Sanjeet Kumar Das

Asstt. Professor, Dept. of English Language and Literature, Central University of Orissa
Email: [email protected]


This paper is an attempt to shed light on the triggering force of English Renaissance spirit that through the character of Prospero is best exemplified by the scientific temperament of venturing into the New Land. That to acquire the knowledge of the native land is to captivate the semi-demonic being Caliban, the original inhabitant, the ruler of the realm, is maneuvered by the Colonizer Duke of Milan. Because of the irrational disposition of the colonized, the racial apartheid is also to some extent galvanized in the treatment of the colonizer. The relationship maps an oppressor-oppressed hegemonic structure. This binary nexus, however, is gradually tapered, chiseled, and traversed by the ‘spirit of questioning’ as the playwright goes to finally bless the Island with freedom. Thus, the development of the story of the play paves a way for the reader/audience to look into the text through the lens of postcolonialism. There is the resistance ingrained in the psychic plane of the character, -something for which the discourse draws the multitude to perceive at the genesis of the ‘New Dawn’ of freedom. To say the least, such scopes of a modern discourse makes Shakespeare all the more relevant today.

Keywords: Postcolonialism, Discourse, Colonizer-colonized relationship.

The search for the other, maybe psychic or physical, is a natural inner drive , which is one of the causes of the different European expeditions to the rest of the globe. Be it for educating the uncivilized masses, be it for spreading Christianity, be it for navigating the sea in search of new lands for self-gratification- supported by a scientific and adventurous temperament, be it for earning name and fame, be it to escape  from the clutches the of pandemic diseases like Black Plague, or be it for trades in the  far away Asian and African countries, the Europeans crossed the perilous seas and oceans.

British Colonization of America began in 1607, when the Virginia Company established a colony in the city of Jamestown, Virginia. A ship named after Sea Venture was commissioned to deliver supplies to the British Colony in Jamestown. The ship faced a storm on its way and was capsized on 24 July 1609. Consequently, all the passengers remain stranded safely on a coral reef in Bermunda for nine months. Thereafter, they went ahead with their journey with the aid of two new boats towards Virginia and landed there alive. These two incidents of colonization and huge storm did inspire Shakespeare to write his The Tempest (1611).

According to Harald Fischer-Tine, “Postcolonialism is an intellectual discourse that consists of reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism.” Hybridity creates an interstitial space of relations (between colonizer and colonized) wherein colonial identity and native identity meet and often contest and mimicry and mockery also occur. Prospero’s book (language) on magic emblematizes a sign of colonial authority or power to civilize the natives who are uneducated and savage in their demeanor. Ariel represents those colonized who are submissive and cooperative while Caliban stands for more assertive and stubborn primitives. Hence the verbal stuff of Caliban and Prospero is the well-steeped hunting ground to be critiqued for colonial/postcolonial discourse.

Caliban’s mother Sycorax was a witch and his father was a demon and he is seen to lead the life leisurely and peacefully on the island, like other Americans. Because of the befriending nature of Prospero at the outset, Caliban gradually reveals all the secrets of the land to him and hands over the responsibility of legacy of the land to him and later is enslaved to the ‘sly civility’ of Prospero. The initial speech of Caliban may be deemed to be a clear case of his submission:

“I must eat my dinner.

This island’s mine, Sycorax my mother,

Which thou tak’st from me. When thou can’st first

Thou strok’st me, and made much of me; would’st 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 show’d thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle,

The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile:

Curs’d 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 only mine own king: and here you stay me

In this hard rock, while’st you keep from me

The rest o’ th’ island.”

( Act I, ii, 18)


Prospero’s attitude of subjugation vis-à-vis Caliban gets a candid expression in the following speech of the former :

Caliban:          “For every trifle, they set upon me,

Sometimes like apes, that mow and chatter at me,

And after bit me: then like hedgedogs, which

Lie tubling in my barefoot, and mount

Their pricks at my football: sometimes am I

All wound with adders, who with cloves tongues

Do hiss me into madness.”


(Act II, ii, 36)

Prospero subjugates Caliban as a slave. The moment Caliban eyes upon Miranda, Prospero severely punishes him. Prospero’s kindness toward Caliban also depicts his superiority -complex sprung from his act of civilizing Caliban through:

“Thou most lying slave,

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

(Filth as thou art) with human care, and lodg’d thee

In mine own cell, till thou did’st seek to violate

The honour of my child.”

