Friday, January 11, 2013

Summary and Analysis of Ania Loomba's Critique of Shakespeare's "The Tempest"

Summary and Analysis of Loomba Critique

Ania Loomba writes from a feminist viewpoint in her critical essay to show how both gender and racial inequality are represented within the play. She focuses her essay on “the black rapist”, Sycorax, and Miranda’s schooling. These topics address colonialism and patriarchal oppression. Loomba gives us a closer critical analysis of the inequalities Shakespeare acknowledges with the play.

Loomba draws from Octave Mannoni’s “Psychologie de la Colonisation” to show that “Caliban does not complain of being exploited: he complains of being betrayed” and that he is “an eager partner in his own colonization” (325). Caliban’s desire to integrate with Prospero and Miranda is representative of natives adopting colonist lifestyles and beliefs. It was thought that natives would either force themselves on white women in order to be looked at as fully assimilated to their new culture or because they could no longer assert their supremacy in society after colonization. Either way, the myth of the “black rapist” was formed.

While the black male, Caliban, is to be feared because of his rapist tendencies, the black woman, Sycorax, is to be dominated. Although Sycorax dies before the play begins, reflections on her character give insight into the oppression brought with colonization and the institution of patriarchal ideals by the colonists. Caliban tells Prospero “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, / Which thou tak’st from me” (I. ii. 334-35). Many African and Caribbean cultures conformed to maternal inheritance laws. Prospero’s colonization of the island and calling it his own represents both “racial plunder and a transfer to patriarchy” (329). Another example of a transfer to colonial ideals is the juxtaposition of “Sycorax’s illegitimate pregnancy” with “Miranda’s chastity and virginity” (329). Prospero views Sycorax as a “foul witch” (I. ii. 258). Loomba believes “Prospero’s descriptions of Sycorax emphasize both her non-European origins and her fertility” (328). Miranda represents patriarchal ideals, while Sycorax represents freedom and independence. This contrast conforms to the stereotypical paradigm of woman as virgin / whore, or goddess / witch.

Finally, Loomba focuses on Miranda’s schooling. Prospero teaches Miranda to be obedient. He orders her to “sit down,” “obey, and be attentive,” “Dost thou attend me?” “I pray thee, mark me,” “Thou attend’st not,” and “Dost thou hear?” while he is story-telling (I. ii). She is also ordered to “sleep, awake, come on, see, speak, be quiet, obey, be silent, hush and be mute” (331). Miranda is not viewed as an equal by Prospero, instead he sees her as “property to be exchanged between father and husband” (331). Prospero tells Ferdinand, “then, as my gift, and thine own acquisition / Worthily purchas’d, take my daughter” (IV. i. 13-14). Prospero views Miranda as property that he controls. She conforms to his ideas because they are the only ideas she knows.

Shakespeare shows many forms of oppression in his play “The Tempest.” It is no wonder that as a feminist looking to show Shakespeare’s keen perception of gender and racial inequality, Loomba chose to critique this work. While the topics raised were relevant to oppression by colonization and patriarchal ideals at the time of production, these topics are still problematic in today’s society. There is still work to be done to eliminate the myth of the black rapist, ensure equality for all people, and dismantle the patriarchy. Loomba draws attention to the fact that hundreds of years later these issues are still at the forefront of discussion by anyone seeking an egalitarian society.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi,
    A great analysis, but is there any way you could post a link to the original text? I can't find it anywhere.