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Jul 14, 2018

Macaulay's "Minute on Education"

Minute by T.B. Macaulay, (Feb 2, 1835) 

As it seems to be the opinion of some of the gentlemen who compose the Committee of Public Instruction that the course which they have hitherto pursued was strictly prescribed by the British Parliament in 1813 and as, if that opinion be correct, a legislative act will be necessary to warrant a change, I have thought it right to refrain from taking any part in the preparation of the adverse statements which before us, and to reserve what I had to say on the subject till it should come before me as a Member of the Council of India.

It does not appear to me that the Act of Parliament can by any art of contraction be made to bear the meaning which has been assigned to it. It contains nothing about the particular languages or sciences which are to be studied. A sum is set apart "for the revival and promotion of literature, and the encouragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories." It is argued, or rather taken for granted, that by literature the Parliament can have meant only Arabic and Sanscrit literature; that they never would have given the honourable appellation of "a learned native" to a native who was familiar with the poetry of Milton, the metaphysics of Locke, and the physics of Newton; but that they meant to designate by that name only such persons as might have studied in the sacred books of the Hindoos all the uses of cusa-grass, and all the mysteries of absorption into the Deity. This does not appear to be a very satisfactory interpretation. To take a parallel case: Suppose that the Pacha of Egypt, a country once superior in knowledge to the nations of Europe, but now sunk far below them, were to appropriate a sum for the purpose "of reviving and promoting literature, and encouraging learned natives of Egypt," would any body infer that he meant the youth of his Pachalik to give years to the study of hieroglyphics, to search into all the doctrines disguised under the fable of Osiris, and to ascertain with all possible accuracy the ritual with which cats and onions were anciently adored? Would he be justly charged with inconsistency if, instead of employing his young subjects in deciphering obelisks, he were to order them to be instructed in the English and French languages, and in all the sciences to which those languages are the chief keys?

The words on which the supporters of the old system rely do not bear them out, and other words follow which seem to be quite decisive on the other side. This lakh of rupees is set apart not only for "reviving literature in India," the phrase on which their whole interpretation is founded, but also "for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories"-- words which are alone sufficient to authorize all the changes for which I contend.

If the Council agree in my construction no legislative act will be necessary. If they differ from me, I will propose a short act rescinding that I clause of the Charter of 1813 from which the difficulty arises.

The argument which I have been considering affects only the form of proceeding. But the admirers of the oriental system of education have used another argument, which, if we admit it to be valid, is decisive against all change. They conceive that the public faith is pledged to the present system, and that to alter the appropriation of any of the funds which have hitherto been spent in encouraging the study of Arabic and Sanscrit would be downright spoliation. It is not easy to understand by what process of reasoning they can have arrived at this conclusion. The grants which are made from the public purse for the encouragement of literature differ in no respect from the grants which are made from the same purse for other objects of real or supposed utility. We found a sanitarium on a spot which we suppose to be healthy. Do we thereby pledge ourselves to keep a sanitarium there if the result should not answer our expectations? We commence the erection of a pier. Is it a violation of the public faith to stop the works, if we afterwards see reason to believe that the building will be useless? The rights of property are undoubtedly sacred. But nothing endangers those rights so much as the practice, now unhappily too common, of attributing them to things to which they do not belong. Those who would impart to abuses the sanctity of property are in truth imparting to the institution of property the unpopularity and the fragility of abuses. If the Government has given to any person a formal assurance-- nay, if the Government has excited in any person's mind a reasonable expectation-- that he shall receive a certain income as a teacher or a learner of Sanscrit or Arabic, I would respect that person's pecuniary interests. I would rather err on the side of liberality to individuals than suffer the public faith to be called in question. But to talk of a Government pledging itself to teach certain languages and certain sciences, though those languages may become useless, though those sciences may be exploded, seems to me quite unmeaning. There is not a single word in any public instrument from which it can be inferred that the Indian Government ever intended to give any pledge on this subject, or ever considered the destination of these funds as unalterably fixed. But, had it been otherwise, I should have denied the competence of our predecessors to bind us by any pledge on such a subject. Suppose that a Government had in the last century enacted in the most solemn manner that all its subjects should, to the end of time, be inoculated for the small-pox, would that Government be bound to persist in the practice after Jenner's discovery? These promises of which nobody claims the performance, and from which nobody can grant a release, these vested rights which vest in nobody, this property without proprietors, this robbery which makes nobody poorer, may be comprehended by persons of higher faculties than mine. I consider this plea merely as a set form of words, regularly used both in England and in India, in defence of every abuse for which no other plea can be set up.

I hold this lakh of rupees to be quite at the disposal of the Governor-General in Council for the purpose of promoting learning in India in any way which may be thought most advisable. I hold his Lordship to be quite as free to direct that it shall no longer be employed in encouraging Arabic and Sanscrit, as he is to direct that the reward for killing tigers in Mysore shall be diminished, or that no more public money shall be expended on the chaunting at the cathedral.

We now come to the gist of the matter. We have a fund to be employed as Government shall direct for the intellectual improvement of the people of this country. The simple question is, what is the most useful way of employing it?

All parties seem to be agreed on one point, that the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are moreover so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them.  It seems to be admitted on all sides, that the intellectual improvement of those classes of the people who have the means of pursuing higher studies can at present be affected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them.

