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1 COMPARATIVE •rama Volume 33Winter 1999-2000Number 4 Caribbean Caliban: Shifting the "I" ofthe Storm James E. Robinson The entire Caribbean is our horizon; for Caliban himself like the island he inherited is at once a landscape and a human situation (George Lamming, The Pleasures ofExile)? Edward Said has remarked how the "interpretation of Western culture" has been controlled by the "universalizing discourses of modern Europe and the United States," with only an infrequent "acknowledgment that . . . colonized people should be heard from, their ideas known."2 Although their complaint has since been amply redressed, Francis Barker and Peter Hulme have identified scholarly discussions of The Tempest as an instance of this narrow discourse, claiming that the play's "rich complexity" has been "signally ignored by European and North American critics, who have tended to listen exclusively to Prospero's voice." In this context, Barker and Hulme urged the need for the perspective of the colonized: "It has been left to those who have suffered colonial usurpation to discover and map the traces of that complexity by reading in full measure Caliban 's refractory place in both Prospero's play and The Tempest .."3 Indeed in the Caribbean islands of the twentieth century, a refractory Caliban became a broad symbol of a developing cul431 432Comparative Drama tural self-assertion and quest for independence. In a special "Caliban" issue of The Massachusetts Review in 1974 (15:1-2), which was devoted to writings from Latin America and the Caribbean , the lead essay by the Cuban Roberto Retamar was entitled "Caliban: Notes Towards a Discussion of Culture in Our America." In his Foreword for this "Caliban" issue, editor Robert Marquez remarks, "The stories, poems, play, essays and art work collected in this issue are ... a contemporary echo of the rebellious Antillean slave in Shakespeare's final play whose metamorphosis and current importance as the symbol of Our America are so aptly synthesized in the essay by Roberto Fernández Retamar from which we take our title." My purpose here is to pursue the metamorphosis of Caliban as an Antillean figure by examining certain interpretations of The Tempest by two Caribbean writers whose uses of Shakespeare's play involve much more than the casting of Caliban as a general symbol in the manner of Marqez and Retamar. Two island writers of colonized origins who were especially drawn to enlarge Caliban's role on Prospero's island are Aimé Césaire, native of the French colony of Martinique, and George Lamming, from the English colony of Barbados. The writings which constitute the central matter of their Shakespearean postcolonialism are Césaire's play Une tempête (1969); Lamming 's critique of The Tempest in his collection of essays, The Pleasures of Exile (1960); and Lamming's novel Water with Berries (1971). In these works we witness revealing shifts of perspective (eye) and consciousness (I) from Prospero to Caliban. In Shakespeare's play, Prospero emerges in the second scene not only as the controlling figure of the storm but also as the solipsistic center of the play. Preparing for the lengthy exposition of past events, Prospero tells Miranda that she is "ignorant of what thou art, naught knowing/ Of whence I am . . ." (1.2.18-19),4 thus equating her identity with his own history. Miranda will "be" as Prospero will define her according to the measures ofhis own origins, status, and authority. In one way or another, all of the characters are in orbit as "others" around Prospero's defining knowledge and control. Like characters in a play, they are or become who Prospero the master playwright will have them be or become. The First Folio editors, in defining Caliban as "a savage and deformed slave," simply followed Prospero's lead: Prospero calls Caliban by such terms as "poisonous slave," "born devil," "misshapen knave," and "thing of darkness." Treating him accordingly, Prospero would have CaI- James E. Robinson433 iban "be" as Prospero names him. But unlike the other characters of the play, Caliban talks back to Prospero, declares his own rights, his own heritage ("This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother" [1.2.334]), and indeed attempts to escape the defining consciousness of Prospero...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 431-453
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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