january #2

“Next morning, my first morning in America, as I emerged from a bank at the corner of North Dubuque and Washington, I heard someone call out ‘Vee-noo’. I froze on the sidewalk, and the same instant plunged down a shaft of time, passing certain gateposts, bungalows, armchairs, verandahs, treetops, as I fell. Then I saw Arnost. He was standing some twenty yards away, outside a drugstore, chuckling to himself. I remembered his asking me at dinner the previous evening if my friends in Allahabad addressed me by another name. By calling that name out now, he had onlywished to make me feel at home. As I walked towards Arnost, Washington Street merged into Hastings Road, and there was a neem tree near where he stood. I wondered then if some of us can ever leave the places we’ve grown up in.”

– Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Partial Recall


January #1

Were there a literary happiness index, Indians would be at the top, the happiest people in the world: instead of the writing, all the focus seems to be on the advances a few authors get, the Man Bookers they win, the festivals they attend, the number of European languages they get translated into. The reading public is not complaining. Come to think of it, neither are the jet-lagged authors, even as they watch their life’s work disappear into critical oblivion.

– Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Partial Recall

all the charms of Sycorax: The Politics of Magic in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest

1.1. “Rise Now and Be Tamed” – A Case for Revisiting Magic in The Tempest


The Tempest has had a curious time in the postcolonial context; something that it shares with William Shakespeare’s own fate in the postcolonial world. Shakespeare’s plays are dissected in almost all the literature departments of postcolonial countries on a regular basis while his relevance cannot be doubted given that four hundred years of Shakespeare’s death were marked as “Shakespeare Lives” by the embassies of the United Kingdom.[1] A hundred years ago, for the tercentenary of his death, this was a very different world. The colonies were still fighting for self-determination and videos like “Dear Mister Shakespeare” could not have been sponsored or supported by the British Government in any context no matter how radical or liberal it was or could be.[2] Across the Atlantic, to mark the tercentenary, the American playwright and poet Percy MacKaye wrote the “masque” Caliban by the Yellow Sands.[3] The author’s preface in the play makes for a telling reading. He introduces the eponymous character as “that passionate child-curious part of us all [whether individual or as races], grovelling close to his aboriginal origins, yet groping and staggering – with almost rhythmic falls and back slidings” (MacKaye p. xvi). Prospero’s entrance in the “masque” is grand and pompous; the stage direction tells us that there is “a glowing, winged throne”, on which Prospero sits with a scroll with one hand and a “miraculous staff” on the other “amid tempestuous song, darkness and thunder” (23-24). With the thunder and lightning, Setebos and Sycorax are promptly killed; the only on left is Caliban who is ordered by Prospero,

“Rise now and be tamed, Howler at Heaven” (25)

This is just after Prospero commands that Caliban (“the wild thing”) has to be “transformed”. The allegory seems to follow the trope of the manner in which the colonial forces come in and take over the territories and “tame” the population and transform according to their own design and need. While one in no way assumes that Shakespeare in his own shared the same sentiments that align with MacKaye’s, one can argue that MacKaye’s interpretation of the character shares its heritage with the Eurocentric worldview that colonised the rest of the world as we know it. In fact, no text can be read or interpreted as though it were a thing created out of context. As Francis Barker and Peter Hulme argue in their 1985 essay “Nymphs and reapers heavily vanish”, “each individual text, rather than a meaningful unit in itself, lies at the intersection of different discourses which are related to each other in a complex but ultimately hierarchical way” (197). The Tempest exists as a work of literature that was created within the world of certain notions of truth, right, wrong etc. and, in its own history of performances, has gone on to reflect the notions relevant to each age. This paper is more interested in the manner in which “development of colonialist paradigms”, in Thomas Cartelli’s words, that develop in Shakespeare have a deeper and older history that has to be dealt with (3). For the scope of this paper, the aspect of The Tempest that will be investigated is magic and how magic functions in the play; in short, what does magic do in the play and how it echoes many historical events and documents that align themselves along the creation of a certain principle of colonialism.

A valid question may be raised at this point of time: why should we be concerned about an aspect of the play that has already been read and written about many times? My contention with this aspect is that one has to understand magic in The Tempest as two contending bodies of knowledge(s); the first kind of magic would have to be made into a thing that restores a political hierarchy which has been disturbed in the play (Prospero’s magic) and the second kind of magic has to be shown as being the wrong/“foul” kind of magic as opposed to the “right” one (Sycorax). This sets us up for the Prospero vs. Sycorax binary that has to be understood, as we will see, as a knowledge problem. The second project, for Shakespeare, would be to make a case for Prospero’s magic as “right” because it something that makes things right. The magic, in this play, has to be examined as a thing which has a certain function. By the end of this essay, I will try to prove that this problematic beginning of the understanding of magic in the play, in many ways, underlines the politics of its “use” – both within the diegetic level of the play and in the politics of what it has come to symbolise in postcolonial age.

1.2. “A True Philosophicall Method” – Magic and the Magus

What defines Prospero’s magic is a good question to begin with. The second act of the play where Prospero tells Miranda (and the audience) about the very source of his magic and about the circumstances how he and Miranda ended up in the island is something that we have to pay heed to.

Of all the world I loved and to him put

The manage of my state; as at that time

Through all the signories it was the first

And Prospero the prime duke, being so reputed

In dignity, and for the liberal arts

Without a parallel; those being all my study,

The government I cast upon my brother

And to my state grew stranger, being transported

And rapt in secret studies.


In looking at himself as “Prospero the prime duke”, Prospero is his own object of description; his life is unparalleled and as he grows “stranger” to his state, he is “transported” to “secret studies”. The secret study that he is referring to casts a shadow of doubt at this point; what, indeed, is he busy doing that is “secret”? This ambiguity about his “secret studies” is not explained to us and we are given the figure of the wronged Duke of Milan in Prospero. While we shall focus on the political aspect of this act in the next section, the ambiguity of this deserves to be explored. Barbara A. Mowat, in her essay “Prospero, Agrippa, and Hocus Pocus”, has defended Prospero’s magic as a magician who “delights in his magic power”, however it has to be contended that the fact Prospero is seen as the magus is not an unproblematic one (290). In the 2010 adaptation by Julie Taymore, Prospero is made into Prospera, the wife of a duke who is accused of practicing witchcraft when her husband dies which leads to her banishment. It is not a possibility that Prospero’s magic or his elevation from a mortal to someone who can cast spells is without its gender biases. This gender bias would give rise to more complicated problems when we are considering the Sycorax binary; however, the generous justification of Prospero’s craft which has been defended by Mowat as something that is Christian in its “moral world” (290). The comfortable secrecy that is granted to Prospero’s actions as something that does not deserve to be investigated within the speech of the play itself is a marker of an autonomy that becomes hard for us to locate outside the privileged space of a male aristocrat whose position as the magus can co-exist with the position of being a duke. On the other hand, the gender bias becomes a very problematic aspect of the play.

