The Tempest as a Power Struggle Between the New and the Old World
To what extent do you agree that The Tempest is a power struggle between the old and the new world? Shakespeare’s Plays II Assignment 1 Rocio Corral Garcia 119042576 It is generally accepted that Shakespeare’s Play The Tempest is complex in many senses, but it cannot be denied that it is especially rich in terms of interpretation. A huge variety of critical analyses have been written about Shakespeare’s last play suggesting different possible approaches to it, such as human salvation, magic, colonisation and power.
This essay will focus on the struggle between the old and the new world, which is one of the major themes in this play and that can be easily applied to politics and conspiracy in their more broad sense.
Prospero is a European who dominates the island on his own and he is able to do so because he has magic powers. In this way he controls the island and its inhabitants by combining threats of force, promises of freedom and all kind of techniques characteristic of a proper dictator. He takes charge of the island which does not belong to him and exerts his power over the inhabitants, forcing them to serve him as slaves.
It is almost impossible to draw a parallelism between this situation and the European colonial power in North America during the XVII century. Thus, it may be assumed that the old world stands for Europe and all its common practices and customs while the new world is represented by the uncivilised island. Throughout the whole play the reader is able to find several occasions in which the struggle between the new and the old world is very noticeable. In the first scene of the play, for example, we find the exchange between Prospero and Miranda talking about what has been left in the old world: dukedom and serving women.
For them, living in the island means abandoning all these things and implementing facets of the new world. Miranda has been educated by her father following the old world rules but at the same time she has learned the secrets of the island by Caliban. Caliban is a native of the island who rails against language and is forced to submit. He reveals against all those things related to the old world, since he belongs to the new one. This fighting is constant along the play. Then, on the second act Shakespeare presents the difference between the new and the old world in terms of appearance.
That is to say, the green and the light of the new world contrast with the European world. The new world is wild and uncivilised. Gonzalo has his own dream which is labelled as a utopian view of the island. He portrays it without order and hierarchy. In his new world there would not be chaos because everyone will be happy: I’ the commonwealth I would by contraries Execute all things; for no kind of traffic Would I admit; no name of magistrate; Letters should not be known; riches, poverty, And use of service, none; contract, succession, Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none; No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all; And women too, but innocent and pure; No sovereignty; The reader may acknowledge this as the internal fight men had in this era. Following this scene we find the metaphor of the drunken servant men that come to the island and they imagine that they are able to rule it, thinking that they will secure the loyalty of a native through gifts and the promise of benevolent ruling. This metaphor is made on the basis of a strong parallelism with the real accounts of the colonisation. So, there cannot be any reading of The Tempest without considering it as a study of colonialism.
During the colonisation the struggle between the colonizers and the colonized world was a constant feature, so this view support the idea that The Tempest is a clear example of the struggle between the old and the new world. The English colonial project is on Shakespeare’s mind throughout the play, as almost every character, from Gonzalo to Stephano, imagines how he would rule the island if he were its king. Shakespeare seems as well to be influenced by Montagne’s essay “Of the Cannibals” since the name of Prospero’s servant is Caliban could be an anagram of “cannibal”.
Prospero stands for the dominant part in his relationship with Caliban and his allusions to him are most the time is contemptuous. Prospero describes Caliban as: “Devil, a born devil on whose nature, Nurture can never stick” This description of Caliban is quite similar to those descriptions of the “savages” by Captain John Smith who set the first English settlement in Jamestown, or to those descriptions given by Mary Rowlandson later in the XVII century.
These descriptions fit perfectly with Prospero’s concept of Caliban, so maybe Shakespeare’s intention here is to make a direct link between the current accounts of the colonisation process and the situation of the play. Again, this makes a clear instance that the play wants to portray the confrontation between the old and the new world. This clear struggle in the play between the new and the old world may be emphasized by political themes associated with Caliban’s conspiracy and Prospero’s colonialist control of the island. This essay will focus now on the political issue of the play.