What then shall that language be? One-half of the committee maintain that it should be the English. The other half strongly recommend the Arabic and Sanscrit. The whole question seems to me to be-- which language is the best worth knowing?

I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed, both here and at home, with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the oriental learning at the valuation of the orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education.

It will hardly be disputed, I suppose, that the department of literature in which the Eastern writers stand highest is poetry. And I certainly never met with any orientalist who ventured to maintain that the Arabic and Sanscrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations. But when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England. In every branch of physical or moral philosophy, the relative position of the two nations is nearly the same.

How then stands the case? We have to educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother-tongue. We must teach them some foreign language. The claims of our own language it is hardly necessary to recapitulate. It stands pre-eminent even among the languages of the West. It abounds with works of imagination not inferior to the noblest which Greece has bequeathed to us, --with models of every species of eloquence, --with historical composition, which, considered merely as narratives, have seldom been surpassed, and which, considered as vehicles of ethical and political instruction, have never been equaled-- with just and lively representations of human life and human nature, --with the most profound speculations on metaphysics, morals, government, jurisprudence, trade, --with full and correct information respecting every experimental science which tends to preserve the health, to increase the comfort, or to expand the intellect of man. Whoever knows that language has ready access to all the vast intellectual wealth which all the wisest nations of the earth have created and hoarded in the course of ninety generations. It may safely be said that the literature now extant in that language is of greater value than all the literature which three hundred years ago was extant in all the languages of the world together. Nor is this all. In India, English is the language spoken by the ruling class. It is spoken by the higher class of natives at the seats of Government. It is likely to become the language of commerce throughout the seas of the East. It is the language of two great European communities which are rising, the one in the south of Africa, the other in Australia, --communities which are every year becoming more important and more closely connected with our Indian empire. Whether we look at the intrinsic value of our literature, or at the particular situation of this country, we shall see the strongest reason to think that, of all foreign tongues, the English tongue is that which would be the most useful to our native subjects.

The question now before us is simply whether, when it is in our power to teach this language, we shall teach languages in which, by universal confession, there are no books on any subject which deserve to be compared to our own, whether, when we can teach European science, we shall teach systems which, by universal confession, wherever they differ from those of Europe differ for the worse, and whether, when we can patronize sound philosophy and true history, we shall countenance, at the public expense, medical doctrines which would disgrace an English farrier, astronomy which would move laughter in girls at an English boarding school, history abounding with kings thirty feet high and reigns thirty thousand years long, and geography made of seas of treacle and seas of butter.

We are not without experience to guide us. History furnishes several analogous cases, and they all teach the same lesson. There are, in modern times, to go no further, two memorable instances of a great impulse given to the mind of a whole society, of prejudices overthrown, of knowledge diffused, of taste purified, of arts and sciences planted in countries which had recently been ignorant and barbarous.

The first instance to which I refer is the great revival of letters among the Western nations at the close of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. At that time almost everything that was worth reading was contained in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Had our ancestors acted as the Committee of Public Instruction has hitherto noted, had they neglected the language of Thucydides and Plato, and the language of Cicero and Tacitus, had they confined their attention to the old dialects of our own island, had they printed nothing and taught nothing at the universities but chronicles in Anglo-Saxon and romances in Norman French, --would England ever have been what she now is? What the Greek and Latin were to the contemporaries of More and Ascham, our tongue is to the people of India. The literature of England is now more valuable than that of classical antiquity. I doubt whether the Sanscrit literature be as valuable as that of our Saxon and Norman progenitors. In some departments-- in history for example-- I am certain that it is much less so.

Another instance may be said to be still before our eyes. Within the last hundred and twenty years, a nation which had previously been in a state as barbarous as that in which our ancestors were before the Crusades has gradually emerged from the ignorance in which it was sunk, and has taken its place among civilized communities. I speak of Russia. There is now in that country a large educated class abounding with persons fit to serve the State in the highest functions, and in nowise inferior to the most accomplished men who adorn the best circles of Paris and London. There is reason to hope that this vast empire which, in the time of our grandfathers, was probably behind the Punjab, may in the time of our grandchildren, be pressing close on France and Britain in the career of improvement. And how was this change effected? Not by flattering national prejudices; not by feeding the mind of the young Muscovite with the old women's stories which his rude fathers had believed; not by filling his head with lying legends about St. Nicholas; not by encouraging him to study the great question, whether the world was or not created on the 13th of September; not by calling him "a learned native" when he had mastered all these points of knowledge; but by teaching him those foreign languages in which the greatest mass of information had been laid up, and thus putting all that information within his reach. The languages of western Europe civilised Russia. I cannot doubt that they will do for the Hindoo what they have done for the Tartar.

And what are the arguments against that course which seems to be alike recommended by theory and by experience? It is said that we ought to secure the co-operation of the native public, and that we can do this only by teaching Sanscrit and Arabic.

I can by no means admit that, when a nation of high intellectual attainments undertakes to superintend the education of a nation comparatively ignorant, the learners are absolutely to prescribe the course which is to be taken by the teachers. It is not necessary however to say anything on this subject. For it is proved by unanswerable evidence, that we are not at present securing the co-operation of the natives. It would be bad enough to consult their intellectual taste at the expense of their intellectual health. But we are consulting neither. We are withholding from them the learning which is palatable to them. We are forcing on them the mock learning which they nauseate.

