The Tempest

A Thing Most Brutish: Orientalism in Shakespeare's The Tempest College

Orientalism, as defined by Edward Said, is the system by which the West comes to understand the East by “making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it: in short, [. . . by] dominating, restructuring, and having authority over [it]” (Said 25). In other words, Orientalism as an ideology seeks to define the East and, in doing so, allow the West to exert authority over it. According to Lois Tyson, the purpose of Orientalism “[. . .] is to produce a positive national self-definition for Western nations by contrast with Eastern nations on which the West projects all the negative characteristics it doesn’t want to believe exist among its own people” (Tyson 402). These negative characteristics, among them sexual promiscuity, aggression, mysticism, exoticism, dishonesty, and barbarism, stand in stark contrast to the traditional values of “civilized” England. The goal of this essay is to illustrate how two of the main characters in William Shakespeare’s famous play The Tempest—Ariel and Caliban, respectively—embody these characteristics and thereby reflect Orientalist stereotypes and misconceptions about the East whilst simultaneously subverting them.

Ariel—an androgynous spirit creature...

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