And what exactly is the nature of this magic? The number of times Prospero repeats the word “library” in this act hints at the answer of this very question.[4] His magic, even though it is secret and something that is completely ambiguous, is something that has an edifying value to it. The library which Prospero admits was “dukedom enough” for him is the sanctuary of knowledge and of knowing. The magic that he conjures is, thence, not a foul art that is born out creating something new that is rivalling the Christian theological understanding. What we are given, instead, is a method of knowing that is superior to the normal man. This is a magus like John Dee who writes that magic is the

true philosophicall method and harmony: proceeding and ascending (as it were) gradatim, from thinges visible to consider of thinges bodily, to conceive of thinges spirituali: from & momentānie, to meditate of things permanent

This is a philosophical method which, when represented by Shakespeare in his play, is not only a quest for knowledge but also a kind of endeavor that makes Prospero a hermit who is innocent, only to be betrayed by his brother Antonio. The knowledge question makes it a secular program or “method” that is not different from the twentieth century phenomenon of the self-help book that adorns every bookshop and has spawned the industry of “life coaches” in our own culture. The Christian thought of this secular act of obtaining knowledge comes only insofar as secularism in the seventeenth century cannot be divorced from the realm of right and good in its Christian thought. This method then, is Christian in its morals and calls itself, in Frances Yates’ words, the very “high intellectual and the virtuous magic of the true magus” that is to be contrasted with the foul magic of Sycorax (17).[5] This “true philosophicall method” of Prospero is the one that is not that is free from the manner in which knowledge is produced in any context at all. In fact, it is just as complicit in being party to and perpetuating certain notions of Eurocentric views that create the most apt context for colonial domination.[6] I want to take this argument a step further and compare the function of this knowledge production and what it means for the way in which Shakespeare’s play deals with its own context and our own.



2. Reforming Magic


2.1.Placing Magic in Disorder As An Order: A Restitution Plot

Let us not forget the political context of the play for understanding the setting of the play. The story till the point when the tempest hits the caravan of royalty coming back from a wedding is this: the Duke of Milan, Prospero, has been usurped by his younger brother, Antonio who had promised to pay a handsome annual tribute. The usurping brother, one has to understand, is not only committing a crime against a fellow human but, in case of the Dukedom, it is the “body politic” that is also being violated.[7] While we have established that there is indeed a knowledge problem that we need to explore, dissect and understand in order to understand the play itself, the political circumstances in which the play takes place is also very important to us. In doing so, the charge against Antonio is that he has also orphaned the dukedom of Milan through this act of usurpation. Antonio himself does not contest the charge and actually accepts the charge that is without any morals or “conscience” in the second act. He tells us,

Ay, sir; where lies that? if ’twere a kibe,

‘Twould put me to my slipper: but I feel not

This deity in my bosom: twenty consciences,

That stand ‘twixt me and Milan, candied be they

And melt ere they molest!


That he does not feel the “deity” of conscience in his bosom as he usurps the title of his brother while he also persuades the King’s brother to do the same makes Antonio’s binary standing even starker in contrast with his brother. So, in the second act, we are given more depth into the fact that Prospero is the knowledge seeking good brother while Antonio is the evil usurper who is undoing the social hierarchy that is ‘right’ and ‘moral’. In these circumstances, the knowledge of magic becomes not only a thing that edifies and delights the old Duke but also something that has the potential for restoring the old order. In a world where usurpation threatens the established norms of hereditary system of power, magic is, as Yates identifies it, “an intellectual system of the universe…, as a moral and reforming movement.” (14). Hence, it is not a surprise that Prospero’s elevation to the position of the magus who, with his magic, can cast spells upon the sea coincides curiously with the fact that the political order of the universe of the play needs some restoration.

I would argue that Andreas Mahler’s assertion that Shakespearean plays have “functional heterotopias” that act as conclaves in terms of creating resolution/restoration also holds true this play as well even though the conclave comes at the cost of a administrative stint on the island which is not far from its colonial mirroring (65).[8] In fact, the banishing of Prospero was to be understood in terms of the political subject who stands for the entire dukedom in the seventeenth century (“alas, poor Milan” 1.2.115) and after the usurpation, shown as a man with knowledge who has to fend for himself in the island. This is where both the creation of the conclave of resolution coincides with the creation of a concave of occupation. Even though the overwhelming construction in the play is that Prospero’s kindness and humanity knows no bounds; he frees Ariel from the tree where Sycorax had trapped him and he, along with Miranda, has a humane relationship with Caliban, Sycorax’s son, in the beginning, the historical evidence of such a case has to be reiterated here. Let us look at the two passages:

This blue-eyed hag was hither brought with child
And here was left by the sailors. Thou, my slave,
As thou report’st thyself, wast then her servant;
And, for thou wast a spirit too delicate
To act her earthy and abhorr’d commands,
Refusing her grand hests, she did confine thee,
By help of her more potent ministers
And in her most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine; within which rift
Imprison’d thou didst painfully remain
A dozen years; within which space she died
And left thee there; where thou didst vent thy groans
As fast as mill-wheels strike. Then was this island–
Save for the son that she did litter here,
A freckled whelp hag-born–not honour’d with
A human shape.


Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with humane care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.


When MacKaye retouches the passage in Caliban in the Yellow Sands that fills in the gap and describes the circumstances in which Ariel is “freed”, Ariel is “a slim, winged figure, half nude” who is “held fettered”. There is a deliberate attempt to show the whole scene as a messianic scene where, before the arrival of Prospero, there was no ‘civilisation’. Cartelli comments that Ariel, in MacKaye’s “masque”, is “a veritable John the Baptist” who awaiting the messiah (68). In Shakespeare, the scene is also hinting at an Ariel who was rescued by the arrival of Prospero out of his own goodwill. This is a very familiar colonial narrative; the colonial ruler who arrives at the shores of a country and develops the country out goodwill only to be betrayed by the natives. In his essay “Hurricane in the Caribbees: The Constitution of the Discourse of English Colonialism”, Peter Hulme hints that the manner in which Caliban is portrayed as a character has a lot to do with this attitude of plantation colonialism which was not always an accurate depiction of the real events. He writes:

…the natives, initially friendly, were made hostile by Spanish behaviour but were never powerful enough to threaten Spanish presence… It was also the mainland of both north and south America that English colonising expeditions visited at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, though this did bring the first incidental English contacts with the islands, among them the sixty-seven passengers from the Olive Branch, which put in the Santa Lucia for food in August 1605, who stayed to begin planting, and of whom forty-eight were killed in a fight with the Caribs, the other nineteen ‘escaping’ as the history books put it – although it turns out that the Caribs had to build them a boat.

(Hulme 57)

This narrative is also repeated twice in the play for us. Once when Caliban comments about how he helped Prospero understand all the “all the qualities o’ the isle” (1.2.338) and then the next time when he invites Trinculo and Stephano to help him (“I’ll show thee every fertile inch o’th’island” 2.2.148) The fact that this goodwill of Caliban is later taken advantage of by Prospero hinges on the argument that Prosero could resist Caliban’s hostility only through his magic. Magic, then, is not to be mistaken as just goodwill force that resulted in the emancipation of Ariels and the Calibans. As Hulme puts it, the real cost of Prospero’s magic or the discourse surrounding it is a “space really inhabited in colonial history by gunpowder” (74). This becomes clear when we re-read the passage; Caliban is a “hag-born” who is “honour’d with a human shape” and he is moved only by “stripes” and “not kindness”. Caliban is not seen as a fellow man by the third act of the play.[9] This devolution of Caliban is linked to the way in which the colonized subject is also created and made into an object. In the last scene of the play, Caliban is not only commodified into becoming an object in value (“a thing of darkness that I acknowledge mine” 5.1.278-279) but we must recall that Caliban has also been reified into becoming a thing of novelty (“lazy out ten to see a dead Indian” 2.2.31-32) before. This is where we have to understand magic or the production of knowledge that is magical as something that also determines the manner in which people perceive things politically and socially in the play.

