Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ explores colonialism, resistance and liberation



Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ contains timeless themes around resistance and colonialism. Here in an engraving by Benjamin Smith based on a painting by George Romney of Act I, Scene 1 of ‘The Tempest’ by William Shakespeare.
(Benjamin Smith/George Romney/ Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division /pga.03317)

Paul Yachnin, McGill University and Hannah Korell, McGill University

Last winter, at the Studio Theatre at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto, Canadian actor Antoine Yared played Caliban in The Tempest. He stood, centre stage, looking out over the audience as he reassured his companions that the magic music of the island should not frighten them. He said:

“The isle is full of noises … that give delight and hurt not.”

But his face told the audience a different story — the story of a man heartbroken for what had been taken from him.

We chose Shakespeare’s The Tempest as the centrepiece for our “Playing for Free” workshop because the play has been entangled with the history of slavery and freedom in the west for over 400 years.

In this NYC 2016 production of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest,’ Reanna Roane, as ‘Ariel,’ perches on a rock in Central Park during the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society theatre company’s performance.
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Tempest tells the story of the Duke of Milan, Prospero, who many years before had come to the island with his infant daughter. Upon arriving, Prospero enslaved two of its inhabitants, Caliban and the spirit Ariel. The play follows three interconnecting plotlines: Prospero’s revenge plan against his enemies; how his daughter, Miranda, falls in love with the son of his chief enemy; and how Caliban plans to destroy Prospero and take back the island.

Many consider the play an allegory of European colonization, and throughout the centuries, Caliban’s character has featured prominently in arguments that defend or resist against colonialist tyranny.

The Tempest has also been interpreted as an allegory of liberation. The 20th-century writer Roberto Fernández Retamar declared that the insurgent Caliban spoke for the colonized peoples of the Americas. In 1993, a production by Robert Lepage in Montréal portrayed Caliban as a working-class punk-rocker in open rebellion against the elite Prospero.

The Tempest and religious conversion

In our workshop, we wanted to blend theatre and scholarship to understand how The Tempest could have been used by both European colonialists and also by advocates of resistance. We also wanted to understand how the play might still be relevant.

The workshop brought together four Stratford Festival actors, three student actors from the Ryerson Performance Program and Renaissance scholars from an international initiative dedicated to understanding how Shakespeare’s work helped create the world we live in now.

The artists and scholars worked for a day and a half toward the performance. We talked about the history of slavery and freedom, primarily by thinking about how Christian conversion had served colonization. Indeed conversion has been an instrument of domination in the Americas from 1492 and onwards into recent times.

Forced conversion haunts the play. But there is another kind of conversion in the play where characters achieve the freedom to be true to themselves.

Caliban: Searching for the Other

Prospero attempts to strip away Caliban’s dignity. Prospero forces him to remain “stied” in a hard rock. In the Ryerson performance, Antoine Yared playing Caliban chose his first moments on stage carefully. Rather than obeying Prospero’s commands to “come,” he walked past Prospero, his back turned in a sign of his rebellion. For Caliban, even the act of walking around the Island, his home, was now charged with submission or defiance.

When Caliban encountered the shipwrecked servants he would recruit as co-conspirators against Prospero and when one of them fed him liquor, Caliban thought he had at last come face to face with God. He said to the drunken servant:

“Hath thou not dropped from heaven? … I prithee be my god.”

The drunk Caliban began singing and shouting:

“Freedom, high-day! High-day, freedom! Freedom!, high-day, freedom!”

But when the invisible Ariel began to make her magical music, the two servants quaked in terror. They knelt at Caliban’s feet. Caliban rose up — straight and fine like a young tree. He stood triumphantly over the two trembling servants. The music was something he knew well. It was nothing to be afraid of.

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,

That if I then had waked after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again: and then in dreaming,

The clouds methought would open and show riches

Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked

I cried to dream again.”

At the Ryerson performance in Toronto, Antoine Yared as Caliban chose his first moments on stage carefully. He walked past Ben Carlson as Prospero, his back turned in a sign of his rebellion.
Author provided

That was in rehearsal. But when Yared played Caliban in front of the audience, he changed the way he did the speech. His lines about the music of the island were no longer triumphant. They were something that could break your heart.