This is proved by the fact that we are forced to pay our Arabic and Sanscrit students while those who learn English are willing to pay us. All the declamations in the world about the love and reverence of the natives for their sacred dialects will never, in the mind of any impartial person, outweigh this undisputed fact, that we cannot find in all our vast empire a single student who will let us teach him those dialects, unless we will pay him.

I have now before me the accounts of the Mudrassa for one month, the month of December, 1833. The Arabic students appear to have been seventy-seven in number. All receive stipends from the public. The whole amount paid to them is above 500 rupees a month. On the other side of the account stands the following item:
        Deduct amount realized from the out-students of English for the months of May, June, and July last-- 103 rupees.

I have been told that it is merely from want of local experience that I am surprised at these phenomena, and that it is not the fashion for students in India to study at their own charges. This only confirms me in my opinions. Nothing is more certain than that it never can in any part of the world be necessary to pay men for doing what they think pleasant or profitable. India is no exception to this rule. The people of India do not require to be paid for eating rice when they are hungry, or for wearing woollen cloth in the cold season. To come nearer to the case before us: --The children who learn their letters and a little elementary arithmetic from the village schoolmaster are not paid by him. He is paid for teaching them. Why then is it necessary to pay people to learn Sanscrit and Arabic? Evidently because it is universally felt that the Sanscrit and Arabic are languages the knowledge of which does not compensate for the trouble of acquiring them. On all such subjects the state of the market is the detective test.

Other evidence is not wanting, if other evidence were required. A petition was presented last year to the committee by several ex-students of the Sanscrit College. The petitioners stated that they had studied in the college ten or twelve years, that they had made themselves acquainted with Hindoo literature and science, that they had received certificates of proficiency. And what is the fruit of all this? "Notwithstanding such testimonials," they say, "we have but little prospect of bettering our condition without the kind assistance of your honourable committee, the indifference with which we are generally looked upon by our countrymen leaving no hope of encouragement and assistance from them." They therefore beg that they may be recommended to the Governor-General for places under the Government-- not places of high dignity or emolument, but such as may just enable them to exist. "We want means," they say, "for a decent living, and for our progressive improvement, which, however, we cannot obtain without the assistance of Government, by whom we have been educated and maintained from childhood." They conclude by representing very pathetically that they are sure that it was never the intention of Government, after behaving so liberally to them during their education, to abandon them to destitution and neglect.

I have been used to see petitions to Government for compensation. All those petitions, even the most unreasonable of them, proceeded on the supposition that some loss had been sustained, that some wrong had been inflicted. These are surely the first petitioners who ever demanded compensation for having been educated gratis, for having been supported by the public during twelve years, and then sent forth into the world well furnished with literature and science. They represent their education as an injury which gives them a claim on the Government for redress, as an injury for which the stipends paid to them during the infliction were a very inadequate compensation. And I doubt not that they are in the right. They have wasted the best years of life in learning what procures for them neither bread nor respect. Surely we might with advantage have saved the cost of making these persons useless and miserable. Surely, men may be brought up to be burdens to the public and objects of contempt to their neighbours at a somewhat smaller charge to the State. But such is our policy. We do not even stand neuter in the contest between truth and falsehood. We are not content to leave the natives to the influence of their own hereditary prejudices. To the natural difficulties which obstruct the progress of sound science in the East, we add great difficulties of our own making. Bounties and premiums, such as ought not to be given even for the propagation of truth, we lavish on false texts and false philosophy.

By acting thus we create the very evil which we fear. We are making that opposition which we do not find. What we spend on the Arabic and Sanscrit Colleges is not merely a dead loss to the cause of truth. It is bounty-money paid to raise up champions of error. It goes to form a nest not merely of helpless placehunters but of bigots prompted alike by passion and by interest to raise a cry against every useful scheme of education. If there should be any opposition among the natives to the change which I recommend, that opposition will be the effect of our own system. It will be headed by persons supported by our stipends and trained in our colleges. The longer we persevere in our present course, the more formidable will that opposition be. It will be every year reinforced by recruits whom we are paying. From the native society, left to itself, we have no difficulties to apprehend. All the murmuring will come from that oriental interest which we have, by artificial means, called into being and nursed into strength.

There is yet another fact which is alone sufficient to prove that the feeling of the native public, when left to itself, is not such as the supporters of the old system represent it to be. The committee have thought fit to lay out above a lakh of rupees in printing Arabic and Sanscrit books. Those books find no purchasers. It is very rarely that a single copy is disposed of. Twenty-three thousand volumes, most of them folios and quartos, fill the libraries or rather the lumber-rooms of this body. The committee contrive to get rid of some portion of their vast stock of oriental literature by giving books away. But they cannot give so fast as they print. About twenty thousand rupees a year are spent in adding fresh masses of waste paper to a hoard which, one should think, is already sufficiently ample. During the last three years about sixty thousand rupees have been expended in this manner. The sale of Arabic and Sanscrit books during those three years has not yielded quite one thousand rupees. In the meantime, the School Book Society is selling seven or eight thousand English volumes every year, and not only pays the expenses of printing but realizes a profit of twenty per cent. on its outlay.