The problem in taking Prospero’s magic as itself is that, then, we also have to take the Caliban that Shakespeare is creating in his play as a subject who has been enslaved through the power of magic. The magic, that is a part of production of knowledge in case of Prospero, is also how the larger punitive/justice system that is built in front of our very eyes on stage. The fact that it echoes many stereotypes of the colonialized natives in the early age of colonization only adds to the demystification of this magic. Therefore, since Prospero uses ‘magic’ to restore order to a context that is not on the stage (Milan is not depicted on the stage) but also uses the island as a colony where magic is the tool while he is a law unto himself, it becomes more a case of understanding magic; magic, here, is a language that produces knowledge (for Prospero) but also is a tool of administration (for Ariel and Caliban). This leads us, therefore, to the narrative of the structure of power in the island and how does Shakespeare reconcile the political choices with the theatrical ones? In fact, this is where the theatrical conclave of resolution, that involves magic, is connected to the manner in which Prospero’s power functions on the narrative of the play (and at that of the island). The theatrical conclave of the magical island is inadvertently also aligned with the hierarchies and subjugations of the political narrative of the island.



2.2. “Deservedly Confined Into This Rock”: Crime and Punishment on the Island

In the introduction of The Tempest published by Yale University in 2006, Burton Raffel writes:

Prospero is neither a colonizer nor an imperialist. He does not choose to land on the island but, rather, saves his and his young daughter’s lives, after they have been abandoned to die at sea, by coming ashore anywhere he can. Until Caliban tries to rape his daughter, Prospero is reasonably gracious and kind. (xxi)

This is a stance that Mowat also takes on this matter. In her essay, Mowat’s last paragraph exonerates much of what Prospero’s actions and celebrates the play as “the story of a man’s personal growth from vengeance to mercy, and from rough magic to deep spirituality; or we can simply enjoy the magician’s struggle to bring about the play’s remarkable happy ending.” (303). The issue at heart when it comes to this kind of reading is that it tends to see the entire project of criticism as something that has to do with, as Barker and Hulme notes in their 1985 essay, creating an ‘autotelic’ text.[10] However, even as we desire the text to have some sort of narratological purity, that texts cannot exist on their own. And in this case, the authority that is given to Prospero’s account is something that cannot be taken as an objective account which free from its own position of power and privilege within the diegetic level of the play. At the extra-diegetic level, as mentioned above, we have some historical contrasts. The shearing of contextual ideas about the manner in which knowledge or narratives produced has to be avoided for the sheer reason that without these interrogations, we risk reading the play merely as a magus’ triumphant return to Milan and not as a text with complex power relations.

For this reason alone, the way in which both Ariel and Caliban are treated in this play becomes a serious question for us. It becomes clear to us that Prospero’s use of magic creates an economy of labor where Caliban is the less privileged one while Ariel, because of his magical powers, is the one who can not only assist the administration of the island but also become a willing partner in the oppression of Caliban. The very first line that we hear from Caliban is that there is “wood enough within” (1.2.315). The context makes it clear while we are never told if the wood has actually finished ‘within’, he has to go and fetch more. This accumulation of surplus wood or surplus labor that is created to profit Prospero at the cost of the labor of Caliban is not unknown in our postcolonial readings of economics. Dr Francis Buchanan-Hamilton, a Scottish surgeon who travelled to the east of India (then, a newly colonial space) to report on the empire wrote this in a note from 1810:

… our Birmingham, Staffordshire and domestic wares have ruined the native artisans of the East, who endeavoured to compete with the accumulation of wealth and steam-power in England…In public works we have done nothing for India; every (sic) thing has been subservient to the imperious necessity of raising £20,000,000 yearly, to meet the expenses of an army of 200,000 men, and a large costly civil establishment. For half a century, we have gone on to draining from two to three and sometimes four million pounds sterling from India, which has been remittable to Great Britain, (…) to invest on England’s soil the accumulated wealth of those whose life has been spent in Hindoostan.  (xxi)

This is also a familiar charge in the play for us. We are told by Caliban in the second act of the play that indeed, he too had “loved” Prospero only to be turned into a ‘subject’ He complains to Prospero:

…and then I loved thee

And show’d thee all the qualities o’ the isle,

The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile:

Cursed be I that did so! All the charms

Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!

For I am all the subjects that you have,

Which first was mine own king: and here you sty me

In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me

The rest o’ the island. (1.2.338-344)

When Caliban talks about a betrayal, the betrayal is in the manner in which he was made “much of” and then transformed into a slave or a reluctant “subject” of Prospero’s kingdom. His labor, as we see in the play, is the one that is material and manual and he does not have the language of magic that can either compete with Prospero who has “magic” or Ariel whose location in this entire structure is crucial to understanding how colonial discourses work. This is an allusion that S. Anand uses in his essay “Sanskrit, English and Dalits” which is quite useful for us here: to paraphrase Anand, in the play, language (and hence, the production of knowledge) are tools of administration that only the Prospero-like administrators (and the Ariel-like elite “natives” who are complicit in the order of things) are able to administer.[11] Magic, then, is the primary tool of administration which is subordinate to established power relations in the play.

My contention in this matter is that the use of magic is not only one of reformation (as Yates had noted before) but is also used to create a punitive system that includes a very paternalistic approach to justice. In using terms like “kingdom”, “slave” and “hag-born” among others, it is not very hard to see that Prospero’s power in the island is built, in fact, on the hierarchy of a social system which has been displaced from Milan on to the island. In doing so however, Caliban, whose social conditioning is not part of the world of Prospero and his kin, is not seen outside this hierarchy. In fact, in teaching him language, Caliban’s self-worth and his own subjectivity has become an object that can only be described in the language of Prospero.[12] It must be noted here that Caliban is taught language but not language enough to read Prospero’s books and attain the same status as the magus on the island. Indeed, this form of acquisition of language is, as Barker and Hulme call, “the perfect instrument for empire” (197).[13] Miranda’s speech aptly puts it in letter for in the second act of the play.

Abhorred 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 wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endow’d thy purposes
With words that made them known. But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in’t which
good natures
Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock,
Who hadst deserved more than a prison.


Miranda’s pity and her efforts to teach Caliban come with the additional aspect of “purposes”. We are not given any ideas about the ends of this agenda but it is also acting within the limits of the manner in which language, transmitted to a subject who must not challenge the hierarchy, must create a ‘subject’ who can speak a language but not an ‘agent’ that wields the power of interpretation. In fact, his “own meaning” too is defined by the language that is coerced upon him. The fact that Caliban’s “vile race” is the reason why he could not take advantage of the knowledge that was being given to him also has a longer history in the colonial context. For instance, the British famously instituted the Criminal Tribes Act in 1871 in which they legislated that certain tribes were “addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences” (Simhadri 121).[14] In fact, I would go on to contend that this, along with the ‘hypersexualized native male’ narrative that is given to Caliban’s character, is the reason why we have to compare narratives with actual legislations, documents, and laws that align themselves along ideological and identity politics; in this case, the development of the colonial paradigm becomes clear. This context becomes even more indicative when we refer to Clause 14 of the act that echoes a certain line from Miranda’s speech:

  1. Any tribe, gang or class which has been declared to (sic) criminal, or any part thereof, may, by order of the Local Government, be removed to any part of the residence.

(Simhadri 124)

Miranda’s taunt that Caliban deserved more than a prison and that he is deservedly confined to the rock is, therefore, not only an impassioned cry of anguish of someone who had been violated by Caliban but also has a concrete history of punitive action in the most legal sense of the term in English colonial history. But what I am interested in is not only the development of this colonial narrative in the island but also the fact that Caliban is confined by Prospero with his magic. It is his magic that is the deterrent in terms of criminal offences on the island; it includes both the ‘crime’ that Ariel may desert him or Caliban’s grievances about the manner in which he is treated. The formation of the cramps and other ailments that he can easily put on Caliban’s is part of this punitive strategy and has to be acknowledged to be so. Cartelli contends that “[i]t provides a paternalistic approach to colonial administration that sanctions a variety of enlightened procedures, ranging from the soft word to the closed fist” (96). In case of the play, Prospero’s actions range from threatening Ariel to enslaving Caliban and giving him “cramps” with the power of his magic.

