Colonialism in Barbara Fuchs’ “Conquering Islands”

The Tempest is believed to be the last play William Shakespeare wrote alone. It was written at the times when a big part of our world was still unknown and European people were fascinated to discover what is hidden in these mysterious faraway lands and islands. Many different ideas and legends were created by people of Europe about the possible worlds that existed on the territories of the islands that were not colonized yet. Some beliefs were saying that dangerous and horrible monsters lived in those lands, some people were sure that Eden, the garden of Paradise was hidden somewhere in the undiscovered territories. Multiple expeditions were sent to conquer these territories. People were both attracted and terrified of them and their dwellers.

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Barbara Fuchs uses the play by William Shakespeare to analyze the way of thinking of people of his time. Fuchs compares the modern point of view on the era of colonialism and the point of view of people of Shakespearian times. It is obvious that these points of view are very different. Barbara Fuchs’ analysis of the play “The Tempest” helps modern minds understand the psychology and upbringing of people keen on the ideas of colonialism, slavery, conquering the forces of nature and owning new lands.

Prospero is one of the most important and powerful characters of the play. This character represents the symbol of the ideology of colonialist times. People of that time were using the method of “assimilating the unknown by means of equating it with the known” (Fuchs 268). Prospero is the representation of ultimate power and total control in the play – the ideal position from the point of view of colonialists. Prospero’s good deeds are never selfless. He does favors in order to receive something in return. He expects gratitude for his kindness, and this gratitude is always expressed through servitude – “thou shalt be free/ as mountain winds: but then exactly do/ all points of my command” (act 1, scene 2). In the article Barbara Fuchs suggests that Caliban and Ariel are the two ideas of the islanders that the colonizers of Shakespearian times had (Fuchs, 275).

Ariel represents the mellow, flexible and adjustable type of subject. He is grateful to his new master who has freed him from a horrible tyrant; he is obedient and ready to help any time. Ariel is the ideal fantasy of an islander for a colonizer. The relationship between Ariel and Prospero describes the most common justification of colonization – the scenario of a native in need suffering from bad conditions of life, and the civilized colonizer bringing freedom and new values.

At the same time Caliban is the type of a native that the colonialists actually had to face. He is portrayed as an ugly wild creature, ungrateful and not submissive; he rebels and betrays Prospero and for that he is called “most lying slave/ whom stripes may move, not kindness” (act 1, scene 2). Caliban’s desire to be free from his colonizer’s control is seen as the consequence of his underdevelopment and his primitive way of thinking.

The scene where Caliban uses speech not to curse but to explain the beauty of the island to Stephano and Trinculo shows that he is not as wild and primitive as he seemed to be. Shakespeare uses this scene to offer the reader another look at the character and to demonstrate that the convenient point of view is not always the right one. The writer keeps his readers’ minds trapped in the set of common beliefs and public idea in order to set it free and make it wonder if what the masses believe so strongly is really true.

Works Cited

Fuchs, Barbara. Conquering Islands: Contextualizing The Tempest. Web.

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Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. n. d. Web.

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