photograph of sculpture from Jason deCaires Taylor, Vicissitudes, Depth 5m, Grenada, West Indies

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and

Ariel, in The Tempest 1.2.397-402

Image: underwater sculpture from Jason deCaires Taylor, Vicissitudes, Grenada, West Indies, 2007.

satellite image of the United States

Satellite photograph of the United States

map of present-day Virginia

Present-day Virginia. Newport News is in the southeast. The Appalachian Mountains run along the state's western border.

photograph of Monty's Penguin, Newport News, Virginiastatue of Christopher Newport, Christopher Newport University, Newport News, Virginia

Left: Honestly the only cool thing about Newport News, a diner called Monty's Penguin that sells soft-serve ice cream.

Right: Statue of Captain Christopher Newport, Christopher Newport University, Newport News, VA.

John Farrer, map of Virginia, 1667

Early modern map of Virginia by John Farrer, 1667.

The map is oriented with the north to your right (i.e. the bottom of the map is the Atlantic).

Note how the map places the Pacific Ocean ("The Sea of China and the Indies") just beyond the Appalachian Mountains.

satellite image of the British Isles

Satellite photograph of the British Isles

Brighton and Hove Albion football supportersTippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds,

Terrifying seagulls.

flyer advertising a lost barrister's wig, 2016

"Barrister's wig lost. Substantial reward if found."
Spotted in Hove in 2016.

Clip from 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, Isles of Wonder, dir. Danny Boyle.

satellite image of the British Isles

Danny Boyle's Isles of Wonder

England: "Jerusalem"
Northern Ireland: "Danny Boy"
Scotland: "Flower of Scotland"
Wales: "Bread of Heaven"

Kenneth Branagh in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony

Music:Edward Elgar, "Nimrod" from The Enigma Variations1899
Actor:Kenneth Branaghpresent
Costume:Isambard Kingdom Brunel (Victorian engineer)1806-1859
Words:Caliban's "The isle is full of noises" speech from The Tempest1611

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 sometimes 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.

Caliban, in The Tempest 3.2.135-143.


Old English: ígland, íland

Latin: insula

from these: insulate, isolate, insular

Thomas More's UtopiaNauru detention centermap showing the Falkland Islands relative to the rest of South America

Left to right: Thomas More's island Utopia; Nauru; the Falkland Islands.


a place of exile?

a place of sovereignty and freedom?

Critical debates about The Tempest are often debates about a text’s correct relationship to literary history.

To what extent is a literary text determined by its historical moment?

To what extent is it exceptional or autonomous?


attempting to understand the worldview and material circumstances of a text's production on their own terms


the projection of contemporary values or epistemological frameworks onto the past

Bad historicism: the "Anti-Stratfordians"

Assumes a fixed model of history, assumes that history cannot surprise us or deviate from our expectations.

The rest of this lecture:

1. The early modern period

  • legitimate sovereignty and dynastic succession
  • theatricality
  • colonialism

2. The Tempest and its travels

early modern map of Virginiastatue of Christopher Newport, Christopher Newport University, Newport News, Virginia

My hometown then and now.

"early modern" vs. "Renaissance"

Italy was well in advance of the rest of Europe from roughly 1350 to 1530 because of its early consolidation of genuine states, the mercantile and manufacturing economy that supported them, and its working out of postfeudal and even postguild social relations. ... Yet precisely these developments affected women adversely—so much so that there was no renaissance for women—at least not during the Renaissance.

Joan Kelly, "Did Women Have a Renaissance?," 1977. My emphasis.

  • Tudor monarchy (Henry VII–Elizabeth I), 1485–1603
  • Stuart monarchy (James I–James II), 1603–1688 (with two civil wars in between!)

portrait of Elizabeth Iportrait of James I

Left: The "Darnley Portrait" of Elizabeth I (c. 1575). Right: Portrait of James I by James van Somer (1620).
Shakespeare's career: late 1580s-1616.

the early modern period:

  • the Protestant Reformation
  • introduction of print in Europe
  • early capitalism
  • empirical natural philosophy (Royal Society founded 1663)
  • European empire

early modern drawing of the Swan Theatre, London

Drawing of the Swan Theatre, London, by Johannes de Witt, 1595.

title page of the first Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, 1623

"Published according to the True Originall Copies."
Source: British Library.

