The Tempest is pervaded through and through by the Spirit of adventure and colonisation that was the distinguishing mark of the Elizabethan age. It is as Prof. Raleigh has said, a ‘fantasy of the New World.’ Shakespeare was too clear sighted a dramatist not to see the humorous side of the colonising theories that were in the air and in this play. He has presented it through the story of the drunken butler and jester in a satirical vein. But this does not mean that Shakespeare openly condemns slavery and colonisation, though he does not approveof it. On this point, the view of Morton Luce is Worth quoting at length. The relations between Prospero and ‘Caliban bring to mind many of the problems which arise from the existence of inhabitants of a lower stage of civilization on lands newly discovered and settled by Europeans. Caliban is the untutored sav~ age. His language speaks the poetry and imagination which belong to the child of nature. By what right should Prospero claim his menial service ? Of what advantage to him were education and the restraints of morality ? Was he happier or better for contact with a superior civilisation ? Were it not better for both parties that he should be let alone ? Prospero however, says :
“We cannot miss him; he does make our fire,
Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices That profit us.”
This is the exact plea which civilisation always makes to explain the servitude of its inferiors. It is the tyrant’s plea, necessity, and the history of Caliban’s subjection is precisely that of the Indians of the New World. At first he was all amenity, and so was his visitor.
Such is Caliban’s version of the history of his enslavement; but civilised man has a different tale to tell.
It is all true. Between civilisation and savagery there is a gulf fixed which cannot in a moment be spanned. It must even be a question how far the ,first steps towards civilisation taken by the savage, under the tuiton of his superior, do not do him more harm than good. Shakespeare nowhere emphasis the indebtedness of this child of nature to the good offices of Miranda and Prospero; on the contrary, their nature would not stick on him; and if they taught him language. his profit thereby was that he knew how to curse.
As to slavery, Shakespeare, though he does not approve of it, does not expressly condemn it. As to the rights of the savage, Shake would rather concede them ”This land’s mine ……. which thou takest from me.” It seems that Shakespeare thinks that European civilisation is a curse to the savage, that the vices of the old world, such as drunkenness find their way into the new world far sooner than any of its virtues. Even the savage himself condemns the rapacity which was too common among the colonists.