Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Race, Ecology, and Literature
Since its initial performance, The Tempest has become one of Shakespeare’s most widely read, widely performed, and widely critiqued plays. Named for the storm conjured by Prospero in its opening scene, The Tempest depicts wizardry, shipwreck, conspiracy, and slavery—all the while opening up provocative vistas onto utopia, sex, power, commerce, and racial difference. In this course, we will read The Tempest in historical and cultural context, trace its cultural legacies, and ask: what can it teach us about the shared histories, present, and futurities of race, gender, capitalism, and human ecology? Despite four centuries of distance, why does The Tempest continue to influence debates in literature and philosophy, decolonial struggles, ideas of human and nonhuman nature, and notions of progress?
In this course, we will read The Tempest in historical and cultural context, tracing its legacies. First we’ll contextualize the play alongside early modern travel narratives, asking why this play is considered a paradigm of early modern colonial thinking. Using Marxist, feminist, anti-colonial, and eco-critical approaches, we will also read The Tempest as part of colonial-capitalism’s literary legacy, as a core example of its conceptualizations of social and natural environments. With thinkers like Kim F. Hall, Roberto Fernandez Retamar, Silvia Federici, and Alberto Toscano, we will use The Tempest to understand how literature can teach us about the primitive accumulation of colonial-capitalism, through racial representations of master-slave dynamics, the “noble savage,” and ideas of the built and natural environment. We will also investigate how The Tempest has been reworked and re-imagined as a vehicle for articulating anti-colonial struggles, through Aimé Césaire’s Une Tempête, as well as white supremacy, through what Angela Davis has called “the myth of the Black rapist.” We will end by critically reading and watching adaptations of The Tempest in light of the play’s long cultural legacy as a foundational text of the myths and assumptions of colonial-capitalism, of ecological modernity, and the power of their stories.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
November 22 — December 13, 2021