Having been forced into retirement by the old-school Puritans, Shakespeare is now being routinely abused by a new generation of puritans who are equally obsessed with censoring the goodness, truth and beauty of his Muse.

Once upon a time, it was frowned upon to condone rape and rapists on the stage. Today it seems to be all the rage. In many productions and readings of The Tempest, Caliban is lionized as a victim in spite of his boast that he would rape Miranda repeatedly if he had the opportunity to do so. His desire to force himself upon the virgin daughter of Prospero is glossed over so that Caliban can be seen as the victim and Prospero the villain. Perhaps, as the daughter of the villain, Miranda would presumably have got what she deserved had the “persecuted” Caliban had his way with her.

How is such madness possible?

The answer is to be found in the current manic race-obsession, which has rendered large sections of the population as mad as the Nazis.

Seeing everything in terms of race has turned “liberals” into puritanical bigots. Blinded by their hatred and their prejudice, they call for witch-hunts against those deemed to be racist, which seems to be anyone born with the wrong-coloured skin, in the past or the present. To critical race theorists, race is much more important than rape, and the racist much worse than the rapist. Indeed, if the rapist is seen as the victim of the racist, it is crucial to empower the rapist at the expense of his victim. This, at any rate, is the fate that has befallen poor Prospero and his hapless and innocent daughter.

Let’s look at how the critical race theorists misinterpret the play; then we’ll look at the play Shakespeare actually wrote and the intention he clearly had with respect to its meaning.

In our race-obsessed age, Prospero is caricatured and stereotyped as a white imperialist and Caliban as a native-born islander, whom Prospero subjugates and treats as a slave. This racist stereotyping is then permitted to completely eclipse the whole plot of the play, which has very little to do with Caliban who plays a relatively small part, tangential to the main plot.

Let’s now look at the actual facts, not the race-obsessed distortions of the ideologues.

Prospero is not an “imperialist” oppressor but has been shipwrecked on the island with his very young daughter, having been left for dead on the open sea by his political enemies. He is, therefore, an exile and a refugee. Caliban was born on the island, his mother being the witch Sycorax, who arrived on the island when pregnant with Caliban, whose father was apparently Setebos, a demon. He is, therefore, not a non-white human being but a monstrous being of some sort or another. Nor is he an aboriginal islander. There are none. It was a truly desert island until the arrival of the witch with Caliban in utero. Nor did Prospero treat Caliban badly. On the contrary, as he reminds Caliban, he had treated him

… with humane care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell till thou didst seek to violate
The honor of my child.

Caliban does not deny the charge of attempted rape but boastfully claims that he would have violated the child repeatedly had he not been forcibly stopped from doing so:

O ho, O ho! Would’t had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans.

It is at this moment that Miranda exclaims that Caliban is an “abhorrèd slave”, which no doubt condemns her in the eyes of the neo-puritan race-obsessives as a racist who should therefore have no complaints when the “slave” rapes her in vengeance. It is a mark of the illiteracy of these puritans that they fail to see that the word “slave” refers to Caliban’s slavery to his lower nature, his inability to govern himself with virtue or be governed by it. It has nothing to do with chattel slavery. As for Prospero’s treatment of Caliban following the attempted rape, what else was he meant to do? Might he not even have been justified in killing the would-be rapist of his daughter as the only safe way of protecting her? Caliban, if anything, should be grateful that his life has been spared. Instead, he forms an unholy alliance with a couple of low-life drunks in a plot to kill Prospero, luring them into his murderous scheme with the promise that they would be free to rape Miranda once Prospero is dead. It really does beggar belief that Caliban is seen as the victim and not the villain.

The irony of this Shakespeare abuse is that the abusers are blinded by their own prejudice and cannot see the overarching allegory of the play. Seeing the play as Shakespeare evidently saw it, we can perceive that Prospero’s powers are meant to be understood as the power of the playwright to bring order out of chaos and concord from discord. When Prospero walks on the stage at the end of the play to bid his farewell and to ask for prayers, he is speaking in the voice of Shakespeare himself. It is Shakespeare who is taking the final bow, The Tempest being his final play.

And there is a further irony. Shakespeare took “early retirement” (so to speak) because of the rising power of the Puritans who were attacking the theatre in general, for being “papist,” and Shakespeare in particular, for being an ally of the Jesuits. Having been forced into retirement by the old-school Puritans, Shakespeare is now being routinely abused by a new generation of puritans who are equally obsessed with censoring the goodness, truth and beauty of his Muse.

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The featured image is “The Enchanted Island Before the Cell of Prospero – Prospero, Miranda, Caliban and Ariel (Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2)” by Henry Fuseli (created in 1797). This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedicationcourtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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