For Centuries, Humans have been Explorers

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“For centuries, humans have been explorers. From seeking new territories as the nomadic Homo Erectus moved from Africa to Europe for survival, or modern day humans travelling to new land for adventure; we roam and migrate as a species. The differences in these types of expeditions is the intention that set them in motion. From the 15th century, into the 19th Century, European countries were on the race to expand their nations and be the dominant nation worldwide. Spain, at this time for example was known as “The empire on which the sun never sets”.

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In this time of expansion from Europe, they realized that these “new worlds” they were “discovering” were already inhabited by other cultures who had resided there for centuries. The mission then shifted from expansion, to colonizing the “savages” that lived where their homeland had now claimed for themselves. Colonialism is the policy and practice of a power in extending control over weaker peoples or areas; also known as imperialism. Though most of society at that time overlooked the moral aspect of colonizing these people, some writers and artists had other thoughts. The plays The Tempest and Loa to the Divine Narcissus are written to critique Colonization as the characters reflect how the authors view their environment with ideas ahead of their time regarding how cultures dehumanize other civilizations they view as inferior.

The authors Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and William Shakespeare were experiencing many socio-political shifts in their everyday society that influenced their views on colonization. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was born in 1651 a “mestiza”, which means mixed in Spanish; born out of wedlock coming from a Native background and a Spanish giving her the “mestiza” title. At this time, Mexico is still a Spanish territory and the Inquisition had still left division between the Spanish and Natives. The goal to assimilate and convert as many natives to Catholicism is still in motion, and resistance to conversion was hardly tolerated. Coming from both cultures at this time allowed her a deep understanding of both religious backgrounds. Sor Juana always has a thirst for education, so much that her mother allowed her to dress up as a man to attend the University of Mexico which only allowed men to enroll at this time. With no desire for marriage and with the hopes to increase her knowledge she decided to become a nun.

Loa the Divine Narcissus is cleverly composed as an allegorical play to reflect how the Spanish Inquisition had been colonizing the Natives who resided there. De la Cruz starts the play by Music proclaiming their worship to the God of the Seed and performing sacrifices in order to have a bountiful harvest. The characters Occident and America represent the natives who are discussing their religion when Religion who is portrayed as a Spanish woman attacks thee locals worship that she believes to be a disgrace. She complains to Zeal who is depicted as a Spanish soldier about their idolatry. Religion and Zeal claim that God has sent them to punish the natives for worshiping “false gods”. America is forced to surrender to Zeal and is about to be killed until Religion suggests to spare America so they may convert. America and Occident refuse to abandon their God of the Seed. Zeal questions why they worship their god and reject Occident and America’s explanation. Religion and Zeal refuse to believe they all praise the same God. The final scene leaves Religion and Zeal to offer a play to the Spanish Queen to represent Christian Religion and name it “Divine Narcissus”.

The characters themselves clearly construct the author’s observations of the plight of the Aztecs during the Spanish invasion. The battle for not only religious but political dominance is reflected through Zeal the conqueror and Religion the lady. As Music, America and Occident worship their god, Religion interrupts “Abandon this irreverent cult with which the demon has waylaid you” (de La Cruz 1520). The indigenous refuse to convert causing war to ensue. Zeal is about to take America’s life before Religion stops them, “It was your part to conquer her by force with military might; mine is to gently make her yield, persuading her by reason’s light.” (de La Cruz 1522)The author clearly illuminates the sympathy for the natives during America’s last speech. America declares the false “show of Christian charity are motivated by the hope that you at last will conquer me, defeating my integrity”(de La Cruz 1523). Religion is being deceptive in showing mercy when she merely wants to imperialize America which she recognizes. America’s final line sums up the devotion the natives felt towards their deities during their colonization, “And I will worship my own gods!” (de La Cruz 1523). Loa the Divine Narcissus was used craftly to introduce the society of her time to new thoughts and empathize countries Spain was trying to colonize at the time.

Sor Juana Ines de La Cruz was known as an imperial poet for her time similar to how Horace used his poetry to reflect upon the Roman Empire during his time. Much like Loa, Sor Juana’s other works were responsible for granting her the title of being an imperial poet; in particular her Poemas de Obsequio or gift poems. As George Anthony Thomas illuminates in his article, “La Decima Musas”, he explores how Sor Juana used herself as the subject of the poems to “cleverly craft a piece of propaganda for herself” (Thomas 261). Also known as “La respuesta”, de La Cruz used Loa to open her society to a new way of thinking with this rhetorical theology. As Julie A. Bokser notes, “she expands the traditional concept of audiences for relevance in a multicultural colonial world”. (Bokser 225) Her characters are a reflective of the tension between the indigenous people and the colonizers of “New Spain” with their conversion practices and royal intervention.

