“but Release Me from My Bands”: Historical Context, Orality and Literacy, and Postcolonialism in the Tempest Essay

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“But Release Me From My Bands”: Historical Context, Orality and Literacy, and Postcolonialism in The Tempest In Stephen Greenblatt’s essay “Resonance and Wonder,” he writes, “[S]ome of the most interesting and powerful ideas in cultural criticism occur precisely at moments of disjunction, disintegration, unevenness. A criticism that never encounters obstacles, . . . that finds confirmation of its values everywhere it turns, is quite simply boring” (58-59). Greenblatt’s words apply nowhere better than William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play rooted within “historically contingent” (59) values and, at the same time, a play full of obstacles that create moments of “disjunction, disintegration, [and] unevenness.” The Tempest has been viewed from a play of “timeless human values” (Skura 221) to a play promoting the evils of colonialism. No better character than Caliban represents these multiple views. He has been played and seen as everything from the clown to the devil to the victim, each generation reinventing his character. Caliban’s relationship with his master Prospero is also one marked with obstacles, both, in the end, wanting release from their bands, although in entirely different ways. However, to locate a true understanding of this complicated relationship, one must start at the beginning of Caliban’s conception. The Tempest was first staged in 1611 in King James’s presence (Garber 853). The play, with its references to exotic locales and New World allusions, was very topical. While the discovery of the New World was not fresh news, the colonization of these areas was a much discussed topic among Jacobeans, and the expansion of the British empires to these areas was flourishing. In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I created the charter for the East India Company (Gardner 11). John Smith’s A True Relation of Such Occurences and Accidents of Noate as Hath

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