Hence, it can be concluded up to this point that our discussion has led us to understand that magic and language in this play are entwined in creating a nexus of power and knowledge on the island that is only available in full capacity to Prospero who is a law unto himself. We began with understanding how magic is a knowledge acquisition agenda for Prospero and how, should we render solely to be spiritual project as Mowat does, we overlook the relationality of magic to the source of power. We have also seen that the manner in which Caliban’s labor and subject-position is created, vis-à-vis surplus labor and language, echo the manner in which colonial forces tend to look at their own right to occupation and administration of a certain people. Now, the development of the colonial paradigm is complete and we are given a binary between the “hag-born” Caliban and his mother and the others. I want to pose this as a knowledge problem in the next section.

3. Absent Presence

3.1.“A Thing Most Brutish”: The Knowledge Problem

Miranda’s speech gives away a telling clue where, it would seem, the knowledge problem that I am referring to in this section is already to be seen. We are told by an exasperated Miranda that she had taught Caliban his own meaning and taught him (her) language when all that he could do was “gabble a thing most brutish”. The relegation of Caliban’s tongue, that we are never given in the text of the play, as “a thing most brutish” is an inherent judgement of the Other’s cultural context. This too, unsurprisingly, has echoes in the colonial paradigm. In 1835 when the Whig politician T. B. Macaulay was asked to prepare a plan for the implementation of education in India, he comes to the gist of his, now infamous, “Minute on Education”, with the simple question, what is the most useful way of employing it? To which, he says:

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. [8][15]

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. [10]

The gabble that is a “thing so brutish” for Miranda now becomes, in Macaulay’s words, a cluster of dialects that “are so poor and rude”. Macaulay’s belief that “a single shelf of good European literature was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia” is based on the same principle that enables Miranda to reduce Caliban’s language to “gabble”. On a similar note, the employability of the education project of both Caliban and the mid-nineteenth century population of India is based on this judgment that the ‘brutish’ tongue of the Other cannot be redeemed with a claim to any knowledge. This is further compounded by the moment Ferdinand, an equal of Miranda, refers to language in the play as well. The fact that he has access to the same language that Miranda and Prospero and therefore does not have to be coerced into the linguistic field where he has to locate himself plays a large role, I believe, in his finding his “labours” as “pleasures”. In fact, the non-confrontational aspect of his linguistic ability is the reason why Miranda does not have to ‘save’ him by ‘teaching’ him meaning of his own self; instead of a hierarchy, we have two subjects on an equal footing who fall in love.

In fact, this education project in which Miranda (along with Prospero) is the stakeholder and Caliban is her/their subject, the “employability” of the education has largely to do with the “profit” of it. In the very first act, when Prospero is referring to the indispensability of Caliban, we are told:

We cannot miss him: he does make our fire,

Fetch in our wood and serves in offices

That profit us. What, ho! Slave! Caliban!

Thou earth, thou! speak.


The “profit” aspect of language is what defines Caliban’s relation with the language; it is that of labor. Caliban’s labor is the reason why his enslavement is comparable to the manner in which colonial powers also used native/colonized labor for their own “profit”. But, of course, we also have to see this as an occupation that erases Caliban’s own language and with it, his ancestral claim to the island. Caliban’s racialized and sexualized mother Sycorax is also erased from this narrative and her magic is seen as “witchcraft”. The absence of Sycorax herself in this play makes for a binary that is an extension of the knowledge problem of the play. This is the core of the binary that defines both Sycorax and Prospero’s magic in the play as well: while Sycorax’s magic is “foul”, Prospero’s magic is not; while Sycorax’s deeds are so horrific that her “mischiefs manifold and sorceries” are “terrible to enter human hearing”, Prospero’s magic is given the stage and the entire narrative of the play. This absent presence of Sycorax is, on the other hand, the only binary which may have the potential to be a space of resistance in the reading of this play.


3.2.          ‘All the Charms of Sycorax’

It is an interesting thing that the moments where Caliban does invoke the names of Sycorax and Setebos, these are moments where the spells are just either comic relief or abject failures. When Caliban is agitated by Prospero in first act of the play, he says, as mentioned before:

All the charms

Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!

What follows on the stage is nothing that can affect the narrative of the play. Neither Prospero nor Miranda suffers as a result of these “charms”. There are two possibilities that explain this: Caliban is an inept wizard compared to his mother; not having learnt how to use the “charms”, his expertise of the craft is lacking, or Shakespeare shows that Prospero’s art is indeed much more superior to Caliban (and his mother’s by extension). The second reasoning is more plausible because at the end of the scene, Caliban ‘admits’ (as an aside) on stage that Prospero’s “art is of such power, / It could control my dam’s god Setebos, / And make a vassal of him” (1.2.371-372). Such an admission of superiority in the play not only diminishes the stature of his own culture but is also an extra-diegetic nod to the superiority of the Eurocentric knowledge-bound project of Prospero on the English stage. However Sycorax’s magic, which Prospero claims, was “so strong / That could control the moon, make flows and ebbs” (1.2.271-273) is not dissimilar from the “rough magic” of Prospero which “have bedimm’d / The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds, / And ‘twixt the green sea and the azured vault / Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder” (5.1.41-44). This is, therefore, not the superiority of Prospero’s magic that props him into quelling the magic of Sycorax but a superiority of morality where he is not as “foul” as Sycorax.

Catherine Cakebread’s point on this may yet have a valuable re-evaluation of what has been staged as a weak failure up to this point. To paraphrase Cakebread, even though Sycorax’s magic is not brought to fruition, it is the only binary that is a potential to challenging Prospero magic in the play. In fact, she contends, it is Sycorax’s absence on the island serves to undermine the power structure imposed upon the island. The silence of Sycorax, Lara says, gives us a “third transformative space that she represents” (90). While Prospero’s narrative authority is one that simply states “Here in this island we arrived”, and Caliban’s self has been measured, colonized and occupied into erasing his own language, it is Sycorax’s absence in the island that gives us a space of resistance. I argue that instead of reading the criticism of Sycorax’s magic at face-value in the play, we have to read it within the contexts of both gender and colonization. This binary is also seen in Shakespeare’s own treatment of the theme in the play; Sycorax’s racialized and sexualized body seems to put her both in the category of the witch from Algiers and the one who apparently copulated with the devil.[16] Sycorax’s banishment from Algiers is also a socio-political act where a gendered notion of acquisition of knowledge is put into perspective for us. Sycorax does not have the restitutional plot because the social hierarchy that can be restored in Prospero’s character is simply something that is not possible for Sycorax. On the other hand, her actions are erased through language and violence on the island and her version of history remains a silent space.

It is in re-reading the Sycorax’s space on the island (or the erasure of it) and her silence that there is a chance for us to reflect upon the colonial histories of marginalized and oppressed communities whose histories have been erased. Sycorax’s absent magic is an absent marker that has to be read as a signifier that stands for the violence of colonialism. It is not only erroneous to celebrate Prospero as a magus who goes from “vengeance to mercy, and from rough magic to deep spirituality” or to “simply enjoy the magician’s struggle to bring about the play’s remarkable happy ending” (Mowat 303) but also a flawed reading of the text that echoes the colonial project so very thoroughly. The moment when the play is ending, we hear Prospero casually refer to Caliban as “a thing of darkness that I acknowledge mine” (5.1.278-279). By that point, the transformation of Prospero is complete: we have seen him become a wronged duke who becomes a magus who, with his magic, enslaves a native on an island, and at the end claims his ownership. Caliban rues that he would “be pinched to death” and we must imagine the audience of Shakespeare laugh at the audacity of a “vile slave” who dared to mount a mutiny against his all-powerful master. In our own context, this becomes harder. In the postcolonial scenario, the Calibans and the Sycoraxes are the spaces of colonized history which have repercussions even to this day. All charms of Sycorax have to be restituted in order to understand the depth of this silence.





