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The Orient And The Oriental

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Published: Fri, 12 May 2017

A 2500 word essay in response to a set question: Summarise the key theoretical concepts and principles of any ONE of the set readings from Easthope McGowan, and apply these concepts and principles in a critical analysis of any ONE of the set literary texts for the module.

This essay will look at Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism and how the key ideas of it can be applied to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The character of Caliban will be explored and analysed to see how Said’s theory of Orientalism is prevalent in The Tempest. So what is Said’s theory of Orientalism? In Said’s book titled Orientalism, he gives Orientalism three definitions. The first definition is, “The most readily accepted designation for Orientalism is an academic one, and indeed the label still serves in a number of academic institutions.” The second definition that Said gives is more of a general basic meaning of Orientalism. Said says that Orientalism is a way of thinking based upon an ontological and epistemological differentiation between the Orient and the Occident. The third definition of Orientalism given by Said is that Orientalism is a Western way of dominating, reconstructing and also having authority over the Orient. (Said, E. 1978, Orientalism, p2-3, Routledge & Keegan Paul.)

So what do terms like ‘The Orient’ and ‘The Oriental’ mean? The Orient is seen as the “Other” to the West. The Orient is seen as an inferior twin of the West. The Orients image is created and represented by the West especially by the political set up to show the inferiority of the East and how the West is superior in every regard. The ‘Oriental’ man is depicted by the West as being weak but also as being dangerous. The oriental man is represented by as posing a serious threat to the Western white society and especially posing a serious threat to the Western white woman. The image of an Oriental man is widely generalized and is also stereotyped. The Oriental man is depicted by the Western society as anyone from any culture and country outside the West. This is Said’s theory that the West sees itself as being superior, sees itself as number one and everyone else is the ‘Other’. Said’s theory fits straight into a text like Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Said’s theory of Orientalism forms an important background for postcolonial studies and paints a great picture of the colonial ideologies in regards to the countries which had become colonies of the Western world. Said’s theory questions the ideas and beliefs which were widely accepted in all forms of life whether it was at an academic or political level. Said Challenges the concept of Orientalism and the Other or simply the difference between the West and the East. This ‘science’ of Orientalism started to come about with the start of the European’s colonizing countries which were not as developed as the Western countries. According to Said, the concept of Orientalism was produced to justify the Western world colonizing the lesser developed countries around the world. The people from the Orient were depicted by the West as being uncivilized and the justification for colonizing those countries was so they could help them become civilized. According to Said the West generalized the attributes of all the people of the Orient disregarding any cultural boundaries they were grouped as all being one.

The foundation of Orientalism can be clearly seen in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, through the depiction of Caliban and also the relationship he has with Prospero and Miranda. Caliban is seen as the perfect representation of a person from the Orient. Caliban plays a small role in the text but is one of the most important characters from The Tempest. Caliban’s importance lays mostly within the concept of post-colonialism. The character of Caliban is read as an epitomy of the Orintal person. He is seen as a primitive human, degraded character. Caliban represents greediness, lustfulness and anarchy. Caliban symbolized the lesser developed world as it was imagined by the more developed Europeans. Caliban has always been linked to colonialism as he is seen as the perfect representation of ‘The Other’. Caliban is depicted as half animal and is seen as needing someone to rule over him someone who can make him civilized. This once again works to justify the Occident’s ideology that the Orient is uncivilized and the Eastern Countries need the West to help them become civilized.

Caliban is described very few times and plays a small part in The Tempest but is widely seen as the most important character from the play. This is mostly due to the colonial connotations that his character represents. Caliban is portrayed as the offspring of a witch named Sycorax and the devil. Prospero and Miranda are portrayed as being kind to Caliban when they first arrived on the island.

I must eat my dinner.

This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,

Which thou takest from me. When thou camest first,

Thou strok’st me and made 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 showed thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle,

The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile.

Cursed be I that did so! All the charms

Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!

