Cracking the Epilogue

We didn’t get to the end of the play yesterday, so I wanted to focus specifically on the epilogue.  To be honest, I find most of Shakespeare’s (???) comedies and “dramedies” to have a pretty uniform and cookie-cutter narrative structure; I think the tragedies are far more complex.  Nevertheless,  all of the Shakespeare epilogues I’ve read seem to be steeped in a certain amount of mystery, just waiting to be picked apart.  I tried my best to analyze this passage within a post-colonial framework.

The first few lines of the epilogue connote Prospero’s colonial dominance– his “charms” (1), his “strength” (2)– but curiously this is all the set in the past tense.  Prospero’s charms “are all o’erthrown…  what strength I have’s mine own” (1-2).  All of this implies that Prospero’s powers were only a temporary gift granted to him to achieve his goals of exacting vengeance on his enemies.  But who granted him this power?  This is where it gets interesting.

Throughout the play, we as readers are under the impression that Prospero gained his powers through assiduous studying.  But in the end, it seems as if… we… are the ones giving him power.  Prospero pleads, “Let your indulgence set me free” (20), explaining that “I must be here confined to you” (4).  It’s almost as if, just as Prospero was enacting colonialism by taking over Caliban’s island, we are enacting colonialism by taking over Prospero’s text.  It’s an incredibly clever meta-joke on the part of Shakespeare (???), but I think there’s also some hidden social commentary here.  Perhaps Shakespeare is referencing the infinite nature of colonialism.  Spaces have been colonized over and over again since the beginning of humanity.  Can a culture truly claim original ownership of a space if they were also once the colonizers?  Could this be an anti-colonialist text?  We’ll never know for sure, but I certainly don’t think it’s out of the question.

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