Anand, S. “Sanskrit, English and Dalits.” Economic and Political Weekly 34.30 (1999): 2053-056. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 4 May 2017.

Barker, Francis, and Peter Hulme. “Nymphs and Reapers Heavily Vanish: The Discursive Con-texts of The Tempest.” Ed. John Drakakis. Alternative Shakespeares. London: Methuen, 1985. 191-205. Print.

Buchanan-Hamilton, Francis. The History, Antiquities, Topography, and Statistics of Eastern India. Ed. Montgomery Martin. Vol. V. Delhi: Cosmo Publications, 1976. Print.

Cakebread, Caroline. “Sycorax Speaks: Marina Warner’s Indigo and The Tempest”. Transforming Shakespeare. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Print.

Cartelli, Thomas. Repositioning Shakespeare. 1st ed. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Dee, John. “A Letter Containing a Most Briefe Discourse Apologie…” John Dee: A Letter Containing a Most Brief… Twilit Grotto Esoteric Archives, 1999. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.

Hanke, Lewis. Aristotle and the American Indians. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1959. Print.

Hulme, Peter. “Hurricanes in the Caribbees: the constitution of the discourse of English colonialism.” Francis Barker et al. (eds) 1642: Literature and Power in the Seventeenth Century, Proceedings of the Essex Conference on the Sociology of Literature, 1981: 55-83. Print.

Lara, Irene. “Beyond Caliban’s Curses: The Decolonial Feminist Literacy of Sycorax.” Journal of International Women’s Studies 9.1 (2007): 80-98. Print.

Macaulay, Thomas Babington. “Minute on Education (1835).” Courseworks@Columbia. Columbia University, n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.

MacKaye, Percy. Caliban by the Yellow Sands. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1916.

Mahler, Andreas. “As You (Don’t) Like It: In-Between Spaces on the Shakespearean Stage.” Litteraria Pragensia 23.45 (2013): 65-81. Print.

Mowat, Barbara A. “Prospero, Agrippa, and Hocus Pocus.” English Literary Renaissance 11.3 (1981): 281-303. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 4 May 2017.

Kantorowicz, Ernst. The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology. Princeton University Press, 2016. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. New Haven: Yale UP, 2006. Print.

Simhadri, Yedla C. Denotified tribes: A Sociological Analysis. New Delhi: Classical Publishing Company, 1991. Print.

The Tempest. Dir. Julie Taymor. Buana Vista Home Entertainment Inc., 2011. DVD.

Yates, Frances. “Magic in Shakespeare’s Last Plays.” Encounter 22 (April, 1975): 14-22. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.

[1] The website (https://www.shakespearelives.org/) to mark this event greets its visitors with “Shakespeare Lives: A Global Celebration of William Shakespeare on the 400th Anniversary of his Death”. Sponsored by the British Council and the GREAT Britain campaign, the website has video and photography from all over the world (i.e., it is not just the former colonies) including Shanghai, Moscow etc.   

[2] A part of the Shakespeare Lives program, “Dear Mister Shakespeare” is a video project by multimedia visual artist Phoebe Boswell. The British Council captioned the short film as: “Multimedia visual artist Phoebe Boswell has written an original piece, ‘Dear Mister Shakespeare’, in which she questions Shakespeare on the inherent racial tensions within his writing of Othello in the 1600s, and how these tensions continue to resonate today.”

[3] MacKaye clarifies in his author’s preface that he has “called this work a Masque, because – like other works so named in the past – it is a dramatic work of symbolism involving, in its structure, pageantry, poetry and the dance.” (p. xviii) A more detailed work on the play titled “Shakespeare 1916” in the book Repositoning Shakespeare by Thomas Cartelli is included in the citations.

[4] To have no screen between this part he play’d/And him he play’d it for, he needs will be/Absolute Milan. Me, poor man, my library/Was dukedom large enough (1.2.107-111)

Knowing I loved my books, he furnished me/From mine own library with volumes that/I prize above my dukedom (1.2.166-168)

[5] Yates also quotes directly from the Arden edition of 1954 where Frank Kermode goes on to traces the magic of Prospero with the magic of Henry Cornelius Agrippa as “an intellect pure and conjoined with the powers of the Gods without which we shall never happily ascend to the scrutiny of secret things, and to the power of wonderful workings.” (17)

[6] For a more engaged review of the terminology and politics of those terms in the colonial context in The Tempest, see Hulme (1981)

[7] For a more detailed reading of medieval notions of the “body politic” and “body natural”, see Kantorowicz (1985)

[8] Mahler, in his essay “As You (Don’t) Like It”, however, argues that functional heterotopic spaces in Shakespearean plays become “less and less successful as time goes by”, but as we will see in this play, this is not the case. The island (and its administration through magic), as we discover, is the restorative space in this context (65).

[9] Hulme notes in his essay that in the beginning of the play Miranda counts Ferdinand as the third man she has ever encountered (Caliban being the second) while by the time we arrive at the first scene of the third act, she has not “seen/More that I may call men than you, good friend,/And my dear father” (3.1.50-52)

[10] I borrow this term from Barker and Hulme’s essay that defines ‘autotelic’, via Hirsch (1967), as “an entity which always remains the same from one moment to the next.” (192)

[11] “William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest anticipates the colonial paradigm where the duke-in-exile. Prospero, ends up in an island that belongs to Sycorax, who is made out to be a witch-figure whose ‘magic’ Prospero learns, only to use the same to colonise the island and enslave Sycorax’s son Caliban, an indigenous inhabitant who is animalised in the play (he ‘smells like a fish’) and referred to as a misshapen monster having no language, no culture, despite which he (Caliban) insists: ‘This island is mine…’. Parallel and in contrast to Caliban, who does not mind swearing at Prospero and his daughter Miranda in the language he learnt from them, is Ariel, a fairy- like creature, also a ‘native’ of the island, who is glad to serve Prospero though he too wants to be set free one day.” (Anand 2056) NOTE: Anand’s points have to be qualified here: while the island is not Sycorax’s (she is also left on the island by sailors), the play’s handling of certain events does anticipate the colonial paradigm as I have mentioned in the essay. Also, there is no clear evidence in the text of the play that Prospero had learnt his magic from Sycorax which forms one of the contending bodies of knowledge in the argument of this paper ahead.

[12] Irene Lara paraphrases Gayatri Spivak on this in her essay “Beyond Caliban’s Curses”: “Yet, it is also possible that when Caliban (or the “native”, subaltern, or other) speaks as Gayatri Spivak suggests, her or his subjectivity is contained and mediated within the language of the colonizer’s tongue as well as the social structures that enforce hegemonic discourses.” (86)

[13] Barker and Hulme quote Antonio de Nebrija who was quoted by Hanke (1959).

[14] For the entire text of the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, see appendix in Simhadri (1991)

[15] The numbers in the references refer to paragraph numbers in the Minute. For the entire text, see Macaulay (1835)

[16] “Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself / Upon thy wicked dam, come forth!” (1.2.320-321)

On this point, I believe, an opportunity was missed in The Tempest adaptation where Prospero is made into Prospera. Given that Prospera is also tried for witchcraft and lands on the island in the same condition as Sycorax (a criminal tried for witchcraft with a child), the filmmaker, instead of showing this similarity and creating a feminist tale of solidarity, chooses to emphasize and perpetuate a difference.