(Act I, ii, 18)

As per the colonizer’s point of view, the colonized are lazy, exotic, seductive, irrational, inhuman, and uncivilized. The same attitude is reflected when Miranda claims that Caliban’s freedom is curtailed so that he could be educated and civilized:

“Abhorred slave,

Which any print of goodness wilt not take,

Being capable of al ill: I pitied thee,

Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour

One thing or the other: when thou didst not (savage)

Know thine own meaning; but wouldst gabble, like

A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes

With words that made them known: but thy vile race

(though thou didst learn) had that in’t, which good


Could abide to be with; therefore wast thou

Deservedly confin’d into this rock,

Who hadst deserv’d more than a prison.”

(Act I, ii, 18-19)

Even though the colonial domination was often brutally repressive, recent scholarship has suggested that harsh coercion worked ‘in tandem with “consent” that was part voluntary, part contrived’ (Arnold 1994: 133). Prospero and Miranda’s relation with Caliban obliquely symbolizes the nature of European colonialism in the Island. As language is the epistemological means of cultural domination, Shakespeare through the character Prospero does the same:

Caliban: “You taught me language; And my profit on’t is, I know how to curse.”

(Act I, ii, 18)

It is evident from the above that Caliban is confident enough to use the language of the colonizer to his advantage and is capable of using it as a tool to assert himself.  Here, Bhabha’s description of mimicry is pivotal to the colonial discourse in the following manner:

Colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed recognizable Other, as a subject of difference that is almost the same, but not quite which is to say, that the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence; in order to be effective, mimicry must continually produce its slippage, its excesses, its difference. (1994:86)

But Leela Gandhi explains the term ‘mimicry’ in her book, Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction as:

But mimicry is also the sly weapon of anti-colonial civility, an ambivalent mixture of deference and disobedience. The native subject often appears to observe the political and semantic imperatives of colonial discourse. But at the same time, she systematically misrepresents the foundational assumptions of this discourse by articulating it. In effect, mimicry inheres in the necessary and multiple acts of translation which oversee the passage from colonial vocabulary to its anti-colonial usage. In other words, ‘mimicry’ inaugurates the process of anti-colonial self-differentiation through the logic of inappropriate appropriation. (1998:149-50).

Colonial and postcolonial literature is often written in the Colonizer’s language. Prospero’s exploitation has been wittily traced in the following words:

“Hag-seed, hence:

Fetch us in fuel, and be quick, thou’rt best

To answer other business: shrug’st thou, malice

If thou neglect’st, or dost unwillingly

What I command, I’II rack thee with old cramps,

Fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar,

That beasts shall tremble at thy din.”

(Act I, ii, 19)

Shorn of power to retaliate, Caliban expresses here:

“No, pray thee,

I must obey, his Art is of such power,

It would control my dam’s god Setebos,

And make a vassal of him.”

(Act I, ii, 19)

Caliban’s attempt to rape Miranda and his annoyance upon the master is uncompromisingly ventilated and inadvertently manifested in the following words:

Caliban:          “O ho, O ho! Would’t had been done!

Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else

This isle with Calibans.”

(Act I, ii, 18)

The above dialogue of Caliban aptly fits into the texture of The Tempest for overcoming his being the Other. Homi Bhabha‘s term ‘hybridity’ can be well explained by referring a quotation from Ania Loomba‘s book Colonialism/Postcolonialism:

It is Homi Bhabha‘s usage of the concept of hybridity that has been the most influential and controversial within recent postcolonial studies. Bhabha goes back to Fanon to suggest that liminality and hybridity are necessary attributes of the colonial condition. For Fanon, you will recall, psychic trauma results when the colonial subject realizes that he can never attain the whiteness he has been taught to desire, to shed the blackness that he has learnt to devalue. Bhabha amplifies this to suggest that colonial identities are always a matter of flux and agony. It is always, writes Bhabha in an essay about Fanon‘s importance of our time, in relation to the place of the other that colonial desire is articulated, correct. (1998:148)

The Bhabha’s concept of ‘hybridity’ bridges the gap between the colonizer and the colonized.

The colonizer Prospero discerns it as a threat to his own position and subsequently exploits him further incessantly.The dialogue of ill-treatment between Prospero and Miranda towards Caliban draws the attention of the postcolonial readers to build the platform of colonial discourse below:

Prospero:         “… Come on,

We’ll visit Caliban, my slave, who never

Yields us kind answer.”

Miranda:         “ ‘Tis a villain sir,

I do not love to look on.”

Prospero:         “But as ‘tis

We cannot miss him: he does make our fire,

Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices

That profit us: what hao: slave: Caliban:

Thou earth, thou: speak…

Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself

Upon thy wicked dam; come forth.”

