British Literature of the 17th Century and the 'Racial Other' Essay

2511 WordsMar 3, 201511 Pages
‘British literature of this period always sees the “racial other” in light of British cultural values.’ How far is that true? British citizens in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were fascinated by different cultures and races. As explored in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Behn’s Oroonoko; or, the Royal Slave, different races and characters are often compared and contrasted with British characters or, as in The Tempest, European characters who are created to represent British cultural values. Often, the ‘native’ characters come out looking less than pretty, ‘savage’ in contrast to the ‘civilised’ European standards. Howard Felperin writes: The discourse of colonialism […] abounds in shifting conflations of the ‘exotic’, the ‘demonic’, the’ monstrous’, the ‘slavish’ or ‘subservient’ under the master category of the radically and ineluctably ‘other’. (1995, p50) Native characters who you are supposed to sympathise with are often described as having European attributes, to make them less alien to the British consumer of this literature. As such, my argument will lean towards the question’s statement being true, with noted exceptions. The character of Caliban in The Tempest is not usually portrayed as being white. His mother, Sycorax, was said by Prospero to be from Algiers, capital of Algeria. While his father’s origin is debated, his character is representative of an African native as viewed by ‘superior’ white nobles at the time of his debut, with Pat Scorer writing: [W]e might note the silence [in The Tempest] surrounding Caliban’s reduction to slavery and Prospero’s assumption that, as a European exile landing by chance on these shores, he has a right to appropriate them and to subject any native occupant to his will. (2000, p291) Caliban being representative of colonial attitudes towards the native peoples of colonised islands,

More about British Literature of the 17th Century and the 'Racial Other' Essay

Open Document