Monday, October 5, 2015

Duality in Humanism- Draft

Prospero: The Original Jekyll & Hyde

For years The Tempest was seen as the closing masterpiece of Shakespeare’s career as a playwright Many scholars initially read it as Shakespeare’s swan song, but over time an awareness of the effects of colonialism was born and as a result people began to read this text through what is called “postcolonial lenses.” The relationship Prospero has with characters such as Caliban, Ariel, or even Miranda came under fire as scholars saw him as an executor of slavery and patriarchy.
The Conflict of The Scholar
When scholar Robert B. Pierce originally critiqued The Tempest he expressed a sympathetic view toward Miranda and Prospero. Yet the rise of the postcolonial interpretation forced him to re-evaluate his original sympathetic reading. Instead of taking sides or discrediting the new lens completely, Pierce decided to accept that there was merit to the new interpretations of Prospero. Pierce’s conflicted understanding of The Tempest lead him to conclude that maybe we needed to redefine the way we understood  the meaning of the play. In a rather bold academic move, Pierce 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 colonialist relationships that permeate the work give rises to a less than friendly view of Prospero.
While it can be argued that Prospero is justified in demonizing and belittling Caliban for his attempted rape of Miranda, it is nevertheless curious that Prospero keeps Caliban around as a servant rather than banishing him from the island—or even killing him since Prospero probably has the power to do so. For Prospero there is a profit in keeping Caliban around. When we first meet Caliban, Miranda expresses her deep dislike to her father by saying, "’Tis a villain, sir, I do not love to look on." Miranda has reason to loathe Caliban; throughout the play we know that Miranda's ultimate characteristic is her virtue, her untainted purity, and Caliban nearly robbed her of this. Prospero replies to Miranda's complaints by saying, "But as ’tis,/We cannot miss him; he does make our fire, /Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices/That profit us" (1.2:310-314 emphasis added). So while, Prospero may have reason for mistreating Caliban, he finds a way to benefit from it, but this does not change the fact that Prospero is still a victim of an usurpation plot that left him dethroned and outcast from society.
The Reconciliation of Victim vs Perpetrator
These two intertwined ideas of victim and conqueror 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. A modern application of this can be seen with pedophiles and domestic violence perpetrators. It is often the case that those who were abused as children or witnessed abuse in their home, grow up to inflict the same type of violence upon others. The fact that perpetrators in scenarios like these were once victims too does not change, despite their own partaking of such abusive acts. In fact, knowing the history of an abuser can lead to a better understanding of the development of such a character. Similarly, as we look at the rejection Prospero experiences we may gain some insight into the type of servitude he thrusts upon Caliban, making it so that The Tempest ceases to be a text solely about a betrayed ruler or solely about a self-interested conqueror, but rather both. If Prospero is both a victim and a perpetuator then we are forced to ask ourselves how or if other characters, like Caliban and Miranda, may likewise be the embodiments 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.

"Statistics on Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse." Reporting on Child Sexual Abuse. The
National Center for Victims of Crime, n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2015.  
< perpetrators-of-csa>.

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