Yared’s Caliban was a man who had once been at one with the natural world, but who had been cast out and could only recapture some sense of the beauty of nature by dreaming. When he said, “I cried to dream again,” it was as if he were a man turning and turning, trying to find the beloved he had lost.

The workshop taught the actors, the scholars and the members of the audience how the play The Tempest, with its depiction of slavery, resistance and love might have challenged people of the past to see Caliban’s humanity and might also speak to audiences in the 21st century.

Yared’s Caliban left us with this urgent question. It was as if he were echoing Ariel and asking the audience:

“If you have eyes to see this suffering one, if you are human, your affections would become tender.”

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Paul Yachnin, Tomlinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies, McGill University and Hannah Korell, PhD Candidate, McGill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The hangover in literature, from Shakespeare and Burns to Bridget Jones



Africa Studio via Shutterstock

Jonathon Shears, Keele University

What a subject! And, in very truth, for once, a ‘strangely neglected’ one.

So Kingsley Amis began his famous 1971 essay on the hangover How different is our present moment, when it would be hard to find a media outlet on New Year’s Day not featuring an item about the effectiveness of remedies. Every age has its preferred cure: Pliny the Elder advocated raw owl’s eggs in wine. Shakespeare refers to “small ale”, which remained popular into the 19th century. The early 20th century was the golden age of hangover cocktails such as the Bloody Mary and the Prairie Oyster – but also of Alka-Seltzer. Amis recommends a “Polish Bison” – vodka mixed with hot Bovril.

Even scientists have got involved and hangover research is a subfield of medicine and psychology. Studies have explored links between hangover severity and alcohol use disorders, the hangover’s economic cost, the effectiveness of remedies and the ethical implications of a pharmaceutical cure.

The bad news is that, if you’re feeling unwell this morning, all reputable studies have shown that the only thing guaranteed to relieve symptoms is the passing of time.

To be fair, Amis never thought that remedies – and physical after-effects including headache, nausea and dehydration – had been ignored. What had really been neglected was what he termed the hangover’s “metaphysical superstructure”. That is all the emotional baggage that often follows drinking: guilt, shame, self-pity and the more nebulous “hangxiety”.




Read more:
What causes hangovers, blackouts and ‘hangxiety’? Everything you need to know about alcohol these holidays


Science can tell us why we feel sick after heavy drinking: dehydration, contracted blood vessels causing headaches and the build-up of acetaldehyde. But when a hangover makes us unwell we don’t just mean physical symptoms.

Science finds emotions less susceptible to measurement than physical effects. For the former, we require literature and the arts. Literature is an outlet for feeling, but also an expression of individual and cultural values. There is a surprisingly rich tradition of hangover literature in western culture – in writers as diverse as Shakespeare and Jane Austen, Robert Burns and George Eliot, Jean Rhys and Helen Fielding – that has been largely ignored and goes some way to explaining why hangovers might make us feel like mending our ways.

Hangover literature

In a 1791 epistle to Maria Riddell, a wretchedly hungover Burns apologises for an unwanted sexual advance on her sister-in-law. “I write you from the regions of hell, amid the horrors of the damned”, he begins, before bemoaning his “aching head reclined on a pillow of ever-piercing thorn”, and “an infernal tormentor” called “Recollection”.

Robert Burns: recollection seems to be the hardest word.
Alexander Nasmyth

This is penitent’s rhetoric, reminding us that Burns lived in rigidly moral Presbyterian Scotland. Pounding head and dehydration are just reprisal for his indiscretion and his letter is an apology for sinfulness. Shame is a powerful cultural force: if there is a cure here it will be found in forgiveness.

Hangovers often reveal the personal and social values that make us feel “bad”. In other words, the hangover is both a physical and cultural deterrent. Guilt and shame are not just nervous reflexes but part of a superstructure of values – Amis chose his words wisely – without which they cannot be understood.