“If It Please You To Dine With Us”: The Hostipitality of Idiom in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and the Problem of ‘Integration’


The question of hospitality as benevolence towards the Other is the central issue at the core of this paper. In William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio invites Shylock to dinner to which Shylock replies that he will not “eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you” (I.II.32-33). I want to explore this moment of the play as a possible moment where the crisis of facing the other – an issue at the heart of the crisis of labelling and naming groups of people – can be located. I argue that in looking beyond the hospitality of the host, we are confronted by the hostility of coded linguistic fields. The symbolic power of the invitation is already embedded in “relations of symbolic power in which the power relations between speakers or their respective groups are actualized” (Bourdieu 37). In exploring the relationship between hospitality and hostility, Derrida provides the framework for us to problematizing the invitation of Bassanio in this scene (Derrida 29). Shylock’s answer illuminates the complex nexus between acceptance and embeddedness of social codes of hospitality. Given the fact that he agrees to join Antonio and Bassanio at the end of the scene, the importance of reading Shylock’s reply to the invitation is underscored. By problematizing Bassanio’s hospitality and Shylock’s initial hostility, the relationship between the two can be synthesized in order to gain a more complex reading of the ‘foreigner’ who uses denial to create a resistance to the subjugation through what seems to be innocent ‘integration’.






“…my meaning in saying…”: The Problem of Meaning

In the last few years of looking at the migrant crisis following the instability of the Middle East, a lot of people have spoken of the need to ‘integrate’ migrant population within the areas they have come to seek refuge in. For instance, Garett J. Brown’s essay about the right to cosmopolitanism has been explored through, what he calls, the ‘Kantian response’ to Jacques Derrida’s problem of detecting hostility in hospitality.[1] My paper is going to locate the language of hospitality and integration as precisely the problem in this aspect. How exactly do we locate the problem of meaning and language in this scenario? For the sake of clarity, let us look at the third act of the first scene of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice; where Bassanio and Shylock meet for the first time in the play. The occasion for this is, of course, business: Bassanio asks Shylock for three thousand ducats for three months while using his friendship to Antonio as a guarantee. The scene, just before Antonio enters, ends in a kind of confusion which relates to the issue under the present discussion:



Antonio is a good man.



Have you heard any imputation to the contrary?



Oh, no, no, no, no: my meaning in saying he is a
good man is to have you understand me that he is
sufficient. Yet his means are in supposition: he
hath an argosy bound to Tripolis, another to the
Indies; I understand moreover, upon the Rialto, he
hath a third at Mexico, a fourth for England, and
other ventures he hath, squandered abroad, – but ships
are but boards, sailors but men: there be land-rats
and water-rats, water-thieves and land-thieves, (I
mean pirates), and then there is the peril of waters,
winds and rocks. The man is, notwithstanding,
sufficient, – three thousand ducats, – I think I may
take his bond.



Be assur’d you may.



I will be assur’d I may; and, that I may be assured,
I will bethink me, – may I speak with Antonio?



If it please you to dine with us.



Yes, to smell pork; to eat of the habitation which
your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into. I
will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you,
walk with you, and so following, but I will not eat
with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. What
news on the Rialto? Who is he comes here?



As as the scene progresses, one can see that the exchange between the two characters goes from the business deal to what seems to be a hostile exchange. What is the cause of this? This paper will focus solely on the italicized parts of the dialogue.

“…my meaning in saying…”

“is to have you understand me…”

“If it please you to dine with us”

The question at the heart of this matter is the above invitation to dinner. Bassanio’s invitation provokes a very hostile response in Shylock. This is the very point where the stage has to be imagined as the most physical manifestation of the Other who is rejecting a benevolent and apparently innocent invitation to be “integrated” in the social formation where Shylock the Jew can, indeed, become friends with Bassanio and Antonio. For the sake of clarity and focus within this essay’s length, we will limit our scope to problematizing the invitation itself. We will begin with examining the sentence itself through the linguistic analysis of what can be termed as idiolect or unfinished sentences or phrases which form a core entity of our concern here.[3] I argue that in assuming that Shylock understands and even is party to the hospitality without conditions through the idiolect is an act of violence upon his identity. I formulate the exchange as an exchange of codes with which both Bassanio and Shylock navigate the complex universe within which the Other is allowed to exist in the “cosmopolitan” Venice. Following that, I will argue through our analysis of Bourdieu’s theory of language that the discourse that is embedded in language and idioms is the reason why Shylock insists on the precision of meaning time and again in this scene. Finally, we will come to the conclusion that the hospitality of Bassanio’s invitation is, itself, at best unaware of the manner it infringes upon the identity and spatial politics of Shylock’s location in Venice or it is a deliberate attempt to produce a hierarchy for his own benefit through language. This gives an insight into the manner, for instance, the right to cosmopolitanism has been exploited to understand the difficulty of “integration” when it comes to immigrant communities.


“I would be friends and have your love… – and you’ll not hear me” The Hostility of the Idiomatic

Stephen A. Tyler writes in The Said and the Unsaid that stereotypical greetings and hackneyed phrases, among other things, are based on collocation and commonplace knowledge where “the whole phrase is a meaningful unit that cannot be understood simply by knowing the meaning of its constituent words” (230). This, according to Tyler can be explained by the manner in which words are substituted in phrases which are idiomatic in nature. For instance, should one say “Men are dogs”, the meaning is not in the fact that Homo sapiens belong to the canine family biologically but that men behave like vicious dogs. According to Tyler, a similar formation would be: “Dogs are not plants” or “Dogs are living creatures”; however, the substitution of “x is y” or “x is not y” is not an idiom depending on grammatical meaning but on social forms of expressions (231).  With this brief explanation, let us look at Bassanio’s invitation again.

If it please you to dine with us.

Bassanio begins with a conditional statement, if Shylock would be pleased to dine with them… and then what? Even in its most formal nature, the invitation that Bassanio offers is a fragment or an incomplete phrase which deserves to be analysed as a fragment. Interestingly, Tyler explains the ‘If _____ then _____’ formulation as one that “signal[s] identity, inclusion… which serve to alert us hearers to the kind of relationship being expressed” (232). Insofar as Bassanio is concerned, this complicates the relationship between Bassanio and Shylock. When we see what preceded that line, we are given Shylock’s question – “may I speak with Antonio?” Assuming that Shylock is not concerned socializing with Antonio, Bassanio’s reply inducts or presumes to “include” Shylock in his social life where his friends have dinner. However, this invitation is not without its hierarchies. In his essay explaining Jacques Derrida’s idea of hospitality for asylum seekers, Mark W. Westmoreland spends a lot of time in the essay speaking about the conditions which are always a part of hospitality (1). These conditions are precisely the background that explains Bassanio’s (half?) invitation. The juxtaposition the two speech acts, from Shylock asking to see Antonio for business and Bassanio substituting that request with a half formed request to dinner is a “freedom of substitution” that he, as a Christian can make of a Jew who is still the Other in the Venetian world. Bassanio’s “inclusion” of Shylock in the relationship where he will come and eat with the men he is doing business with is a change of code that Shylock cannot afford at all. Insofar as Antonio’s hatred for Shylock merges of religious and business reasons, this comes as a very relevant point.[4]

In many ways, Brown would not find this problematic insofar as he discerns Kantian distinction between Besuchtsrecht and Gastrecht to be an important distinction in the migrant scenario.[5] He says that “Kant’s distinction between gastrecht and besuchsrecht could be read as a necessary precondition for a more mutually consistent and universal application of cosmopolitan norms” (314). It is worth noticing that when it comes to the personal and the financial, it is Bassanio who is welcome to mix the two codes without tarnishing one with the other.[6] Why? A good reason lies in the fact that for Bassanio, should his code change from the personal to the financial or from the financial to the personal, the switching of the code is something that would not only allowed but validated by the Venetian society. Therefore, the Christian Bassanio who lives in Venice can easily be both the borrower of love and money. However, should Shylock try to mix the two, it would come at the cost of him not having any control of the manner in which his self is constituted by the Venetians. Being the Other here, Shylock the Jew cannot contribute to changing the code; upholding the status quo for Bassanio and Antonio is indeed, a “matter of justice” (Brown 315).[7] This position is also taken by Derrida in Of Hospitality when he points out that most of all even when the foreigner is asking for legal hospitality in a foreign land, the legal language itself is the “first act of violence” (Derrida 15). Contrastingly, Shylock has to make sure that his usage of language is far more careful, verging on the paranoid (“to have you understand me”); he is far more interested in the precision of the code that cannot be mistaken for something else.

