May 12, 2007
The American Influence on Shakespeare’s Tempest
In his article, Shakespeare’s Indian: The Americanization of Caliban, author Alden T. Vaughan discusses the possible influences that the colonization of America may have had on one of Shakespeare’s most famous works: The Tempest. Vaughan particularly discusses the character of Caliban and the various interpretations of what he might symbolize or represent among American and English authors. Throughout the article, Vaughan heavily relies upon evidence produced in writings from various Shakespeare scholars and writers. With different degrees of persuasiveness, most agree that the “English colonization of America profoundly influenced Shakespeare’s creation of The Tempest,” and that Caliban was “meant to personify America’s natives.”
The characteristics and distinctions that are used to connect Caliban’s character to America’s Native Americans are numerous. There are references made to Caliban’s displacement, mistreatment, enslavement, and “savage” qualities that can also be associated with early views of Native Americans. Vaughan discusses parallels between Caliban and Native Americans made by author Robert Ralston Cawley. Cawley points out how at first Caliban welcomes the newcomers and assists them, and in return is treated with contempt and distain. Cawley also writes about how Caliban is dispossessed of his land by the new arrivals. He is forced to learn their language. He is also exposed to and partakes in the newcomers vices by drinking their alcohol and becoming intoxicated. As another example, author Gordan Zeevald states that Caliban is “Shakespeare’s sole representation of the human population of the New World.” Likewise, American scholar Reverend Frank M. Bristol of Washington, D.C. declared “There can be no doubt that Shakespeare had in his mind the American Indian when he conceived the character of Caliban.”
In the article, Vaughan cites from a...