The fact that the Hindoo law is to be learned chiefly from Sanscrit books, and the Mahometan law from Arabic books, has been much insisted on, but seems not to bear at all on the question. We are commanded by Parliament to ascertain and digest the laws of India. The assistance of a Law Commission has been given to us for that purpose. As soon as the Code is promulgated the Shasters and the Hedaya will be useless to a moonsiff or a Sudder Ameen. I hope and trust that, before the boys who are now entering at the Mudrassa and the Sanscrit College have completed their studies, this great work will be finished. It would be manifestly absurd to educate the rising generation with a view to a state of things which we mean to alter before they reach manhood.

But there is yet another argument which seems even more untenable. It is said that the Sanscrit and the Arabic are the languages in which the sacred books of a hundred millions of people are written, and that they are on that account entitled to peculiar encouragement. Assuredly it is the duty of the British Government in India to be not only tolerant but neutral on all religious questions. But to encourage the study of a literature, admitted to be of small intrinsic value, only because that literature inculcated the most serious errors on the most important subjects, is a course hardly reconcilable with reason, with morality, or even with that very neutrality which ought, as we all agree, to be sacredly preserved. It is confined that a language is barren of useful knowledge. We are to teach it because it is fruitful of monstrous superstitions. We are to teach false history, false astronomy, false medicine, because we find them in company with a false religion. We abstain, and I trust shall always abstain, from giving any public encouragement to those who are engaged in the work of converting the natives to Christianity. And while we act thus, can we reasonably or decently bribe men, out of the revenues of the State, to waste their youth in learning how they are to purify themselves after touching an ass or what texts of the Vedas they are to repeat to expiate the crime of killing a goat?

It is taken for granted by the advocates of oriental learning that no native of this country can possibly attain more than a mere smattering of English. They do not attempt to prove this. But they perpetually insinuate it. They designate the education which their opponents recommend as a mere spelling-book education. They assume it as undeniable that the question is between a profound knowledge of Hindoo and Arabian literature and science on the one side, and superficial knowledge of the rudiments of English on the other. This is not merely an assumption, but an assumption contrary to all reason and experience. We know that foreigners of all nations do learn our language sufficiently to have access to all the most abstruse knowledge which it contains sufficiently to relish even the more delicate graces of our most idiomatic writers. There are in this very town natives who are quite competent to discuss political or scientific questions with fluency and precision in the English language. I have heard the very question on which I am now writing discussed by native gentlemen with a liberality and an intelligence which would do credit to any member of the Committee of Public Instruction. Indeed it is unusual to find, even in the literary circles of the Continent, any foreigner who can express himself in English with so much facility and correctness as we find in many Hindoos. Nobody, I suppose, will contend that English is so difficult to a Hindoo as Greek to an Englishman. Yet an intelligent English youth, in a much smaller number of years than our unfortunate pupils pass at the Sanscrit College, becomes able to read, to enjoy, and even to imitate not unhappily the compositions of the best Greek authors. Less than half the time which enables an English youth to read Herodotus and Sophocles ought to enable a Hindoo to read Hume and Milton.

To sum up what I have said. I think it clear that we are not fettered by the Act of Parliament of 1813, that we are not fettered by any pledge expressed or implied, that we are free to employ our funds as we choose, that we ought to employ them in teaching what is best worth knowing, that English is better worth knowing than Sanscrit or Arabic, that the natives are desirous to be taught English, and are not desirous to be taught Sanscrit or Arabic, that neither as the languages of law nor as the languages of religion have the Sanscrit and Arabic any peculiar claim to our encouragement, that it is possible to make natives of this country thoroughly good English scholars, and that to this end our efforts ought to be directed.

In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with them that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern,  --a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.

I would strictly respect all existing interests. I would deal even generously with all individuals who have had fair reason to expect a pecuniary provision. But I would strike at the root of the bad system which has hitherto been fostered by us. I would at once stop the printing of Arabic and Sanscrit books. I would abolish the Mudrassa and the Sanscrit College at Calcutta. Benares is the great seat of Brahminical learning; Delhi of Arabic learning. If we retain the Sanscrit College at Bonares and the Mahometan College at Delhi we do enough and much more than enough in my opinion, for the Eastern languages. If the Benares and Delhi Colleges should be retained, I would at least recommend that no stipends shall be given to any students who may hereafter repair thither, but that the people shall be left to make their own choice between the rival systems of education without being bribed by us to learn what they have no desire to know. The funds which would thus be placed at our disposal would enable us to give larger encouragement to the Hindoo College at Calcutta, and establish in the principal cities throughout the Presidencies of Fort William and Agra schools in which the English language might be well and thoroughly taught.

If the decision of His Lordship in Council should be such as I anticipate, I shall enter on the performance of my duties with the greatest zeal and alacrity. If, on the other hand, it be the opinion of the Government that the present system ought to remain unchanged, I beg that I may be permitted to retire from the chair of the Committee. I feel that I could not be of the smallest use there. I feel also that I should be lending my countenance to what I firmly believe to be a mere delusion. I believe that the present system tends not to accelerate the progress of truth but to delay the natural death of expiring errors. I conceive that we have at present no right to the respectable name of a Board of Public Instruction. We are a Board for wasting the public money, for printing books which are of less value than the paper on which they are printed was while it was blank-- for giving artificial encouragement to absurd history, absurd metaphysics, absurd physics, absurd theology-- for raising up a breed of scholars who find their scholarship an incumbrance and blemish, who live on the public while they are receiving their education, and whose education is so utterly useless to them that, when they have received it, they must either starve or live on the public all the rest of their lives. Entertaining these opinions, I am naturally desirous to decline all share in the responsibility of a body which, unless it alters its whole mode of proceedings, I must consider, not merely as useless, but as positively noxious.