Let us not forget that when Shylock does accept the invitation, the invitation becomes the means of not just the socialization of “the Jew” but also teaching Shylock how to be a Christian just because he is “kind” enough to accept the invitation.[8] The loss of the self of the Other in accepting the rules and the conditions of the invitation is evident here. Since it is not just a benign invitation but also a linguistic turn of phrase where the loss of identity (for Shylock) is a very important manner of negotiation, we may come to understand how we locate Shylock in the topos of Venice.

Perhaps, it is also important to note that the aspect of socialization is not something that is not spoken of before. As Shylock notes in the same act:


SHYLOCK: Why look you, how you storm!

I would be friends with you and have your love,

Forget the shames you have stained me with,

Supply your present wants and take no doit

Of usage of my moneys – and you’ll not hear me.

This is kind I offer.


This is where I find Tyler’s formulation of the idiolect or the idiomatic particularly useful. To paraphrase Tyler, when the question of substitution of terms arises, the only one with the freedom to substitute terms in an idiom is the one with the power to create collocations. Whether it is Shylock’s failure to convince Antonio of his genuine offer of friendship or Bassanio’s and Antonio’s casual mixture of the financial, religious and social, the code can only be scrambled by people like Bassanio and Antonio. When the terms of the socializing are according to Shylock’s phrase, the friendliness is also forsaken to make it only a financial deal which can also be made “to thine enemy” (I.III.132). Therefore, the hostility of the idiomatic and the idiolect can be detected precisely in the hospitality of an invitation. At this point, of course, it also becomes important to understand the manner in which Shylock responds to the invitation which I shall discuss in the next section.


“Yes – to smell pork…”

Shylock’s reaction to Bassanio’s invitation makes us look at the modes in which he is not allowed any resistance at all. Shylock refuses to eat, drink or pray with Bassanio and Antonio. In doing so, what is he doing? He sarcastically refers to the smell of pork should he actually venture into the social code of Bassanio and Antonio. Interestingly, this was at the forefront of a story in September of 2015 when many hungry migrants, a majority of whom were Muslims, who were detained in Hungary were given ham sandwiches.[9] At the very least, it would prove that the discomfort that Shylock felt when it came to accept food from Antonio’s hospitality has not been resolved for 500 years since Shakespeare wrote about the issue. His rejection to smelling pork is not unlike the rejection of ham sandwich in the given scenario of 2017. As Derrida notes in Of Hospitality, the foreigner, having been introduced to the “paternal logos”, contests its legitimacy (Derrida 5). The question of the idiolect and the idiomatic, then, is not merely seen in the manner the invitation is worded (“If it please you…”) but also an embedded feature of legal and social norms where the existence of the foreigner/ Other is a constant threat to the manner all the socio-personal codes are conflated in the society. The “first act of violence” that has been problematized becomes an extension of a larger problem regarding what one considers integration of the foreigner in the system. Pierre Bourdieu’s understanding of language provides us with the framework with which Derrida’s position can be understood further. In Language and Symbolic Power, Bourdieu characterizes “popular speech” (therefore, also idioms and idiolects of a certain social group) as inherently “one of the products of the application of dualistic taxonomies which structure the social world” (93). This is the social encoding where the moment Shylock and Bassanio have engaged, the conversation already has the tension of the duality of what is said and what is unsaid.

This process of encoding our social behaviour and legal language regarding ‘integration’ is in full display in our current climate and also in the manner Shylock’s fate unfolds in Shakespeare’s play. As Derrida also points out this would determine the manner in which we look, not only at the foreigner but at our “structures of so-called public space” (Derrida 47). The fluidity with which the machinery of Venice changes the stage from a prosecuting space to a persecuting space is a not unlike the manner in which a quiet border town of Hungary quickly changed its nature when the refugee crisis hit. The town of Röszke in Hungary is the “so-called public space” where the structure of space has changed with detention camps for refugees where the language to intimidate rings out in languages that refugees know and understand but the process of giving them refugee status is carried out without translation.[10] This is the central problem which not only includes the manner in which the Other is created textually but also the manner in which the conflation of codes is always fluid in a manner that always allows for the hospitality of the host to become a veiled threat of violence should the foreigner not abide by the rules of the house. The fact that the right to cosmopolitanism of the foreigner is refused by the host who would not accept friendship (“you’ll not hear me”) is hence also the problem that unravels the benevolence of Bassanio’s dinner invitation. The only language that Shylock can hold on to is, of course, that of the Other whose acceptance of any rule of Venice makes him mocked at (“Hebrew will turn Christian”). The kind of hospitality that is afforded to Shylock is one of the conditional kind; one where he can partake of the hospitality but always at the cost of consolidating his Otherness. On the other hand, the kind that is offered to, for instance, Portia is one where she can not only have the power to judge but also to create a deliberate hierarchy in the manner in which these codes are conflated. On this, Westmoreland writes in “Interruptions: Derrida and Hospitality”:

It seems as if the laws of conditional hospitality and the law of unconditional hospitality conflict with one another. Do the laws transgress the law of hospitality? Does the law of hospitality demand a transgression of the laws? They are not symmetrical, equally opposing one another. Rather, a hierarchy exists in which the law is above the laws, outside the laws. However, the two complement each other in that the law of hospitality requires the laws so as to not be abstract. (8)

The problematic part of this is, indeed, seen in the manner in which the law of hospitality is always encoded within the conditional status of someone like Shylock and cannot accommodate him within the same language or idiolect. The integration of the Other, is then, always by the condition that he would not only buy with them and sell with them but also eat with them and ‘smell pork’ with them. As Bourdieu also notes in Language and Symbolic Power:

To speak of rites of institution is to suggest that all rites tend to consecrate or legitimate an arbitrary boundary, by fostering a misrecognition of the arbitrary nature of the limit and encourage a recognition of it as legitimate; or, what amounts to the same thing, they tend to involve a solemn transgression, i.e. one conducted in a lawful and extra-ordinary way, of the limits which constitute the social and mental order which rites are designed to safeguard at all costs – like the division between the sexes with regard to the rituals of marriage. By solemnly marking the passage over a line which establishes a fundamental division in the social order, rites draw the attention of the observer to the passage (whence the expression ‘rites of passage’), whereas the important thing is the line. (118)

By recognizing the line as a boundary that only redefines and consolidates Otherness, the dinner invitation and the ham sandwiches are examples of ‘hostipitality’ that have only lent more to creating more lines of differences. The line that is social, political and always aided by the economic conditioning of the parties who are part of the exchange or the conversation is, then, the literal and spatial metaphor that defines the way we locate the Other, the foreigner and the Shylocks in our midst. The problem of naming, defining and, indeed, even understanding our latent hostility in assuming positions of benevolent hosts is the one we need to solve before we imagine ourselves innocent.


Primary Source

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Leah S. Marcus. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. Print

Secondary Source

Bourdieu, Pierre. Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U, 1991. Print.

