Slave Rebellions

A comparison between the slave rebellions of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Aphra Behn’s “Oroonoko.”

This paper examines William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Aphra Behn’s “Oroonoko.” In particular, it looks at the concepts of slavery and freedom as perceived in each story. It discusses how Caliban believes that Prospero, as a human man, has no right to control and dominate the island any more than the protagonists of “Oroonoko” have to be dominated as slaves. It looks at how Oroonoko shares with Caliban a royal status conferred by birth and how, unlike his fictional counterpart, he uses his justification of birth to win respect and dignity in the eyes of his people and even his enemies, despite the fact that his rebellion ultimately results in execution.
“Caliban is so intoxicated, not only upon alcohol, but also because of the slave mentality “instituted by Prospero, a modern observer might say, or “natural” to a heathen savage, an Elizabethan audience might infer” that he calls the two men master. All while he cries out in celebration for freedom, his cries are undercut by his needless, slave-like abasement before Stephano and Trinculo, who take advantage of him at every turn. Although Caliban makes a convincing argument for his rebellion, given his lineage and previous treatment, and current imprisonment, his easily abased and credulous character and immoral sexual conduct, to say nothing of his intoxication, undercuts the rational nature of his claims.”