2009. Southern African Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 19: 41-58.
This paper addresses the problematic function of books in The Tempest. It begins with a brief discussion of the character of Prospero, tracing the shifting critical attitudes to this complex character in ‘colonial era’ and ‘post-colonial’ readings of the play. Prospero’s inconsistencies, and those of other characters in The Tempest, are deemed in part to be the result of their reading: the literary currency of their (ancient and contemporary, ‘local’ and globalising) Mediterranean world. Similarly, it is argued, the contents of Prospero’s books – the ideologies informing them and informed by them – have been used to justify and perpetuate the process of colonisation. By contrast, Shakespeare’s play-world (considering the wider Renaissance context of the play’s composition) is seen to offer a critique of the printed word; his treatment of ‘book history’ in The Tempest in fact suggests the need for a reappraisal of the reception and dissemination of Shakespeare-as-author(ity).