    T[homas] B[abington] MACAULAY
     2nd February 1835.
     I give my entire concurrence to the sentiments expressed in this Minute.

     W[illiam] C[avendish] BENTINCK. 

From: Bureau of Education. Selections from Educational Records, Part I (1781-1839).  Edited by H. Sharp.  Calcutta: Superintendent, Government Printing, 1920. Reprint. Delhi: National Archives of India, 1965, 107-117.

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Jul 9, 2018

Caliban and Colonialism in "The Tempest"


Caliban and Colonialism in Shakespeare's "The Tempest"
by Kathrine Engan

William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, written around 1611, tells the story of power struggles on an almost deserted island. Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, has enslaved the only native of the isle, Caliban, and he plans and eventually manages to regain his dukedom through use of magic. Several of the characters vie for power in parallel plots. The play was written at a time when England was establishing itself as a colonial power along with other European empires such as Spain, Portugal, and France. The Tempest certainly deals with issues of colonialism in a topical way, especially through the character of Caliban, by alluding to physical and social otherness and financial incentives of colonialism. However, the ambiguous geographical setting together with Caliban’s sympathetic traits and his unresolved status at the end of the play invite the audience to question the legitimacy of power rather than endorsing or criticizing colonialism per se.

When King James I ascended to the throne in 1603, after roughly four decades with Queen Elizabeth I as monarch, England was in a period of territorial growth. In addition to having colonized Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, the English monarch set up its first American colony in 1585 (“How the Tudor Dynasty Shaped Modern Britain”). The colonies represented access to raw materials and generated income for the crown. Acquiring colonies was also important in order to seem powerful, especially vis-a-vis Spain, and was thus an important part of the British project of nation-building. With the reign of King James I, the national discourse changed from focusing on England to embracing the British. Many texts were published reflecting this new way of seeing the country and situating Britain historically, building continuity with history and myth. Shakespeare, after 1603, engaged in this shift by choosing “Britain” rather than “England” in his texts (Wymer 5). Of course, as Britain had increasing contact with other countries and territories, either by colonizing them or through trade or travel, the English would think of their own (national) identity in terms of what they were not (“The Sixteenth Century” 496). Starting even before Shakespeare’s time, Native Americans and Africans were captured or convinced to come back to England (“Squantum,” Vaughan 50). Some of these foreigners learned English and served as interpreters or valuable sources of information, others were exotic showpieces at court or in public spaces.

The character of Caliban dramatizes otherness and exoticism. Trinculo, upon first seeing Caliban, questions whether he is “a man or a fish?” and later repeatedly calls him “monster” (Shakespeare 2.2.25, 2.2.31). Stephano consistently refers to Caliban as “servant monster,” “man-monster,” and “mooncalf” (3.2.8, 3.2.12, 3.2.23). But even if these characters emphasize Caliban’s monstrosity, I support Vaughan and Vaughan’s reading of Caliban as clearly human (10). Prospero states, when introducing Caliban and setting up his own coming to the island that it “was not honored with a human shape” except “the son that she [Sycorax, Caliban’s mother] did litter here”(1.2.281-83). The First Folio version of the play describes Caliban in the Dramatis Personae as “a saluage and deformed slaue.” However, the deformity is never specified, and staging choices are left to the choices made by each production of the play. 

“The Enchanted Island Before the Cell of Prospero.” Painted by P. Simons and Henry Fuseli, first published in A Collection of Prints from Pictures Painted for the Purpose of Illustrating the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare (1803).
Caliban’s otherness clearly has to do with his behavior as much as with his looks. Prospero declares that despite his own humane treatment of Caliban, Caliban refuses to behave appropriately. One of his complaints is that Caliban, “with humane care,” was allowed to live in the cave with Prospero and Miranda, but subsequently tried to rape her (1.2.346-48). Prospero implies that gratitude would have been a more appropriate response to sharing habitation with him and Miranda. Caliban, on the other hand, laments that learning the language of his oppressors have done him no good, only taught him to “curse” (1.2.363). In contrast to Prospero, who uses magic to dominate other characters, Caliban’s curses are ineffective as a tool. In other words, even if Prospero has made an effort to teach Caliban the ways of the civilized world, Caliban is unwilling to behave according to Prospero’s expectations.

Caliban is written as a sympathetic and composite character. As argued by Deborah Willis, Caliban and his claim to the island is strong enough to (partly) undermine Prospero as a just ruler (279, 284). Caliban explains to the audience how “this island’s mine by Sycorax my mother,” a more convincing claim to the island than Prospero is able to come up with (1.2.331). He further details how Prospero pretended to “ma[ke] much” of him, but then promptly enslaved him and now keeps him confined in a rock when he is not working  (1.2.472, 1.2.481-82). In this earnest and eloquent speech, Caliban appears to have good reasons to complain of his servitude, which again serve to undermine Prospero’s absolute authority. Caliban might be partly savage and crude, but he also speaks in iambic pentameter (like the noble characters of the play), and his side of the story shows Prospero’s abuse and willingness to use magic and power to get his own way. Thus, Caliban’s character works against simple stereotypes of “savage natives” and invites the audience to ponder why, exactly, Prospero might be justified in ruling over him.