On the one hand, it may be clear that usurpation is the main political theme pervading the play. The possibility of usurpation is precisely what allows Prospero to legitimise and sustain his totalitarism on the island. Paradoxically, he was first usurped from his throne and it is him who repeats that behaviour in the island. Prospero’s power is proved by Caliban’s resistance. Caliban stands for the main dissident voice in the play. His threatening integration of Prospero’s rhetoric makes him a dangerous insider to the established system: “You taught me language, and my profit on ’t
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you For learning me your language! ” Caliban’s use of language illustrates perfectly the potential to resistance contained within power. , and Prospero’s response to Caliban consists in violent outbursts of rage: “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’ll rack thee with old cramps, Fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar That beasts shall tremble at thy din. Prospero’s violence hardly hides his terror at Caliban’s appropriation of his language. On the other hand, the play deals perfectly with the topic of conspiracy, being Caliban its maximum exponent. Caliban resists to Prospero’s authority, but this authority may be called into question, since Prospero gets it by means of usurpation. Anyway, Caliban’s role is essential in terms of resistance; however, by depriving Prospero by his unique discourse, he represents the existence of alternative voices in the island.
He exposes three different versions of the past in the island: Caliban’s, Ariel’s and Prospero’s, although it is the latest the one who succeed. Prospero appropriates the past of the island, and he rewrites history according to his own standards, in order to construct a credible narrative. Caliban shows his resistance: “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, Which thou takest from me” Prospero manages to make his version the one to be trusted. He describes Sycorax as the malevolent witch, a chaos and evil, which contrasts with him, the balance.
This is another actual clue that asserts the play as the struggle between the new and the old world. Prospero assures that it was Sycorax who imprisoned Ariel and it was him who released Ariel. It seems that Sycorax is dead, since she does not appear on stage, but her presence lurks ominously in the background. Despite her physical absence from the play Sycorax has great importance. In the politics of the play she serves an ideological function as she is constructed as the evil witch, the ‘other’, through which Prospero’s ownership of the island is legitimised.
She is constructed as being the antithesis to Prospero – female, non-European and evil – and Prospero uses her to justify his acts of dispossession. Prospero shapes the past on his own way. However, the presence of other rivals frightens Prospero, and his anxiety increases as it is shown with his irrational outburst of anger at Caliban’s command of language. Besides, in the island there are different ideological ways of thinking, such as Gonzalo’s political manifesto mentioned above “No sovereignty” (2. 1, 156). Indeed, Gonzalo’s utopia is likely to the real hierarchy in the island, ince there is a king but without sovereignty. Another aspect of the play that may be related to politics is the marriage between Miranda and Ferinand, since it serves as an agreement between the old world, here represented by Ferinand, and the new world, embodied by Miranda. In this way the marriage stands as a peace treaty between both worlds. It might represent a political marriage, which were very common during the Elizabethan period. The reader may find another political marriage in the play, since in Act II Alonso’s daughter marries the king of Tunis against her wishes.
But this is not the case of Miranda, since she falls in love to Ferinand at the first glance. However, this marriage is a sort of business because Miranda is a political tool in Prospero’s plan. Besides, it is very interesting that Miranda is the only female character on an island full of men. She makes possible the reconciliation and redemption of both, Prospero and Alonso. The most important value of Miranda is her chastity which enables the marriage. Virginity is a matter of politics in the play, since with Miranda being not pure the marriage would not be possible.
But Prospero makes sure that her daughter is virgin and emphasizes Miranda’s purity linking her to her mother: Thy mother was a piece of virtue, and She said thou wast my daughter; and thy father Was Duke of Milan, and his only heir And princess no worse issued. Finally, it may be concluded that The Tempest presents different instances of the struggle between the old and the new world, and that Shakespeare draws a strong parallelism with the issue of colonisation and the plot of the play. It might be also acknowledged that there is a final reconciliation between both worlds which is sealed by Miranda and Ferinand’s marriage.
Although this play was composed in the XVII century, there are several timeless topics that Shakespeare portrays like political usurpation, conspiracy and struggle for power, that occupy a first place in present day life. Bibliography Primary texts: Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974 Secondary texts: Free Tempest Essays: “Relevance of The Tempest Today” Retrieved February 26, 2012 from: http://www. 123HelpMe. com/view. asp? id=7486 Gibson, Rex. The Tempest. Cambridge Student Guides. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2006.
Hamilton, Donna B. Virgil and The Tempest: The Politics of Imitation . Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1990. Montaigne, Michael de, The Complete Essays. London: Penguin,2003. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Gonzalo’s speech. (2. 1,123-32) [ 2 ]. Montagne, Michael de. The Complete Essays. Trans. M. A. Screech. London: Penguin, 2003 [ 3 ]. Prospero’s description of Caliban (4. 1,188-9) [ 4 ]. Caliban’s speech (1. 2,369-70) [ 5 ]. Prospero’s speech (1. 2,371-76) [ 6 ]. Caliban’s words (1. 2,334. 5) [ 7 ]. Prospero’s speech (1. 2,56-59)