Men and women

Science argues that hangover severity is different for men and women, focusing on metabolism and body mass. But surely the real differences are sociocultural? We could compare the hangovers of the alcoholic journalist, Peter Fallow, from Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), with those suffered by Helen Fielding’s ladette, Bridget Jones.

Bridget Jones the morning after the night before.
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Universal Pictures)

When hungover, Fallow seeks penance through strenuous exercise: “Never again. He would begin an exercise regimen tonight. Or tomorrow, in any case.” Wolfe makes it evident that hangxiety is not free floating, but derives from Fallow’s impression of being culturally tarnished: “It wouldn’t be this pathetic American business of jogging, either. It would be something clean, crisp, brisk, strenuous … English.” The body is a site of cultural meaning.

Jones faces low self-esteem when hungover. Her worries superficially recall those of Fallow, but her negative self image involves the distinctive pressures put upon women to marry and have children. She obsesses about weight gain, her looks (“Oh why am I so unattractive? Why?”), her ability to attract a partner and her ticking body clock.

Family values

The hangover’s impact on family life has been the focus of hangover studies. Here literature also points us to cultural variables.

The wife who nags her husband for his drunken ways is a stock figure of comic fiction from the 16th century to the present day. John Taylor captures the type in his colourful Skimmington’s Lecture (1639):

What not a word this morning … have you lost your tongue, you may be ashamed, had you any grace in you at all, to bee such a common drunkard, a pisse-pot.

But in the Victorian period Janet Dempster in Eliot’s Janet’s Repentance (1857) tells us of a different domestic power dynamic. Because she is unable to reproach her abusive, though popular, husband, she drowns her sorrows. While Robert’s “good head” for drink is legendary, Janet’s hangovers mean she neglects housework and loses her “good” reputation. Her shame shows that she is held to a different set of standards than her husband, the “stigmatising subject position” of women drinkers. (Janet is, however, able to repent, while Robert ends up dying after delirium tremens.)

Cultural resistance

It is possible to defy moral judgement for our lack of self-care, wasted time or embarrassment. However, even the most rebellious of literature’s drinkers feel self-doubt bite during hangovers. Martin Amis’s John Self (Money, 1984), Alan Sillitoe’s Arthur Seaton (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, 1958) and A. L. Kennedy’s Hannah Luckraft (Paradise, 2004) are notorious for recklessness and defiance when drunk. Their hangovers are, however, some of the most crippling in literature. Luckraft revels in blackouts and casual sexual encounters, but admits: “Inside, I am mostly built out of remorse.” Self’s hangovers are a necessary curb on a particularly toxic brand of masculinity. Seaton’s motto is “don’t let the bastards grind you down”, but the hangover of Sunday morning succeeds boozy Saturday nights and he eventually submits to marriage and a steady job.

Literature shows that hangovers are rarely just a collection of physical symptoms. A recent leader article in The Guardian was given the headline: “The Guardian view on the science of hangovers: no more research needed”. Perhaps we don’t need another article about the best remedies – but it is worth reflecting that there is much more to a hangover than bodily symptoms.

Hangover literature tells us quite a lot about our attitudes to alcohol, how they form and what they mean. This New Year, alongside the Bloody Mary, it might just be worth picking up a book. I don’t claim it will make anyone feel better, but it could help us understand a little more about why drinking often makes us feel bad about ourselves.The Conversation

Jonathon Shears, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, Keele University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

5 great reads for young critical thinkers



An image from the book cover for ‘SLAY,’ one of the top 2019 five books for young critical thinkers.
(Simon and Schuster)

Heba Elsherief, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa

At this time of year, “best of” lists abound, vying for our attention. But teachers and parents committed to principles of social justice are generally left searching for something more than the usual top 10 list of best-of books.

We hope the reads we give are not just entertaining but also educational.

I’ve previously written on children’s literature and presented book lists for critical thinkers on The Conversation Canada. The authors I listed lead to a treasure trove — for example, S.K. Ali’s Love from A to Z — but what follows is a new list of recommendations. They are books published from September 2019 that I hope will both entice readers and foster critical thinking.

This book list is not exhaustive and I present it more as suggestions — ones that may warrant further research. Teachers and parents will want to look up any trigger warnings.