Brown, Garrett W. “The laws of hospitality, asylum seekers and cosmopolitan right: A Kantian response to Jacques Derrida.” European Journal of Political Theory 9.3 (2010): 308-327. Web. 31 July 2017.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond. Stanford, California: Stanford Univ. Press. 2000. Print.

Tyler, Stephen A. The Said and the Unsaid: Mind, Meaning, and Culture. New York: Academic, 1978. Print.

Westmoreland, Mark W. “Interruptions: Derrida and hospitality.” Kritike: An Online Journal of Philosophy 2.1 (2008): 1-10.

[1] Brown’s essay “The Laws of Hospitality, Asylum Seekers and Cosmopolitan Right; A Kantian Response to Derrida” is cited at the end of this essay.

[2] All quotations from the Norton edition of The Merchant of Venice edited by Leah S. Marcus cited in the bibliography. Italics added for emphasis

[3] The idea to merge both ‘idiolect’ and ‘idiom’ politically for this paper is one that taken from Pierre Bourdieu’s usage of how language’s symbolic power works. He writes on “distinct speech” as opposed to banal speech: “The fact that these distinctive practices can be understood only in relation to the universe of possible practices does not mean that they have to be traced back to a conscious concern to distinguish oneself from them. There is every reason to believe that they are rooted in a practical sense of the rarity of distinctive marks (linguistic or otherwise) and of its evolution over time.” (63)

[4] Shylock charging interest for his money is a reason that Antonio cites in his hatred of Shylock in the play.

[5] I use both terms following Brown’s essay.

[6] BASSANIO: to you, Antonio,/ I owe the most in money and in love (I.I.130-131)

[7] I turn to this phrase ‘a matter of justice’ that Brown uses in his essay as a way of establishing the manner in which the universal and the status quo is created through the language of judicial language; something that is very crucial to this play. The judicial machinery that prosecutes Antonio over forfeiting his bond asks Shylock to go beyond law by asking him for mercy. However, when the prosecution of Shylock follows, we are confronted by the legal language that allows Antonio to decide what he wants to do with Shylock’s existence. The legal and judicial oversight of this discrepancy adds to our observation regarding the justification of law in matters of immigration and its problems.

[8] ANTONIO: Hie thee, gentle Jew!

The Hebrew will turn Christian – he grows kind.


[9] Cassel, Matthew. “Through Hell and Hungary: Riding the Rails With Refugees in Budapest.” VICE News. Vice Media, 05 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 July 2017.

[10] This was observed for this paper while I was on a visit to the Serbo-Hungarian border town of Röszke where thousands of refugees are held in “container camps” that are not open to the public.


Rage, Rebellion and New Power (notes)

Rage, Rebellion and New Power – Slavoj Zizek

Lecture notes recorded and then edited and put together for cohesion and clarity. Almost certainly an interpretation.

In Alain Badiou’s new book True Love­ he contends that the main focus of philosophy is to create doubts; it is not to undermine social features and factors but to see the dangers of patriarchal nihilism as some sort of liberation. There is no frame for creating a self in this form of so-called “liberation”. The New World Disorder, if one may call it so, affects the students and the youth that oscillates between monotony and the hedonism of sex and drugs. Badiou notes the withering and the disintegration of the self and the pointlessness of a world where conscription is seen as an unnecessary thing and the price we pay for it is the reactionary mercenary who wages his wars for money in the Middle East.

In this world of the disintegration of the world, the young and the adolescents are at the brink of perpetual adolescence without any ritualistic initiation into the world as we knew it. In older times, the initiation was either through traditional rites in the traditional sense or in the world where the men would go to the army. The identity is supplanted by its difference and in its absence we are given to a world where those notions of self are also lost. Instead of that we are given a world where the notion makes for good liberal lines like “women can do better than men”. Women, who were symbolic or hidden before, suddenly become the conditioned figures of caring. The election makes for a good comparison here. Trump is the eternal Adolescent while Clinton is the self-assured, self-controlled representative of the feminine and the victims. On the other hand, the Philippine president Duerte stands for the very decay of law, the disintegration of law into the law of the wild. In condensing the three – Hillary Trump Duerte – we come closer to understanding the New World Disorder.

In many ways we are dealing with the post-traditional totalitarian subject; the subject experiences, joyfully and experimenting the reconstruction and the performative deconstruction of the self. And this is the self that completely fits the consumerist society that we are living in today. Therefore, the attack on hegemonic patriarchy is flawed because the fluidity and the reconstruction of the self does not liberate or emancipate. In creating many selves, we forget that all universals are colored by ways of life. Each way of life informs the other ways of life. So where do we place customs and traditions that are disappearing and the injustice and justice and are embedded in many cultures? Should homophobia and kinship rules be included in the emancipatory struggles of our world? This brings us to the case of Alliances of Struggle.

Today’s predominant anti-sexism is structured by coordinates that don’t align against the Third World struggle against global capitalism. The same language for a First World nomadic liberal and the language of anti-sexism do not match because such abstract solidarity, for instance for the refugees, does not help. This is not the main ideological problem. The problem is that white first world liberals have dominated the issue of diversity and what to be outraged about. And it tends to santitize all conversations and suddenly we have revolution against revolution, chocolate without sugar etc. In creating safe enclaves for sanitized political slogans it has become more possible to become racist. People don’t react to racist speech and in doing so, private fantasies of racism are becoming more and more public. In prohibiting prohibition, we arrive at Donald Trump. He has said that Melania has never once farted in front of him. It is so because we don’t mention these things in public. The disintegration of ethics has also resulted simultaneously in a loss of manners. However, manners do matter. In fact, the Left should shamelessly grab the opportunity to defend public manners.

This may sound very Eurocentric however when Eurocentrism is also being critiqued from the European point of view. In countering the dark legacy of Europe, we arrive at a very European solution. However, global capitalism cannot be defeated by small communities. We simply have to admit that small scale actions do not attack global capitalism. In fact, global capitalism is not global enough to be countered by small scale actions. There is crisis in manufacturing consent in such small scale actions. Marx has said that –

Chaotic rage with no clear goal becomes organized which then becomes a revolution where one learns of the true antagonist against which the revolution succeeds and creates and reorganizes power. In many ways, this chaotic rage is only becoming populism. Rage, these days, is not just the start but also the end of action.

In the Paris Revolts of 2005, there was no pretense that there was any vision or any goal. This was no 1968. It was rage. Just pure rage. Our predicament in the Left is that this raging dissatisfied populace cannot articulate itself in the action of Leftism. The problem with any leftist politics, for instance Syriza in Greece, is that the left does not know how to restructure power. In fact, it is the Social Democraticism that is the helm of all conservatism.

We have tendencies in today’s world that points towards a postmarket economy with the undermining of private property – people use Über and Airbnb. Like the end of V for Vendetta; what happens after the end? How do they restructure the power in England? It is a strange predicament that we are waiting for a radical catastrophe for such restructuring to happen because we have no model of such restructuring. We are living in a Sloterdijk dystopia. We live in a moral inertia. When the Iraq War started there were a lot of protesters. Today, a lot worse is happening. We are entering the climate of the First World War where people knew what was happening but never expected the war to really start.

This is a potentially revolutionary moment. We have incompatible socio-economic factors. The language is not of openness. We have actually accept that a war is waiting to happen. The future, as Frank Ruda says in Defence of Fatalism, is closed. We have to embrace the full concept of predestination to understand and change our future. That is the new of new power and rebellion.


Lecture Notes from Humboldt Universität Berlin (27.10.2016)

You didn’t care: so I went on and on — dancing alone, and, no matter what happens, I still know in my heart that it is a Godless, dirty game; that love is bitter and all there is, and that the rest is for the emotional beggars of the earth and is about the equivalent of people who stimulate themselves with dirty post-cards