First to possess his books, for without them
He’s but a sot as I am, nor hath not
One spirit to command.

Caliban, in The Tempest, 3.2.91-94.

i. legitimate sovereignty and dynastic succession

Alonso’s sadness at having apparently lost his son and married his daughter to a foreign prince might well have seemed a virtual mirror of the situation of [King James], whose son, Henry, had died the previous year, and who now was marrying his daughter, Elizabeth, to a foreign prince.

David Kastan, Shakespeare after Theory, 1999.

Not so much perdition as an hair [/heir]
Betid to any creature in the vessel
Which thou heard'st cry, which thou sawst sink.

Prospero, The Tempest, 1.2.30-32.

               Would I had never
Married my daughter there, for coming thence
My son is lost and (in my rate) she too,
Who is so far from Italy removed
I ne'er again shall see her. O thou mine heir
Of Naples and of Milan
, what strange fish
Hath made his meal on thee?

Alonso, The Tempest, 2.1.108-113. My emphasis.

Was Milan thrust from Milan that his issue
Should become kings of Naples?

Gonzalo, The Tempest, 5.1.205-206.

ii. theatricality


a courtly performance including singing, dancing, acting, and elaborate stage settings (C16-C17)

Incite them to quick motion, for I must
Bestow upon the eyes of this young couple
Some vanity of mine art.

Prospero, in The Tempest 4.1.39-41. My emphasis.

iii. colonialism

map of Italy with Lampedusa emphasized

Pantellerìa and Lampedusa in relation to Italy and the African coast

map of Italy with Lampedusa emphasized

Bermuda (boxed in red, well off the coast of South Carolina)

early modern map of Virginiastatue of Christopher Newport, Christopher Newport University, Newport News, Virginia

               Then was this island
(Save for the son that she did litter here,
A freckled whelp, hag-born) not honoured with
A human shape.

Prospero, in The Tempest 1.2.281-284

               Abhorrèd slave,
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill; I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but would gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes
With words that made them known.

Miranda, in The Tempest 1.2.353-359. My emphasis.

In The Tempest the startling encounter between a lettered and an unlettered culture is heightened, almost parodied, in the relationship between a European whose entire source of power is his library and a savage who had no speech at all before the European’s arrival.

Stephen Greenblatt, Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture, 1990.

The Tempest and its travels

Those among the natives who read also believed that [literature could not be written by colonials]; for all the books they had read, their whole introduction to something called culture, all of it, in the form of words, came from outside: Dickens, Jane Austen, Kipling and that sacred gang. The West Indian’s education was imported in much the same way that flour and butter are imported from Canada.

George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile, 1960.

photograph of Mannoni's Psychologie de la colonisation

Octave Mannoni's Psychologie de la colonisation (1950) was translated into English under the title Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization (trans. Pamela Powesland, 1956).

photograph of George Lamming by Carl Van Vechten

George Lamming, author of The Pleasures of Exile (1960).
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten.

photograph of Aimé Césaire

Martinican writer and politician Aimé Césaire, co-founder of Négritude and author of Une Tempête [A Tempest], 1969.

photograph of Kamau Brathwaite

Barbadian poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite, author of The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy (1973). Brathwaite completed a PhD in philosophy at the University of Sussex in 1968.

No more dams I'll make for fish,
Nor fetch in firing at requiring,
Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash dish.
Ban' ban' Ca-caliban,
Has a new master, get a new man.

Caliban, in The Tempest 2.2.176-180

Kamau Brathwaite, "Caliban," in Islands (1969):

like to play
at the Car-
ping down
and the black
gods call-
ing, back

he falls
through the water’s
where the music hides
where the si-
lence lies.

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Ariel, in The Tempest 1.2.397-402

           I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.

Prospero, in The Tempest 5.1.54-57

photograph of sculpture from Jason deCaires Taylor, Vicissitudes, Depth 5m, Grenada, West Indies

he falls
through the water’s
where the music hides
where the si-
lence lies.

photograph of Falmer House, University of Sussex

Falmer House. Sir Basil Spence, 1962. University of Sussex.

