Racialization in “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Racialization, “the act or process of imbuing a person with a consciousness of race distinctions or of giving a racial character to something or making it serve racist ends” (Merriam Webster). While it still remains a problem of racial identity on different countries, people are living in a civilized area where there is no racism involved. In this case, in the event that modern civilized individuals are incapable to manage with racial biases, what are we able to say about the England times of William Shakespeare? In Ronald Takaki’s book, “The Tempest in the Wilderness”, he tries to consider the issue of racial discrimination of Indians in his essay.

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Takaki uses “The Tempest”, which was a play by William Shakespeare, to analyze the discriminatory of the Indians that are being treated by the English mens, calling the inhabitants as “savages”.

Takaki uses a phrase in what he refers to as the “racialization of savagery”. The inclination on the part of white Americans to relate brutality with dark skin, a demeanor that would decide the treatment of black slaves as well as the Indian tribes. He uses Caliban as an example, who is the quasi-human native of the island to which Prospero is banished and over which he claims dominance, has become a figure for the natives of the New World and afterward, for the Africans who were brought as slaves. Takaki’s example by using Caliban is used throughout his study to portray the struggles particularly of those foreigner groups, especially the Chinese as well as African Americans and Native Americans, that may not comprehend into average American society due to the racial contrasts. Like the Indians, they were regularly criticized within the same words such as savage, lazy, dirty, inferior, and treacherous, in order to advocate harsh approaches towards them.

Many people live in a country that are divided and separated from other countries in order to live their religion. However, when you have someone who is different, some humans racialize that person due to their physical characteristics such as skin color, eye shape, and hair texture. “Human beings across the world do in fact vary in physical appearance and genetic composition” (PBS). Just like the native people in Takaki’s essay, the Indians tried to identify the visitors. “The native people were struck by the “ugliness” and “deformity” of the strangers—their “white” complexions, hair around their mouths, the eyes with “the color of the sky” (Revisiting America 14).
Shakespeare brings the concept of “savagery” to life by creating the character “Caliban” to show how bad civilization really is. It is portrayed as evil, corruptive and destructive, in which Stephano wanted Caliban kill Prospero to show that the civilized could be more unruly than the savages. Shakespeare uses many techniques that are clever enough to portray “savagery” and how it is inherently bad. In the Tempest, Shakespeare uses Caliban to show his “savagery” side by him almost trying to rape Miranda when Prospero was talking to caliban about it in Act 1 Scene 2. All of this is shown how Shakespeare brings the concept of “savagery” to life by using Caliban in the play.

In the Tempest, Shakespeare portrays Caliban as a “savage” horrid beast and as the slave of the Western, Prospero. He also views him as a lesser being, and that he represents the islander who is forcefully controlled by the Westerner. His interpretation of Caliban looks like that he is racist and stereotypical but also, he represents the falsified image of the Caribbean people. “Caliban also seems to resemble the Irish as they too are called as “savages”, (Revisiting America 16) according to Takaki’s essay, due to them behaving accordingly. Because of that, when the frontier stretched to America, Englishmen began to treat the Indians the same as the Irish men.
Caliban’s life wasn’t all too perfect for him, he was actually enslaved by Prospero and would punish him and would throw insults at him because of his monstrous behavior. In Act 1, Scene 2, there’s a good relationship happening between Caliban and Prospero when Caliban says, “When thou cam’st first, Thou strok’st me and madest much of me, wouldst give me water with berries in ‘t, and teach me how to name the bigger light and how the less, that burn by day and night. And then I loved thee, and show’d thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle, the fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile”. (331) What Caliban is saying is that he is telling Prospero how to survive on the island in which Prospero taught him how to speak. Whats strange is how he is acting nice to him, and then he changes back to treating Caliban like dirt.

Another issue that resembles to Takaki’s issue of racialization, is America’s problem with multiculturalism. Just like the English slaughtering the Indians, “centuries ago, the Vikings landed on a beach in Vinland, slaughtering a group of Indians attempting to hide nearby”. (Commentary Magazine). Takaki, however see’s this as nothing but a long trail of suffering, discrimination, and violence, and this is aiming to affirm America’s racial diversity. Comparing both of these events, its clear that they are both connected to racialization and this is evident due to the fat that the Vikings and the English killed and murdered Indians, and we see this as a big issue still in our own community that we are still facing in this present day.

Using “The Tempest” and other plays by Shakespeare, Takaki gives us examples of the people of New England to Indians. To start with it, it has to be said that Takaki uses the Tempest not by chance. This play was the first where the Indian character were displayed. After that, the time when the play was composed coincides with the critical period within the history of America. Takaki’s concept of “Racialization of Savagery” was the result of inaccurate understanding of the reality, incorrect conclusions, and lack of want to assess the circumstance accurately, because it is continuously less demanding to put the generalization on other people than to consider their culture, to look for particular data and make new conclusion.

“The Tempest” was one of the only plays that Shakespeare wrote on his own with an original plot that he himself has created. He knew that his grope of audience members both the groundlings and his well of supporters were superstitious and were intrigued in the powerful. His motivation for writing such perfect play would have been an amazing one. Theres also many critics saying that the reason Shakespeare wrote “The Tempest”, at the end of his career, was because of his characters that he made, Prospero and Miranda, both reminded them as his daughters being closer together, and how he wants to be with them.

One of Takaki’s books that interest me was “Strangers from a Different Shore”. This one interest me because it presents a lot of history about the Asian Americans, and he also wrote about the Chinese who laid tracks for the transcontinental railroad of plantation laborers in the cane-fields of Hawaii, of “picture brides”, which was the marrying strangers in the hope of becoming part of the American dream. In the book opening pages, he explains, “Indeed, the story of Asian Americans is woven into the history of America itself. The Chinese began coming here during the 1849 California gold Rush, before the arrival of most Jewish, Italian, Hungarian, and Polish immigrants”. (4) In this way, Takaki situates his study among wider immigration patterns, and he also discusses how and why the Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, and Asian Indian immigrants chose to come to the U.S. and claims that the American dream is often unattainable for them.

It is noted that the word “savage” (referring to people) means “you dislike them because you think that they do not have an advanced society and are violent”. (Collins Dictionary). The biggest problem about this is stereotyping attitude to the indigenous group and the creation of wrong image with the reason to ease from this. Being Indians, the tribes were considered to be savages as there were no other variations, and as a result, Indians may not be civilized. One of the most reasons for Indians to be savages was the parallel made between them and Irish. Irish has earned such definition by their activities, inconsiderate and savage, while Indians just showed up in the wrong place and the connection to Irish naturally exchanged to Indians.

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Racialization in “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare. (2021, Jun 03). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/racialization-in-the-tempest-by-william-shakespeare/