Over the past couple of weeks, our Humanities Core class has been focusing on the play, The Tempest, written by William Shakespeare. In our lectures, Professor Lewis has introduced the idea that “language is a partner to empire” and has offered several different renditions of the play that helped to back up her claim. In the different renditions of this play, the authors introduced different scenarios that they have altered to represent this piece from different perspectives which can be seen through several means. Whether the author is writing the piece a different way or in a different language, or altering the personality of a certain character, the varying views off each author is represented through their work.
Let’s start off with the original version of The Tempest by William Shakespeare. In the original, I initially felt bad for Prospero since his brother had betrayed him and taken over the country that had been his in the first place. Since all his power comes from the knowledge that he gains from his books, it is obvious that knowledge is power and it is part of the reason of how Prospero could gain the top place in the hierarchy of the island that he ended up on. While Prospero had book smarts, Caliban, the rightful owner of the island, had “street smarts” in a sense because he shows Prospero and Miranda the island and where to find all the necessities needed to live. Although Prospero seems to be thankful for this creature in the beginning and even taught him the language, Prospero soon turns on Caliban which resorts him to using he language to curse. Due to this change, this could be an example of how “colonial rule is colonial resistance” because Caliban is taking the gift that Prospero gave to him for evil rather than good. In this original version, Caliban is presented in a rather negative light because he is constantly being put down as a servant and not seen as being capable of human emotions, and therefore, has no humanity. This idea “gives” Prospero the authority to become his leader because he sees himself as more superior than Caliban. In the original, Shakespeare appears to be presenting one perspective of the story, Prospero’s, since everything seems to fall in his favor.
Moving on to the next piece of work, these characters are seen in a different light. In Aime Cesaire’s, A Tempest, the author seemed to present the characters in a way to represent the oppression that was happening during that time such as the “negritude” movement and the popularity of Malcolm X. From this perspective, there is an emphasis on the superiority of Prospero to Caliban since he was being oppressed by the “powerful” Caliban. In this instance, Caliban shows more pride in himself rather than letting Prospero stomping all over him. One specific example that represents Caliban’s personality can be represented when he requests that Prospero refer to him as “X” because whenever he says his name, it sounds condescending and reminds Caliban of what he has lost. I think that using this tactic allows the reader to view the play in a different light which shows that there’s not just one side to every story. Additionally, Caliban does not hold back when it comes to his language and how he uses it to talk back to Prospero rather than Prospero using it to oppress him. Moving on to the logistic side of things, this piece was written in a less formal way from the way it was written originally as well as being written in French. Through the informal writing as well as the translation from French to English, Cesaire’s piece presents a comparison from the real-world happenings to the story that Shakespeare had presented many years prior.
In a series of stories by Suniti Namjoshi, “Snapshots of Caliban and Sycorax”, the author presents a rather feminist view of the original play by Shakespeare. In lecture, Professor Lewis called this adaption “loving” which I found rather odd since the loneliness of the poems are kind of stripped away when she presented it in such a way. Additionally, the main focus in Namjoshi’s version was on gender in which Caliban was presented as a girl as well as putting more of an emphasis on the women in the play who were not necessarily presented in the original version. To elaborate, Sycorax has her own set of poems in these excerpts where she talks about how Prospero had taken away her island even though he had claimed that the island was uninhabited by the time that he got there. With the change of gender for Caliban, this presents a “what if” kind of view as in how Caliban would have been if he were a girl rather than a boy and how he/she would be treated with this change. Another aspect of these excerpts that added another twist to the original tale is that Miranda and Caliban were presented as children. With this idea, I think the author was attempting to show the nature and thoughts of the characters by presenting them as younger versions of themselves since children rarely seem to hide their initial emotions. However, Prospero, being depicted as an old “sage”, seems to have a more quiet and dark personality which represents a deeper chaos or violence which could be compared to the original version of The Tempest. As the reader can see, this series of stories not only gives us a feminist perspective, but also shows how differently this story can be presented given a few changes.
In each of these variations, the authors present the story of The Tempest in such a way as to use it to represent their beliefs. I think this is because it is an excellent story in which one can alter it so that it fits an individual cause. Given that I focused on the oppression of Caliban by Prospero, it would be easy to relate this to many of the serious issues of our time.
Thanks for reading!