Alan SinfieldJonathan DollimoreImage of cover of Political Shakespeare, 1985

Alan Sinfield (left) and Jonathan Dollimore (center). Their edited collection Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism (right) first appeared in 1985.

cultural materialism (UK)
New Historicism (US)

Political Shakespeare

"According to Marx, men and women make their own history but not in conditions of their own choosing. Perhaps the most significant divergence within cultural analysis is that between those who concentrate on culture as this making of history, and those who concentrate on the unchosen conditions which constrain and inform that process of making."

Dollimore and Sinfield, Introduction to Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism, 1985.

In the course of his [Brown's] argument, Shakespeare’s play becomes almost wholly engulfed by colonial discourse, retaining little separate identity of its own.

Deborah Willis, "Shakespeare's Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism," 1989.

Willis is referring to Paul Brown's essay “ ‘This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine’: The Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism,” in Dollimore and Sinfield, eds., Political Shakespeare, 1985.

Anyone who has tried to keep up with the ensemble of new critical discourses currently circulating around and recirculating Shakespeare's dramatic texts must have noticed that a curious thing has happened to Shakespeare himself. Any trace of his responsibility for what goes on in these texts is being systematically occluded [...].

Richard Levin, "The Poetics and Politics of Bardicide," 1990. My emphasis.

[C]ultural materialism does not pretend to political neutrality. ... Cultural materialism does not, like much established literary criticism, attempt to mystify its perspective as the natural, obvious, or right interpretation of an allegedly given textual fact. On the contrary, it registers its commitment to the transformation of a social order which exploits people on grounds of race, gender, and class.

Dollimore and Sinfield, Foreword to Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism, 1985.

It is not a question of accusing Shakespeare of ‘being racist’; he lived a long time ago when people thought differently about all kinds of things, and doubtless did his best to make sense of it, like most of us. ... It is a question of what the play tends to do, and may be made to do, in our cultures.

Alan Sinfield, Cultural Politics—Queer Reading, 1994.

Kenneth Branagh portraying Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympicssatellite image of the British Isles
Nigel Farage standing in front of a racist UKIP advert for leaving the EU

Nigel Farage in front of UKIP's infamously racist advertisement for leaving the European Union. Note how it reverses the history of empire by framing the UK as a subjugated nation: "We must break free of the EU."

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne, Meditation 17, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624.

These slides and a copy of this talk are available at


These slides were made using reveal.js by Hakim El Hattab.


A selected bibliography follows this slide.

Selected bibliography

Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Burrow, Colin. Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Dollimore, Jonathan, and Alan Sinfield. Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism. 2nd ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994.

Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia, 2004.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Greene, Roland. “Island Logic.” In The Tempest and Its Travels, edited by William H. Sherman and Peter Hulme, 138–45. London: Reaktion, 2000.

Hadfield, Andrew. Shakespeare and Renaissance Politics. The Arden Critical Companions. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2004.

Hulme, Peter. “Stormy Weather: Misreading the Postcolonial Tempest.” Early Modern Culture 1, no. 3 (2003).


Selected bibliography continued [p. 2]

Kastan, David Scott. Shakespeare after Theory. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Kelly [Gadol], Joan. Women, History & Theory: The Essays of Joan Kelly. Women in Culture and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Levin, Richard. “The Poetics and Politics of Bardicide.” PMLA 105, no. 3 (1990): 491–504.

Neill, Michael. “‘Noises, / Sounds, and Sweet Airs’: The Burden of Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest.’” Shakespeare Quarterly 59, no. 1 (2008): 36–59.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Edited by Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan. Revised edition. The Arden Shakespeare. London: Bloomsbury, 2011.

Sinfield, Alan. Cultural Politics—Queer Reading. University of Pennsylvania Press New Cultural Studies. London: Routledge, 1994.

Spiller, Elizabeth. “Shakespeare and the Making of Early Modern Science: Resituating Prospero’s Art.” South Central Review 26, no. 1 (April 11, 2009): 24–41.

Strier, Richard. Resistant Structures: Particularity, Radicalism, and Renaissance Texts. The New Historicism 34. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Viswanathan, Gauri. Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India. Columbia University Press, 2015.

Willis, Deborah. “Shakespeare’s Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 29, no. 2 (Spring 1989): 277–89.