A recent answer from verbose mentioned:

Postcolonial approaches to The Tempest cast Prospero as colonizer, exercising imperial control over the original inhabitants of the island: Caliban and Ariel.

Previously, I'd only been aware of a connection between The Tempest and colonialism via Nalo Hopkinson's short story "Shift", which is set in a post-colonial Caribbean but uses characters named Caliban, Ariel, and Sycorax after those in The Tempest. Even after reading and learning about this story, I had not realised that there are post-colonial interpretations of the original Shakespeare play too. I haven't actually studied this play, only read a retelling years ago, but to me this was never an obvious interpretation. So I'm curious about the history of this approach to study of The Tempest.

When was the first "post-colonial" analysis of The Tempest, casting Prospero as a coloniser exercising imperial control? What is the history of this interpretation?

1 Answer 1


The oldest postcolonial reading of The Tempest that I am aware of was published by Octave Mannoni (1899-1989; the French Wikipedia article about Mannoni is a bit longer). Mannoni was a Frenchman who is a bit hard to classify, since he studied philosophy, worked as a teacher in Martinique (which is still part of France's overseas territories), La Réunion and Madagascar, and later became psychoanalyst. He left Madagascar in 1947 because he disagreed with the French colonial policy there, which had led to the Malagasy Uprising.

In the years 1947-1948, he had already published a few articles in the magazines Psyché, Revue de psychologie des peuples and Esprit, which he reworked into a book entitled La psychologie de la colonisation (literally, "The psychology of coloniation"), published in 1950. The book heavily criticised colonialism; in spite of this, Mannoni was criticised by Aimé Césaire, another notable theorist of postcolonialism, in his book Discours sur le colonialisme, which was also published in 1950. (In 1969, Césaire published the play Une tempête, which was an adaptation of The Tempest from a postcolonial perspective.)

However, in 1964, the book is translated into English as Prospero and Caliban. The Psychology of Colonization and published by Methuen in London. In the United States, the book was published by Praeger in New York in 1964, since 1990, it has been available from the University of Michigan Press. While the English version of the book became something like a classic of postcolonial literature in the English-speaking world, this does not appear to be the case in the French-speaking world.

Mannoni republished the French edition of his book in 1984, but now under the title Prospero et Caliban. Psychologie de la colonisation. This edition contains a foreword by Charles Baladier, a French translation of the preface that Philip Mason wrote for the 1956 English edition and Mannoni's own notes from 1956 and 1964 for the English edition. This edition was republished posthumously in 1997 under the supervision of Mannoni's wife Maud, but with a new title: Le racisme revisité. Madagascar, 1947 ("Racism revisited, Madagascar, 1947". This last edtion also contained two other texts by Mannoni: "The decolonisation of myself" (originally published in English in 1966) and "Terrains de mission" (originally published in 1971).

The book is not primarily an interpretation of The Tempest; it is more a study of the colonial situation in Madagascar and a psychological theory of colonialism. Mannoni claimed that the Malagasy personality type was characterised by a dependency complex, whereas the European personality type was characterised by a inferiority complex. Both complexes are initially present in children, but the community in which they are raised leads to a predominance of one of these complexes. The inferiority complex leads to a search for situations where the European can prove his superiority, and colonialism provides such "opportunities". In other words, Europeans were psychologically prepared to behave like Shakespeare's Prospero or Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and to treat the colonised as Calibans. This psychological interpration was one of the reasons for the criticism by Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon.


Update: In 1900, the Uruguayan author José Enrique Rodó published his essay Ariel,

in which Ariel represents the positive, and Caliban represents the negative tendencies in human nature, and they debate the future course of history, in what Rodó intended to be a secular sermon to Latin American youth, championing the cause of the classical western tradition.

This is more a discussion of the situation in Latin America around 1900 than an analysis of the play. Even though the essay was very influential in Latin America, it doesn't appear to have had a significant impact in the English-speaking or French-speaking world—there is a gap of fifty years between Ariel and Mannoni's La psychologie de la colonisation, for example.

See also:

  • Monreal, Susana: Rodó, José Enrique, in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2014-10-08. DOI: 10.15463/ie1418.10104.
  • Ariel in Spanish in the Internet Archive.
  • Ariel in Spanish on Wikisource.
  • Ariel, English translation by F. J. Stimson (1922) in the Internet Archive.

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