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Representation of Race and Religion with Reference to The Tempest

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Throughout the ages we have been graced with the finest plays that have been published as books, performed live in theatres around the world and filmed for us to watch on screen. But there has always been a lingering topic of importance, that sadly everyone is not immediately aware of and if they are known to the situation, not many want to acknowledge or even speak out about it at times. Within this essay I will be exploring the history of how race is represented within film and theatre with reference to the relevant plays, films and media of the Tempest, looking closely in particular at producers who have bent the rules and flipped storylines, breaking down their method to how they have cast their actors for the roles instantly placing a changing effect to the characters hierarchy, race and sometimes gender to create controversy and make us ask the question of, why. I aim to use the postcolonial method by referring to particular examples such as Julie Taylor and Jonathan Miller’s film adaptations.

I also plan to explore the marxist theory.I have always loved the work of Shakespeare but the more I study and come to understand the language, clarity unveils the disturbing messages being the text. My motivation towards exploring this topic is being of mixed orient myself, I can relate in some way to those characters within the tempest who are demoralized.

What was Shakespeare’s response to stereotypes of race and religion? Post-colonial criticism is a method of analysis that addresses questions of racial identity and equality, and also of gender equity via two main modes of inquiry. First, it investigates how Shakespeare’s plays relate to the social codes and conventions by which early modern Europeans defined non-European and non-Christian people and races they encountered. Second, it explores the more recent history of the reception of Shakespearian drama within non-Western societies and settings – in Africa, India, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

The history of colonialism beginning in the 1500s is one of brutal suppression to indigenous people. In history there have been many practises of colonisation where the indigenous peoples’ land and population have been conquered and exploited having a completely new language and cultural value forced upon it. The whole concept of colonialism is that of imperialism in which one or a group of people use influence and power to control another nation alone with the people who inhabit it. We saw this practiced by empires like the ancient greeks, Rome and Egypt where the borders of their civilisations were expanded into their surroundings and that began the establishment of the colonies where the population’s resources and physical location where used in order to gain power. Back in that time, race did not have the same symbolic meaning that it stands for today.

England never was nor had it ever exclusively been a white Island. It was full of diversity, especially in the crowded streets of London Shakespeare would have been among black people within, most of them inconspicuous but none of them slaves. Slavery had no legal status or enforcement as of yet. – research evidence critical article by imtaz havin and Duncan salkeld they reasonable social borough side, Southwark: an Elizabethan black family near the rose theatre

The slave trade formed the backbone of the imperial economy during the seventeen hundreds and still to this day has lasting social and economic effects. The English would become among the predominant slave traders in the Atlantic in the seventeen hundreds in Shakespeare’s day the industry was

Shakespeare wrote many thought-provoking plays that even today the texts are heavily questioned. His plays have been accused of being against mixing races and cautionary tales against allowing people of colour into positions of authority. Titus Andronicus, Othello, The Merchant of Venice; All of these plays, play a part in racist and prejudiced beliefs which we want to deny over the thought of Shakespeare contributing to these influences or maybe even because we can not admit to the possibility of him supporting these ideas.

As there were no real women nor were there also no people of colour performing on stage does his work prove that the performances played by white male actors for white audiences, were a critique on early English social prejudices or he follow these values himself?

A lot of aspects related to racism within the play can be connected to events that happened around the time of it was written. The first performance was after England had invaded Ireland but just before this was also just before the colonisation of “New England”. This implies that Shakespeare would have had the influence of these events in his writing. Many traits are shared by Caliban and the Irish as they were viewed as savages, part of outside civilisation.

‘The Tempest’ an enigmatic play written by the famous playwright, William Shakespeare around 1610 to 1611 follows the story line of Prospero, the duke of Milan who is woefully betrayed. Prospero sets off to reclaim his rank as the duke from his brother, Antonio and all with the use of magic.

It has quite often been interpreted as a play based on colonialism due to Prospero arriving at the island that belongs to sycorax and overpowers her to take over ruling and impose his own way of culture on to the people of the land.

In the tempest, language is power and characters use it to bless curse confuse, manipulate or heal. the text reveals …… about the operations of the cultural difference (race, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, cultural beliefs) The text represents relationships between the characters (culturally dominant,

Financial status plays a large part in the hierarchy. The time in which the tempest is set there would have been six main social classes including the monarch, nobility, gentry, merchants yeoman and laborers. From the nobility class the dukes and earls where considered to be super. The period in which this play is set

Racism has been a topic that is present within the tempest. It is not obvious but with further study into the language of the play we see there are several sayings and actions that would be deemed unacceptable in todays age. Being the only two non white characters within the play, Caliban and sycorax are referred to with neutral or negative terms like ‘they or them’ (QUOTE/EVIDENCE?) These terms of course come from the coloniser, “slave” (1.2.106) “not honoured with human shape” (1.2.283-84) and “servant” (3.2.3) many of these insults are based purely from his appearance and not his qualities as a human which attributes to terms used to describe the Irish or first nations.