William Shakespeare was on the “homeland” of one of the biggest imperialist nations of the time, he was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Not only England, but several European countries of the time were on a mission to expand their nations and settle into new land. The quest to spread into the “New World” was in full swing during Shakespeare’s life. This expansion of England and imperialistic ideals in Europe leads historians and researchers to believe that his view on colonialism may have been impacted by this. One of his last plays The Tempest reflects his opinions of imperialism at this time.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a critique of colonization due to the way the characters represent the dynamics between colonizers and the natives of the land. The play that follows Prospero, a sorcerer and former Duke of Naples who has been exiled and had his title usurped by his brother, Antonio with the help of the king, Alonso. He and his daughter Miranda flee from Naples and stumble upon an island which is inhabited by Caliban a native and Ariel, a spirit. Prospero recognizes a Naples ship and creates a “tempest” or storm to sink the ship carrying Alonso, Ferdinand, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, Stephano, and Trinculo. The sailors make it to the island and set the play in motion. Caliban and Ariel represent the natives being colonized in their homeland and the Italians represent the imperialists. Nearly everyone in the play mentions how they’d like to exploit Caliban. Caliban speaks out about his oppression; of having his native land stripped from him upon the arrival of Prospero and Miranda Act I.Sc. II Lines 447-483 in the first folio, “This Island’s mine by Sycorax my mother,/Which thou tak’st from me: when thou cam’st first/ Thou stroakst me, & made much of me: wouldst give me/For I am all the Subjects that you haue,/Which first was min owne King: and here you sty-me/In this hard Rocke, whiles you doe keepe from me/The rest o’th’ Island.”Caliban expresses his regret for showing Prospero all the features of the island, because he is now a prisoner to it. He claims that the island belongs to him because his mother, Sycorax, left it for him. Therefore, he is a native to the island and Prospero is a foreigner who has colonized it.

The shipwrecked men of Naples are guilty of imperialistic tendencies and tactics as well.

Prospero is not the only one who tries to exploit Caliban, Stephano uses alcohol as a tactic to keep Caliban drunk in order to keep him as a slave. “He’s in his fit now and does not talk after the wisest. He shall taste of my bottle: if he have never drunk wine afore will go near to remove his fit. If I can recover him and keep him tame, I will not take too much for him; he shall pay for him that hath him, and that soundly.” (Shakespeare II.ii. 60) When Trinculo discovers Caliban, he is unaware that it is an islander as he covers drunkenly for a storm, Stephano stumbles across the two and realizes that if they get Caliban intoxicated, then he may follow their orders without question and hence make plans to use him for their own gain. Caliban is even more compliant in hopes that these new men will give him freedom from Prospero, unaware they plan to use him for their own gain.

Scholar Ronald Takaki has similar ideas about Shakespeare’s views when reading this and compares the natives of the island to the England colonizing the Irish. Takaki relates Caliban to the Irish, which the English were colonizing at the time. “Like Caliban, the Irish were viewed as ‘savages,’ a people living outside of ‘civilization” (Takaki 183). The English encountered the Irish, just as Prospero encountered Caliban, and believed that they were savages who were uncivilized and had no manners. Because of the difference in their societal norms, the English considered themselves superior to the Irish. The Indians were regarded in the same way as savage beasts. The natives were viewed as the “other,” which is identical to Caliban in The Tempest. This direct association is an obvious case to resolve that the play is a condemnation of colonialism.

One of the most interesting comments about colonialism Shakespeare makes is through the character Gonzalo. Scholar Stephen Greenblatt explores how Shakespeare condemns colonization through Gonzalo who quotes French essayist Michel De Montaigne who published an anti colonialism essay Of Cannibals, condemning the way Europeans view Natives of other countries. Gonzalo speaks directly quoting De Montaigne “No occupation; all men idle, all; And women too, but innocent and pure; No sovereignty” (Shakespeare 2.1.145) Shakespeare quotes Montaigne, meaning he must have read “Of Cannibals.” Given that a protagonist like Gonzalo in the play is the one to recite it, Shakespeare likely agreed with Montaigne’s analysis. Of Cannibals is a critique of colonialism. Therefore the significance of the direct quote is empirical evidence, Shakespeare was an extremely intelligent writer, he does not quote other writers in the play; it was a clear idea he had wanted to incorporate into this piece to reflect his feelings of imperialism at this time.

Writers such as Sor Juana de La Cruz and William Shakespeare were cleverly writing entertaining plays with an underlying rhetoric or imperialization. They both use their characters to show the dynamics between the colonizers and the indigenous people. Both authors have characters that clearly are trying to exploit the natives for their own purposes. The Tempest by William Shakespeare and Loa the Divine Narcissus by Sor Juana de La Cruz are both plays which condemn the religious and political colonization of foreign lands by European force.”

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For Centuries, Humans Have Been Explorers. (2021, Jun 16). Retrieved from