For I am all the subjects that you have,

Which first was mine own king. And here you sty me

In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me

The rest o’ th’ island. (1.2.3)

Here it is clear to see that the relationship between Caliban the native of the island and Prospero was good before Caliban tried to rape Miranda in order to produce offspring.

The above quote from The Tempest shows clearly that at first the relationship between Prospero and Caliban who is the native of the island is good. Caliban talks about how Prospero took care of him and educated him and in turn Caliban showed Prospero all the features of the island. This shows that the relationship between them was good at first so why does this change? This relationship between Caliban and Prospero changed once Caliban tried to rape Miranda in order to produce offspring for Caliban so he could populate the island. Once again Said’s theory of Orientalism can be seen here. Prospero is shown as a kind person who nurtures Caliban, he teaches him, he becomes his mentor who Caliban has a lot of respect and love for. Caliban in turn betrays Prospero and as mentioned above tries to rape Prospero’s daughter Miranda. The theory of Orientalism is quite prevalent here as it shows that the people of the Orient aren’t to be trusted, they are uncivilized and dangerous and need someone to be in control over them. This is again a justification for colonizing the Eastern countries, the West portrays themselves as saviours who are taking control over these people to make them better rather than enslave them.

The concept of the Orient did not exist when this play The Tempest was written but it is quite apparent that the character of Caliban does indicate to the European ideologies and mindset of how they viewed the East or the Other. Caliban’s deformaties also play to the European biases towards the Other. Caliban’s deformities shows that the colonizing Western countries saw the Third World countries and their inhabitants as inferior and impure in contrast to themselves. Caliban’s deformities are shown in order to enhance the image of Prospero this is much like what the West did to enhance their image. In order to appear better than someone else one shows how different and superior they are from The Other. This is a political tool used to enhance the Western image, the West must show the shortcomings of the East in order to do this. An example of this can be seen in Said’s book Orientalism. Said gives an example of how Europe and the West in general depicts the Eastern Muslim world. In the sixteenth century the Muslim Ottoman empire had great power and ruled the seas of Europe with its vast armies. This was something to fear for the European West. In order to damage the Ottoman Muslim empire, it was widely believed that Islam was an imitation of Christianity. Islam was depicted widely as being the religion of outlaws and that Prophet Mohammed was no more than a “cunning apostate”.(Said, E. 1978, Orientalism, p62-63, Routledge & Keegan Paul.)

This is the same way in which Shakespeare depicts Caliban. Prospero is depicted as being some what virtues and kind towards Caliban,

 Thou most lying slave,

Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,

Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee

In mine own cell till thou didst seek to violate

The honor of my child.

The above quote from The Tempest shows that Prospero was kind to Caliban and took care of Caliban with human care. The term human care suggests that Caliban is a beast or an animal who Prospero has treated like a human out of kindness. Caliban is portrayed as having betrayed Prospero’s trust and love for him and Prospero says to Caliban that he responds better to the whip than to kindness. Once again this is seen as a justification of ruling over the Orient, as they behave better when ruled over than when shown love and treated as equals. This idea that Caliban and the Orient respond better to strictness than kindness can also be seen in The Tempest, Caliban is shown love but he betrays the love shown to him. He rebelled against Prospero as he saw himself as the true ruler of the island and not Prospero. So what the west was trying to show is that they could not trust the indigenous people of the countries they had colonized.

Caliban can also be seen as a depiction of the Western European wrongdoings on the colonized people. In contrast to Said’s theory that the Occident depicts the Orient as being inferior in order to show the superiority of the Occident. Virginia Vaughan and Alden Vaughan summarize this argument in their book Shakespeare’s Caliban: A cultural History.

Caliban stands for countless victims of European imperialism and colonization. Like Caliban (so the argument goes), colonized peoples were disinherited, exploited, and subjugated. Like him, they learned a conqueror’s language and perhaps that conqueror’s values. Like him, they endured enslavement and contempt by European usurpers and eventually rebelled. Like him, they were torn between their indigenous culture and the culture superimposed on it by their conquerors. (Shakespeare’s Caliban: A Cultural Histor


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