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The actions of prosper taking over the island are quite parallel to that of the European explorers arriving in America in (DATE/REFERENCE?) especially declaring that Caliban, despite living there long before him was now his subject because prosper ranked higher in power due to his magic abilities and as caliban was a savage, it was his job to civilise him.

Prospero’s magical power not only ensures the enslavement of Caliban, but also demands the servitude of a sprite named Ariel to put his magical designs into action.

We only ever see caliban treated as a slave, constantly receiving hatred and being mocked. It is surprising that we see this when Ariel, who takes the form of something not human is treated better then him. Even trinculo and Stephano treat caliban poorly due to his appearance This can be related to true history that still runs problems today of fairer skin being classed as more superior or elite (PROOF/REFERENCE?)

Caliban shared language with Trinculo and Stephano gives him power to entice them to overthrow Prospero and empathise with him.

Prospero is the most powerful because of his studies in magic and advanced skill in manipulating aerial.

Many people believe the theme of magic represents the power of the playwright to create something out of nothing much like the situation of Prospero being able to controls and manipulate circumstances and people and Shakespeare does the same.

The play explores the role of power and exploitation in families and within the social order. Example Prospero becoming master of Caliban and Ariel despite calibans claim to the island, In the third act of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611), Stephano and Caliban conspire together on the question of how best to put an end to Prospero’s rule, both over Caliban’s island, which Prospero has colonized, and Caliban himself, whom he has enslaved. After protracted debate, Caliban finally advances a programme of insurgency: why, as I told thee, ’tis a custom with him i’ th’ afternoon to sleep: there thou mayst brain him, having first seiz’d his books; or with a log batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake, or cut his wizard with thy knife. Remember first to possess his books; for what without them he’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not one spirit to command: they all do hate him as rootedly as I. Burn but his books.

What is striking here is Caliban’s recognition of the importance of the role played by Prospero’s ‘books’ in securing and maintaining his subjection. Even though the master is to be killed while sleeping, it is none the less thought prudent to ’first seiz[e]’, ’possess’ and finally ’Burn … his books’ before the projected murder can be carried out. The suggestion, indeed, is that it is the ‘books’ themselves which construct the white colonizer and his native other as human and monster, master and slave respectively, ‘for without them’, as Caliban surmises, the differences between the two dissolve into likeness — ‘He’s but a sot, as I am’. What is radical, in turn, about such a dissolution is that it erodes the legitimating ground on which the exertion of the colonizer’s discriminatory power is based.

Other text?

  • Derek Jarmans 1979 not the best example of a postcolonial reading – critique it for the lack of this approach
  • Hopkins, L. (2008) Shakespeare’s Tempest: The Relationship between Text and Film. London: Methuen Drama – as it discusses the Jarman film
  • Chapter by Philip Crispin: Césaire’s Une Tempête at The Gate, pp. 149-159.
  • Ch. 17. Lucy Rix: Maintaining the State of Emergence/y: Aimé Césaire’s Une Tempête, pp. 236-249.

There have been a number of adaptations made to this play and each with a very unique approach taken to the story line where we see displays of slavery and racism, and there is also a strong hierarchy in race within these adaptations of the tempest.

With any production for a film or with a play you have to start with casting. This process involves a series of auditions before a panel of individuals like the producer and director who already have an idea of who it is they are looking for to play the roles.

Post colonial theory and Critical race theory looking closely at the relationship between Caliban and Prospero and possibly look at how the choice of gender casting has played a role within the performances over time.

The royal Shakespeare company: Prospero: Michael Redgrave in 1951; John Gielgud in 1957; Ian Richardson in 1970; Michael Hordern in 1978; Derek Jacobi in 1982; John Wood in 1988; Alec McCowen in 1993; and Patrick Stewart in 2006.

Critical lenses: Marxist theory. The work (unintentionally/intentionally) reinforces capitalism, imperialism values. The literary work reflects (intentionally or not) the socioeconomic conditions of the time in which it was written and the time which it is set, what do those conditions reveal about the history of class struggle. The work in some ways supports a marxist agenda but in other ways (perhaps unintentionally) supports a capitalist, imperialist or classist agenda? In other words, is the work ideologically conflicted. 1904 performance at her majesty’s theatre and Peter Hall’s 1973 adaptation at the National Theatre.

In conclusion, Shakespeare has portrayed those of a race that is not white, as a minority no matter how evolved), we will find that the play still speaks to us on a very deep level, largely because the evils of racism continue to plague us today. Shakespeare’s plays invite us to contemplate our own complicity in imposing such outsider status on others, from individuals to entire groups that we choose to label as different.

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Representation of Race and Religion with Reference to The Tempest. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from
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