Caliban Never Belonged to Shakespeare

Marcos Gonsalez: No matter how much confidence I gain as a critic, Shakespeare’s oeuvre still confounds me. I boggle over lines, dwell on stanzas, wonder on the motivations of characters. I change my mind over meanings I thought were settled. I possess no mastery of these texts. And it takes me a long time to reconcile with the fact it’s okay to not understand or to feel like the text rejects me. It takes me a long time to learn it’s okay to linger in not knowing because there’s pleasure, there’s knowledge, to be gained in the mystery of words, of what words can do.

This kind of relationship to literature, however, is a privilege given to particular writers. The language of Shakespeare, like the language of a Melville, Whitman, Faulkner, Foucault, is difficult, hard at times, elusive and allusive, and sometimes inaccessible. And they are literature, read widely and read in classrooms. Other kinds of writers—the Morrisons or the Torres or the Kincaids—we expect to represent and identify, to speak for entire cultures and communities, to be forthcoming and transparent. We expect those who are not like the Shakespeares and the Whitmans and Foucaults to not put up a fight to be understood, to be unchallenging and welcoming, accommodating and unobtrusive.

[…] From the moment I can think, I make the connection between whiteness and language. Not to mention my Spanish is taken from me as a child in speech pathology classes, and the Purépecha language which my family at one point spoke is a twice removed robbery. Whiteness is an aspiration, a fantasy of upward mobility, a pseudo-guarantee that I and my kind will be removed from generational poverty and racial violence, a condition hundreds upon hundreds of years in the making. The tone of whiteness as it is used in the university, or in kindergarten classrooms, or creative writing workshops, or the emails one has with an editor, is one to make distinctions between who is worthy of opportunities and financial security, and who is not.

There I am through these nearly 30 years of life, being Caliban, wanting to learn the language of my many Prosperos in order to use it against them. And my family? Those dark and huddled masses? Who plays them in Shakespeare’s comedy? They are Sycorax, banished from the plot, no dialogue, no stage directions, outside the margins of one of literature’s greatest masterpieces. More here.

Leave a Reply