Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Yin & Yang of Human Nature

For years The Tempest was seen as the closing masterpiece of Shakespeare’s career as a playwright, and some critics have looked at it through a postcolonial lens. The problematic relationships Prospero has with Ariel, Caliban, and Miranda have raised questions about the political and social dynamics of colonizers vs. colonized. 

When scholar Robert B. Pierce originally critiqued The Tempest he expressed a sympathetic view toward Miranda and Prospero. Yet the development of academic discourse on Shakespeare’s final play, most specifically the New Historical and anti-colonial readings, forced him to re-evaluate his original sympathetic reading. Pierce’s conflicted understanding of The Tempest lead him to the conclusion that we need to redefine the way we understand the meaning of the play.Rather than rejecting one reading over the other, he accepts both as valuable and necessary to his understanding of the play. Prospero and Miranda’s exile is worthy of sympathy, but at the same time the colonist relationships that permeate the work give rise to a less than friendly view of Prospero and Miranda. 

These two ideas may seem difficult to reconcile, but we don’t have to. Prospero can be both a victim and a perpetrator of the evil that exists in his world. With Prospero as a character that embraces both the virtuous and questionable aspects of human nature I realized that while the "Brave New World" theme is easily identifiable in Shakespeare's The Tempest, our theme of "What a Piece of Work is Man" also emerges as a necessary companion. If Prospero is both a victim and a perpetuator then we are forced to ask ourselves how characters like Caliban or Miranda may likewise be the embodiment of seemingly opposite  characteristics. 

Works Cited: Pierce, Robert B. "Understanding "The Tempest"" New Literary History 30.2, Cultural Inquiries (1999): 373-88. JSTOR. Web. 27 Sept., 2015. 


  1. I like that you bring up the balance of both good and evil in the characters of the Tempest. I definitely think that Shakespeare wanted to portray his characters this way because that is the nature of human nature. I think that's what makes his characters so relatable and still relevant today.

  2. And Ariel! Ariel's relationship with Prospero was very different from Caliban's: where Caliban was punished with slavery for trying to rape Miranda, Ariel's servitude was a step towards liberty, as Prospero freed him from Sycorax's curse. And with the promise of reward, Ariel was quite happy to serve Prospero and further his plans.