The issues brought up by the character of Caliban also emphasize the economic concerns of the colonial enterprise. When Prospero and Miranda first came to the island, we learn, Caliban showed them “all the qualities o’ th’ isle / the fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile” (1.2.337). He, in other words, has knowledge of the raw materials they needed for their survival. In addition, Caliban represents labor for Prospero. While the newcomers to the island refer to Caliban as “monster,” Prospero’s descriptor of choice is “slave.” When Caliban first enters the stage, he is repeatedly called “slave,” “my slave,” “poisonous slave” and “most lying slave,” all in quick succession (1.2.307, 1.2.312, 1.2.319, 1.2.343). Caliban works for Prospero: fetching wood, tending the fire, and other “offices that profit [Prospero and Caliban]” (1.2.307). In this way, Caliban represents both wealth, labor, and survival for Prospero and his daughter.

Other characters also see Caliban in terms of his monetary value. Trinculo speculates that Caliban would “make a man” in England, i.e. make Trinculo rich by attracting people who would be willing to pay to see him (2.2.30-32). Likewise Antonio, Prospero’s brother, states that Caliban is “very marketable” (5.1.266). They are not interested in Caliban’s qualities as a person or his potential autonomy, but view him as an object, something they can make money on. This, of course, mirrors colonial financial concerns.

The geographical location of the island of Prospero’s island is vague. Some scholars have argued that the island is in the Mediterranean (Frey 29) while others hold that the island must be set in the Caribbean or is a metaphor for the Americas (Vaughan and Vaughan 118). Others again claim that the play resonates with English domination over Scotland, Wales, and Ireland or England’s past as a Roman colony (Wymer 3, 5). The non-specificity of the setting — with references to Bermudas, the Argentinian god Setebos, and specific foods that Caliban is able to provide — invites a more abstract and allegorical reading, in line with the magical elements of the play. This in turn has contributed to the longevity of the play: after all, we still deal with colonialism and post-colonialism, and the issues raised by Prospero and Caliban have been specific enough to be useful, yet general enough to be applicable to more modern contexts. We see this for instance in Mannoni’s Prospero and Caliban: the Psychology of Colonization, where the psychoanalyst uses the characters from The Tempest to illustrate, generalize, and problematize the mindsets and effects of colonialism.

In addition to the relevance gained from this geographical ambiguity, Caliban’s character and thus his colonized condition stays with the audience. Whereas the spirit Ariel, who has been bound to Prospero throughout the play, is released by Prospero at the end of the last act, Caliban’s future is not resolved (5.1.320). Caliban, on the other hand, recognizes that Prospero is now his master (again) and that he will likely be punished (5.1.261) and Prospero, in turn, exclaims that “this thing of darkness I / acknowledge mine” (5.1.275). They are back in the same kind of relationship they had at the beginning of the play, except Caliban now vows to “be wise hereafter, / and seek for grace” because he fears the punishment Prospero can give him (5.1.295). First, this ending is tenuous because obedience grounded in fear often backfires or leads to unwanted consequences. Second, Prospero leaves it up to the readers’ imagination what will happen to Caliban next. Some critics hold that Caliban will get the island and his liberty back when Prospero returns to Milan (Vaughan and Vaughan 9). I agree with Willis’ reading of the end where Caliban’s future is really up in the air: he might be allowed to stay at the island by himself, but it is equally possible that he has to come with Prospero to Milan (286). Either way, Caliban’s presence is ongoing and uneasy, even after the ending of the play.

In conclusion, The Tempest deals with colonialism and power in a nuanced way. While demonstrating how Caliban is viewed by the colonizer, Prospero, and the Old World newcomers to the island, the play also portrays him as a sympathetic and oppressed character. Shakespeare’s combination of  contemporary, topical references to colonialism and natives and the wider, overarching themes of the long-lasting effect of colonialism and legitimacy of power, make this play feel relevant also in the 21st century. After all, just like Caliban stays with us after the curtain goes down, so do issues related to power and (post-)colonialism.

Works Cited

Frey, Charles. “The Tempest and the New World.” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 1, 1979, 29-41.

“How the Tudor Dynasty Shaped Modern Britain.” iWonder, BBC, Accessed 27 November 2016.

Mannoni, O. Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization. Translated by Pamela Powesland, 2nd edition, Frederick A. Praeger, 1964.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Editor Robert Langbaum, Signet, 1998.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest (First Folio). Editors Brent Whitted and Paul Yachnin. Internet Shakespeare Editions. University of Victoria,;jsessionid=0FE083503051B0BD17058E2D5635FA79. Accessed 28 Nov 2016.

“Squantum — Taken to England.” Squantum Accessed 28 November 2016.

“The Sixteenth Century 1485-1603.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, General Editor Stephen Greenblatt, Eighth edition, Vol.1, Norton, 2006, 485-511.

Vaughan, Alden T. “Trinculo’s Indian: American Natives in Shakespeare’s England.” The Tempest and Its Travels. Editors Peter Hulme and William H. Sherman, U of Penn Press, 2000.

