…I’ll rack thee with old cramps/Fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar…’ This shows that if Caliban is not willing to obey and do things for Prospero he will make him do it by inflicting pain upon him. This is how some of the colonizers would have behaved because they wanted control.

Caliban seems to be the colonized native because he is stupid enough to show Prospero all the resources of the island and then he lost his island to Prospero. Caliban tells us this by saying,

‘…And then I loved thee

And showed thee all the qualities o’ the ‘sle,

The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place…

Cursed be I that did so!…'(Act I Scene II)

This shows Caliban is paying for his actions and wishes he had never have shown Prospero the good qualities of the island. This mirrors how the natives behave. They genuinely welcome the colonizers and treate them well. Again in Act 2 Scene 2 Caliban the same mistake again when he says to Stephano, ‘ I’ll show thee every fertile inch o’ th’island. And I will/kiss thy foot – I prithee be my god.’ Here Caliban is making the same mistake again which leads us to believe he really is dumb and fits into the category of the stereotypical native. However here Caliban can be seen as quite intelligent as he sees Stephano as a softer master and an easier way to eventually be free. As it is observed that Caliban sings,

‘No more dams I’ll make for fish,

Nor fetch in firing

At requiring,

Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash dish,

….Has a new master-get a new man.

Freedom, high-day, high-day freedom’ (Act II Scene II)

Although Caliban appears to be smart here he says in his song he will no longer have to do these tough tasks Prospero makes him do even though he promises to do them for Stephano. When Prospero first came to the island he is nice to Caliban they way Stephano is being but that could change when Caliban does not do what he promises and Stephano could end up being a harder master. Evidence that Caliban is colonized by Prospero is that he is Prospero’s slave. Prospero calls him, ‘Thou poisonous slave’. He is also only allowed to stay in one part of the island. This shows us that he is being colonized because he cannot do what he wants freely on an island that is rightfully his. Other evidence that suggests Caliban has been colonized is that he once had his own language and culture but when Prospero came along he taught Caliban his language when it should have been the other way around because Prospero came to Calibans island.

Stephano orders Caliban to do things such as ‘drink’ and ‘come kiss’. Caliban does this for him and so comes across as the colonized one even though he does have hidden reasons for doing this. However, Shakespeare blurs the distinction so that Prospero is not fully a colonizer and Caliban is not fully a typical native. This is a method used to show how he treats the theme of colonization. Prospero is not fully considered a colonizer for a number of reasons. Prospero and Miranda did not deliberately arrive on the island to colonize it. Colonizers would have generally gone to an island with the intention to colonize it. Prospero is sent out to sea with Miranda with hope of death by Prospero’s brother Antonio who wants power over Milan. Prospero explains this to Miranda in Act 1 Scene 2 by saying,

‘…They hurried us aboard a barque,

Bore us some leagues to sea, where they prepared

A rotten carcass of a butt, not rigged,

Nor tackle, sail, nor mast – the very rats

Instinctively have quit it. They hoist us

To cry to th’sea, that roared to us; to sigh’ (Act I Scene II)

So Prospero arrived on the island accidentally but with the help of his magic powers to save himself and Miranda. It also seems that Prospero is not fully a colonizer because Prospero and Caliban live together happily until Caliban tries to rape Miranda. It is simply because Prospero says,

‘Thou most lying slave,

Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,

Filth as thou art, with humane care, and lodged thee

In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate

The honour of my child.'(Act I Scene II)

Therefore Prospero’s harsh treatment of Caliban can be justified. It is not that of a cruel colonizer but rather that of a loving father who just wants to protect his child. Prospero’s cruel behavior towards Caliban does not just seem to be because he is a native as sometimes he behaves this way with Ariel when he will not do what he wants. This is evident in Act 1 Scene 2 when Ariel demands his freedom. Prospero then makes Ariel remember the torment he is freed from and black mails him. When Ariel refuses to do what Prospero asks Prospero becomes cross and calls him a ‘malignant thing’. This is the type of language he might use towards Caliban. This shows Prospero’s manner is his more controlling nature than a colonizer trait.

This can be observed when Stephano and Trinculo call Caliban names such as ‘moon-calf’ and ‘ignorant monster’. It can also be seen when Stephano sees Calibans nervousness as a fit and thinks he can recover him with wine and tame him so that he can be sold. Stephano says,

‘He’s in his fit now, and does not talk after the wisest.

He shall taste of my bottle…

It will go near to remove his fit…’ (Act II Scene II)

These are examples of how the colonizers would have acted. They would not have considered the natives feelings and would have stolen their land and enslaved them, brought them back to Europe and sold them like animals. The colonizers behave as if they are superior to the natives of the islands they are colonizing. They think that their way of life is much better than the natives and force their ways upon the natives. However they do not do this in a nice way. Instead they are barbaric and in there own way savage about it. They would steal the natives land and enslave them and force their language and religions upon them. At the beginning of the play Shakespeare’s attitude towards colonization seems to be ambiguous.

Shakespeare also blurs Caliban’s stereotype so Caliban is not fully a typical native. Caliban is not a poor, powerless native, as it is expected him to be. He is perfectly capable of standing up to Prospero and Miranda. Shakespeare shows this through Calibans use of language and how he can use what Prospero and Miranda taught him against them. He stands up for himself by saying, ‘You taught me language, and my profit on’t/is I know how to curse.’ He uses their language against them by cursing, ‘ A south-west blow on ye/And blister you all o’er!’ And ‘All the charms/Of Sycorax – toads, beetles, bats – light on you!’ From this it is considered that Caliban might actually be quite smart to use this against them and this is something not expected of a native.

However Caliban does possess some markings of savagery as he is physically deformed and repulsive and even though he can use language against Prospero and Miranda his language is base. Caliban’s appearance is learnt in Act 1 Scene 2 when Prospero and Ariel are talking. Prospero describes Caliban as a ‘freckled whelp, hag-born’ and ‘not honoured with a human shape’. Caliban also shows himself to be a dumb native in Act 2 Scene 2 when Caliban believes that Stephano is the man on the moon. Stephano says, ‘Out o’ th’ moon, when time was.’ Caliban then replies with, ‘I have seen thee in her; and I do adore thee/My mistress showed me thee…’ This confirms to Stephano that Caliban is not that smart and that he could possibly tell lies to get Caliban to do things for him.

Again at the end of the play in Act 5 Scene 1 again signs of colonization are in vogue. This is when Sebastian shows an interest in selling Caliban as he says, ‘Will money buy ’em?’ This also shows the greed some colonizers had. Caliban is portrayed to look smart at the end of the play again as he has leant from his mistakes this time. He says, ‘I’ll be wise hereafter’. This shows he is as quick to trust people and he has learnt from his mistakes and has the determination to try and be free again.


There are many instances in the play that show Shakespearean inclination and aptitude to portray colonization. It is Prospero’s approximately special concentration towards metropolitan politics that affords his strongest relationship to the colonizing landed gentry of Shakespeare’s contemporary London. When he was writing The Tempest, colonization gained the thought of a conventional but gradually more oppositional country interest emerging among the aristocracy, including the earl of Southampton: Shakespeare’s once benefactor. If the critics of the play have been insightful to colonialist aspect of the play, they also have too effortlessly incorporated it to the authority of the Stuart state.

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