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European Colonialism and Imperialism in Shakespeare's The Tempest Essay examples

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European Colonialism and Imperialism in Shakespeare's The Tempest


William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest reveals how ideologies of racial ‘otherness’ served to legitimize European patriarchal hegemony in Elizabethan England. In the Elizabethan/ Jacobean times of England there were many relevant ideologies relevant to this play. In examining the values and ideologies this text endorses and challenges, the society of the time (Elizabethan England), and a knowledge of how it operated serves a great purpose in analyzing these relationships. As in many texts of this time, Shakespeare is endorsing many ideologies of his time, and, although many have labelled him ahead of his time in many respects in his writing, he is, essentially writing from the Elizabethan or Jacobean point of view and time. The Tempest endorses the inequitable relationships between races based upon the belief of European superiority. The representation of race and ethnicity in The Tempest reveals a text that is awash with imperialist European ideologies.

In a play which usurpation is a dominant theme, Shakespeare endorses Prospero’s appropriation of the island and it’s aboriginal population. The representation of Caliban and his brother Sycorax reveals the extent to which racist and sexist ideologies function to maintain the balance of power in the hands of a small, ruling, elite. Indeed, it should be noted that The Tempest is more than a simple play. Rather, it is a complex and multi-layered literary construction. As it cannot be reduced to the single issue of race to investigate the imbalance of power in the play. Attention must be given to the way patriarchal notions of gender inform racial representations in order to understand the imbalances of power i...


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.... An investigation into the imbalance of power in the play reveals the ideologies of race and gender that drive the power dynamics of the play. The construction of the inferior nature of non-European characters is firmly grounded in imperialist, European and patriarchal values.

The Tempest presents the appropriation of the island and it’s inhabitants by Prospero’s imperial patriarchal regime as entirely natural and inevitable, based upon the inherent inferiority of the original population. In doing so, the play is a precise repetition of imperialist rhetoric, which legitimizes European annexation of ‘other’ lands and peoples over which they have no legitimate claim.

Bibliography/ Works Cited

Shakespeare, W. The Tempest. Ed. Sutherland, J.R. (1990)

G. Wilson Knight, (1932) The Shakespearean Tempest, Oxford

B. Thompson, (1995) Notes on The Tempest


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