Also, I recommend adults read books along with younger readers: it’s vital to meaningful conversations. I think adult readers may be pleasantly surprised by the rich and important storytelling happening in the young adult literary world.


‘All American Muslim Girl’ book cover.
(Macmillan Publishers)

All-American Muslim Girl, by Nadine Jolie Courtney, defies what you think you might know about female Muslim representation in an American context.

Allie Abraham is the main character whose born-Muslim father dislikes that she’s becoming more spiritual. The family has just moved to a small town, a microcosm of a nation where Islamophobia has become normalized. Allie falls for the son of Jack Henderson, the county’s “shock jock” behind the spread of hatred.

It’s a quiet but complex story about the search for identity and learning to find your own way. Allie is a likable character whose moral compass is wholesome and whose struggles to sift through opposing influences read as authentic and heart-warming. There’s an education and historical element to be found here on Circassian Muslims.


Book cover for ‘The Fountains of Silence.’
(Penguin Random House)

The Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys. Since reading Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea, probably one of my most recommended historical YA novels, I’ve been on the lookout for her work. In her latest, Sepetys takes readers to Spain in the 1950’s under the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Beyond giving us a look into the sorrow-filled aftermath of civil war, there are lessons here for those dealing with questions of privilege and the responsibilities to do something positive with that privilege.

Daniel Matheson is the protagonist photographer and son of an American oil tycoon who falls in love with Ana, the hotel maid and daughter of parents killed and imprisoned by the regime. She needs to keep silent in a country that relies on controlling people by fear. But Ana finds herself confiding in Daniel and Daniel begins to look beyond what he thinks he sees on the surface.

The best historical novels say something about contemporary times as well and Sepetys doesn’t disappoint. Readers will find parallels that speak to our silences regarding blatant injustices happening today.


SLAY, by Brittney Morris, is one I’d been hearing about for a long time before its September release. People called it a mash-up of The Hate U Give, and Ready Player One with a Black Panther-esque gaming world at its core.

Kiera Johnson is pretty much the only Black girl into STEM at her mostly white school. Beneath her honours persona, she’s hiding a secret life as the developer of an online game called SLAY. The game is supposed to be a safe-space for hundreds of thousands of Black gamers but when a teen is murdered in real life over a dispute in the game world, the game is exposed to accusations and threats.

Kiera fights to protect the world she created on several fronts. Although this is a novel that defies what stereotypes of Black girlhood may look like, it is also a super-inspiring read about the power of aligning your dreams with making the world a better, more inclusive space.


Book cover for ‘The Grace Year.’
(Macmillan)

The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett, has already been optioned for film and been compared to The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale. It does not have an obvious diversity element built into it but it does have its strengths for critical readers.

It’s a dystopian story about Tierney James who lives in a patriarchal, puritanical society that sends girls in their 16th year out to “release their magic” into the wild. The belief is that girls on the cusp of womanhood have an energy that, unless expended, would bring the moral degeneration of their community. In the author’s note at the end, Liggett tells the story of how she was inspired to tell this story because of “the things we do to young girls.”

This book isn’t for the faint of heart. The prose is elegant and captivating, but the world is cruel and disturbing. The book was hard to read at times despite its female empowerment message. Accordingly, for this recommendation, I’d stress the necessity of reviewing the trigger warnings.


Book cover for ‘It’s a Whole Spiel.’
(Knopf)

It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories, edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman, is for readers who prefer shorter stories rather than one long tale. Some are funny, others are sad, but all, in one way or another, address what growing up Jewish meant to the writer.

Bursting with diverse and intersectional representations (there’s queer and disabled reps here too, for instance), this anthology, much like All-American Muslim Girl, demonstrates that people of marginalized faiths aren’t a monolith and defy the stereotypes around them.

This book would be great for young Jewish readers, certainly for the chance to see themselves reflected in the books they read, but I see the benefit for non-Jewish readers as well. As children’s literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop explains, books can be as windows, mirrors and sliding doors. Bishop wrote:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

Rudine Sims Bishop, author of the essay ‘Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors’

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Heba Elsherief, Adjunct professor in Education, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.