Vaughan, Alden T. and Virginia Mason Vaughan. Shakespeare’s Caliban: A Cultural History. Cambridge UP, 1991.

Willis, Deborah. “Shakespeare’s Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 29, No. 2, 1989, 277-89.

Wymer, Rowland. “The Tempest and the Origins of Britain.” Critical Survey, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1999, 3-14.

Jul 4, 2018

Indianness in Indian English Poetry

V.S.V.L. Ramana

            Indian English poetry is an attempt to give a generic cover to the Indian imagination seeking creative outlet in and through English. Many Indian poets write in English because they think their creative urge can be fulfilled in a better way in English than in the vernacular. Prof. Srinivasa Iyengar rightly pointed out that Indian writing in English is a novel experiment in creative mutation when he said: “To be Indian in thought and feeling and emotion and experience, yet also to court the graces and submit to the discipline of English for expression”1 is some­thing that the present writers aim at. The post independence Indian English verse has gained in both strength and variety an appreciable position. It has been said that it is Indian in sensibility and context and Indian English, if we choose to call it so, in language. It is rooted in and stems out from the Indian environment and reflects its mores.

            In spite of the differences between one medium and another there is a unity of supreme significance among Indian writers writing in regional language like Oriya, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu or Marathi. The unity of Indianness, i.e., all transcending response to the physical, idealistic, and intellectual personality of India, in them brings these poets together.

            The Indian English poets, giving expression to the Indian, experience in thought and imagery, are in the main stream of a tradition. A cultural activity does not grow all of a sudden it has an origin and a development. It is pertinent to consider the tradition that has been built up by this output and the impact of this tradition on the writers of today. P. Lal remarks that these poets are instrumental in rediscovering “values and techniques within one’s own tradition” 2 which is a body of concepts and usages, ideas and feelings to be felt or thought, to win acceptance and currency or to provoke dissent or modification.

            The angle of the poet’s vision has been conditioned by his own experience and temperament by the primary attitudes or modes of his perception. “Language, Music, Form, Meaning, Style, Imagery, Inner Meaning, Mood, Attitude and Vision: this is how we get to know a poem in each stage of its creation, whatever the process of integration that goes to make up the poem as a whole,” 3 says V. K. Gokak.

            When we come to Indian English poetry, we find ourselves in a world in which the response to Indian reality, the underlying sensibility, the use of imagery, diction, etc., are strikingly different, particularly in the contemporary leading poets. Our attempt will be a study whether there are any noteworthy differences in the poetic sensibility shaped by their Indianness in the poets of pre-independence era such as Sri Aurobindo, Sarojini Naidu, etc., and the poets in the post-independence period with special reference to Nissim Ezekiel, A. K. Ramanujan, Kamala Das, Jayant Mahapatra and Shiv K. Kumar.

            Many contemporary poets write in English about their experience of today’s Indian milieu without losing their national identity. Gouri Deshpande, Meera Pillai and other poets from writers’ workshop rightly speak of the Indian background and they are not ignorant of the shaping of a national consciousness by the environment of the country, the climate, the background of tradition. But some of the new poets deny any umbilical connection with their historical past. A tradition cannot be wholly disowned. Amalendu Bose says that this denial “is a boisterous proclamation that these writers are upstarts, and rootless.” 4

            In a work of art, that is, a well-realised creative effort, presence of Indianness is invariably expressed. It must be noted that within the text, a good writer does not give direct indications of such a presence, but that the operational response of the Indian writer could be deduced by the sensibility working in it. What characterizes the Indianness in the writing is finally ‘the mind behind the orgaisation’ of the context, the life attitudes and modes of perception. C. R. Srinath aptly says: “The Indian poet while using English as his medium should have his roots in his own soil and yet be part of the common culture of the English speaking peoples, indeed of all mankind to the extent that it gives an edge to his native vigour and sensibilities.” 5

            Creative writing is an achievement of harmony between concept and medium, between what is to be said and how it is to be said. As for concept, the Indian poet is as capable in that area as any poet handling from another language group. It is in respect of the handling of the medium that the non-native poet’s ability has to pass through a fire test. Several poets have the ability to control their medium and thus achieve aesthetic success. The alien language does not necessarily diminish or regard the writer’s sense of heritage. Toru Dutt, Sarojini Naidu, Nissim Ezekiel, A. K. Ramanujan, Kamala Das and others have been compe­tent in retaining their Indianness in full measure. To discuss and evaluate the poets, the principal question will be the degree of their Indianness in terms of authenticity and credibility of their local and culture and medium of their expression.

            When Sarojini Naidu addresses and sonnet to India, her patriotic zeal is beyond all doubt and yet the actual product is too heavily cultured with stock ideas and responses and stale expressions:

            “Thy Future calls thee with a man if old sound
            To crescent honours, splendours, victories vast.6

            Unless the Indian poet’s experience is authentic and his own, and not derivative and imitative of conventional modes of the way, the mere choice of specifically Indian themes and settings would not make for authenticity. The Indian poet in English can be a poet only by being truly an Indian. For M. K. Naik to be truly an Indian of modern times is ‘to constitute a synthesis of the age-old ethos of India and the culture of the west which English literature and ideas brought to India; it is to live and breathe the culture of India as it exists today, a complex product which has changed, matured over millenia, losing and gaining much in the process; it is to write with Indian in one’s bones.”7 This synthesis has clear glimpses in the works of modern poets like Ezekiel, Mahapatra, etc. For example, Nissim Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion” ably illustrates the Indian synthesis in the work of modernists. The contrast between the two attitudes to scorpion bite; the sceptic, rationalist attitude armed with a little paraffin as a remedy and the superstitious attitude fortified by prayers and incantations - a contrast typical of the modern Indian situation. Coolness, authentic and objectivity are some of the marks of Ezekiel’s harsher notations of Indian life.