(Act I, ii, 17)

Caliban is treated as a non-human, almost demon-like creature. The value of freedom can only be known to a person who has long been under subjugation and exploitation. The saga of suffering of the colonized gets an appropriate reflection through the following song sung by Caliban (for his brutal master: Prospero) in his intoxicated  state:

“No more dam’s I’II 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.”

(Act II, ii, 41-42)

Caliban’s exasperation compels him to plot a conspiracy with Stephano and Trinculo against Prospero’s unnatural legacy upon the island:

“As I told thee, ‘tis a custom with him,

I’ th’ afternoon to sleep: there thou mayst brain him,

Having first seiz’d his books: or with a log

Batter his skull, paunch him with a stake,

Or cut his wezand with thy knife. Remember

First to possess his books; for without them

He’s but a sot, as I am; nor hath not

One spirit to command: They all do hate him

As rootedly as I.”

(Act III, ii, 48-49)

That all the colonized always advocate for freedom is implicitly stated in the dialogue of the characters Stephano and Caliban:

Stephano:        “This will prove a brave kingdom to me,

Where I shall have my music for nothing.”

Caliban:           “When Prospero is destroy’d.”

(Act III, ii, 50)

In his article “Postcolonial Criticism” in Greenblatt and Gunn’s “Redrawing the Boundaries: the Transformation of English and American Literary Studies”, Homi Bhaba says:

Culture as a strategy of survival is both transnational and translational. It is transnational because contemporary postcolonial discourses are rooted in specific histories of cultural displacement, whether we are talking about the voyage out of the civilizing mission, the fraught accommodation of Third World migration to the West after the Second World War, or the traffic of economic and political refugees within and outside the Third World. Culture is translational because such spatial histories of displacement – now accompanied by the territorial ambitions of global media technologies- make the question of how culture signifies, or what is signified by culture, a rather complex issue. It becomes crucial to distinguish between the semblance and similitude of the symbols across diverse cultural experiences-literature, art, music, ritual, life, death- and the social specificity of each of these areas as they circulate as signs within specific contextual locations and social systems. The transnational dimension of cultural transformation – migration, diaspora, displacement, relocation – makes the process of cultural translation a complex form of signification. The unifying discourse of nation, peoples, or authentic folk tradition, those embedded myths of culture particularity, cannot be easily referenced. The great, though unsettling, advantage of this position is that it makes you increasingly aware of the construction of culture and the invention of tradition.

Shakespeare has altruistically and humbly penned down the magical spell of his final touch to the stage of dramatic delight through this work of art The Tempest. Caliban’s voice seems to have been purposefully mutilated. The nuanced communication style of Shakespeare’s characters had its root in the court of the English royalty. The relationship maps an oppressor-oppressed hegemonic structure. This binary nexus, however, is gradually tapered, chiseled, and traversed by the ‘spirit of questioning’ as the playwright goes to finally bless the Island with freedom. Thus, the development of the story of the play paves a way for the reader/audience to look into the text through the lens of postcolonialism. There is the resistance ingrained in the psychic plane of the character, -something for which the discourse draws the multitude to perceive at the genesis of the ‘New Dawn’ of freedom. To say the least, such scopes of a modern discourse makes Shakespeare all the more relevant today.


Arnold, D. ‘Public Health and Public Power: Medicine and Hegemony in Colonial India’, in D. Engels and S. Marks (eds), Contesting Colonial Hegemony, London and New York: British Academic Press, pp. 131-151, 1994.

Bhabha, Homi. “Postcolonial Criticism” in Redrawing the Boundaries: the Transformation of English and American Literary Studies edited by Stephen Greenblatt and Giles B. Gunn. Modern Language Association of America, New York, 1992. 

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London; New York: Routledge, 1994.

Fischer-Tine, Harald. Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial. London: Verso, 2000.

Gandhi, Leela. Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction. New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, 1998.

Loomba, Ania. Colonialism-Postcolonialism. London: Routledge, 1998.

Loomba, Ania. Shakespeare, Race, Colonialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. London: Penguin, 1978.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. New Delhi: Peacock, 2008.

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Drishti:the Sight is a National refereed Bi-annual Research Journal in the disciplines of Arts and Humanities founded in the year 2012 publishing articles in the subjects of English Literature, Assamese Literature, Folklore, Culture.The journal has been enlisted in the UGC-CARE list (Sr.No. 42) in Arts and Humanities section.The journal is dedicated to the cause of young upcoming scholars of the nation.The journal publishes only authentic research articles. It tries to follow the research ethics to the core.