            Ramanujan’s creative work, both as poet and translator, has drawn praise from the English speaking world. Ezekiel is of the opinion that Ramanujam has enriched the Indo-Anglican tradition of poetry’s Even the titles of some of his poems such as “A HINDU TO HIS BODY” (The Hindu: he does not hurt a fly or a spider either) “SMALL TOWN, SOUTH INDIA”, “OLD INDIAN BELIEF”, and “PRAYERS TO LORD MURUGA” suggest Ramanujan’s Indianness. In conventions of despair, the poet tells explicitly that he rejects the demands of the modern man such as marrying again and again:

            “I must seek and will find
            my particular hell only in my Hindu mind.” 9

            Ramanujan’s Indianness in his poetry indicates a complex interaction or psychological forces kept under linguistic and formal control. His poetry is essentially Indian with the modern connection vitalising it as in “A River,”

            “The new poets still quoted
            the old poets, but no one spoke
            in verse,
            of the pregnant woman drowned....” 10

            Ramanujan finds his objective correlative in a family around him. In the poem, “Obituary” he recalls his father’s death, and uses the occasion to comment ironically on ceremonies and rituals associated with the dead.

            There is a conspicuous craftsmanship, introspection and self analysis in Kamala Das’s poetry. Confessional tone is sharper in her poems. If we look for her strength as a poet, we must detect in her poetry the dust, the heat, the crowds, the poverty of India combined with misery and endurance of womankind. She tries to strike a sort of synthesis between the changing reality of a private passion and the apparently unchanging reality of the shining sun on Indian horizon. The overtones of the poem “SUMMER IN CALCUTTA” can be taken into account. She is not alienated from the Indian landscape or its social milieu.

            One of the Indian English poets who has emerged as a major poet only recently is Shiv K. Kumar, Kumar gives in his poetry an evidence of genuine poetic inspiration. His poetry has great precision and the image glistens like polished brass though he has often been criticised for his over refinement, a bizarre search for right word, right phrase, right stance. Subterfuses, Cobwebs in the Sunshine are evasions or de­captions that we encounter in our life. The cobweb being swept away, the subterfuses become visible to us. “A MANGO VENDOR” is an eloquent metaphor:

            “Through the slits
            Of her patched blouse
            One bare shoulder
            Two white moons
            Pull all horses
            Off the track.” 11

            Kumar’s originality lies in the uniqueness of his imaginative world. He grapples with abstractions and ideas, images of men and women on the social scene, the complex of emotions centering round human varieties like sex, love, companionship and problems relating to art. Through powerfully evoked images the past is relevened. “MY CO-RESPOND­ENT” is a fine example of how Kumar achieves an integrative of idea and image, statement and drama to provide a wholly satisfying experience.

            Deeply involved in his immediate environment, Kumar continues to strike a convincing note of contemporary life. Trapfalls in the Sky is his fifth collection of verse which won Sahitya Academic Award for 1987. The poems have flawless attention to detail, for instance, the opening poem “MOTHER THERESA FEEDS LEEPERS AT HER HOME FOR DESTITUTES, CALCUTTA”, and “AN INDIAN MOTHER’S ADVICE TO HER DAUGHTER BEFORE MARRIAGE”. 12

            The poetry of these and other modern Indian English poets suggests a case for exploring Indianness in terms of not only the authenticity of their locale and culture, but the medium of the expression. They regard English language as one of the many Indian languages, and their exploration of it to its fullest possibilities, both in range and depth produces some of the best poetry. Their poetry is lyrical poetry which is unique in that the weight or intellect never overburdens their authentic feelings.

1 Iyengar, K. R. Srinivasa: Indian Writing in English (Asia Publishing House, 2nd edition, 1973) P. 8.
Lal. P, quoted by Linda Hess in Meenakshi Mukerjee, Considerations (Bombay: Allied, 1977) P.25.
3 Gokak V.K.: An Integral view of poetry; an Indian perspective (1975) P. 64.
4 Sinha, Krishna Nandan ed. Indian Writing in English (1979) p. 64.
Kulshertha, Chirantan, ed. Contemporary Indian Verse; An Evaluation (1980) p. 96.
6 Naidu, Sarojini: The Sceptred Flute, p. 58.
Naik, M.K. “Echo and Voice in Indian Poetry,” in Contemporary Indian Verse An Evaluation ed. C. Kulshrestha, 1980, p. 37.
8 Sinha, Krishna Nandan. ed. Indian Writing In English (1979) p.121.
Parthasarathy, R. ed. Ten Twentieth Century Poets (Delhi: Oxford, Crown Se­ries, 1976) p. 97.
10 Ibid, p.98.
11 Ibid, p. 54.
12 Kumar, Shiv K.: Trapfalls in the Sky (Delhi: Macmillan, 1986) p. 13 & 14.

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