Dominance Against All Evidence

By Gus G.

For some, the Renaissance is a time of incredible intellectual leaps and bounds; and in many regards it was. Yet there were also aspects of that time that we can consider primitive. Numerous examples exist in which early modern people formulated scientific and social ideas despite what contrary evidence lay in front of their faces. This is the case with contemporary approaches to science, prior to the popular emergence of methodical scientific experimentation. Methodical experimentation was still a largely new idea (Binkley). The slow embrace of the scientific method, I argue, allowed dominant white, anglican, male groups to strategically ignore evidence of racial and gendered equality in order to position themselves as a higher form of humanity.


One of the strongest incidences of this phenomenon exists in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  All evidence within the text points to the fact that Ariel should be much more dominate than Prospero. Ariel was on the Island well before Prospero, and Ariel has magical powers that seem much more powerful than Prospero’s insofar as Prospero relies upon them for his dominance. Ariel causes much of the pandemonium in the play, afterall. Prospero’s (and the audience’s) clear disregard for those in submissive positions shows much about Renaissance mentalities. Even if all evidence points to Ariel being of at least equal or more power, the white male is the established dominant figure.


Similarly, the relationship between Prospero and Caliban shows a warped view of humanity. Caliban, like Ariel, predated Prospero on the island. He was capable of speech, forethought, and reading even before his Western education at the hands of Miranda. With all of these traits stacked up to affirm his humanness and  equality to Prospero, how could he still be considered lesser than Prospero? This is another example of how a Renaissance mindset was not to consider the evidence first, but to reinforce previous beliefs about humanity that were based in self-invested tradition. Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 6.52.21 PM

How else do we see this ignorance towards evidence relating to humanness in the Renaissance? People’s perception of animals also exemplifies the ignoring of hard evidence in order to establish dominance. In an article by Katherine Acheson, published in Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, a Renaissance illustration of Aesop’s Fables reveals a lot about how humans relate to animals. The image is an illustration by Francis Barlow of the story “The Hunted Beaver” (one of the fables) from 1687 (Acheson 36). We see in the image that the beaver has only a few specific characteristics of a beaver. It resembles a generic water rodent such as an otter or ferret, or even a dog. This ambiguous anatomy shows how animals were deprived of that which made them valuable and gives humans a pass to dominate them. Renaissance illustrators ignored the evidence of a beaver’s specific and unique anatomy. As long as these unique qualities were ignored animals could be exploited.

A final example could be mankind’s reliance on animals to survive. Erica Fudge takes a look at how it is that humans could rely so much on animal products, such as wool without acknowledging the animal as having value. How can humans separate themselves from animals when they rely so heavily on them? To get even deeper into the matter, what does it mean for a human when they have to rely on an animal’s skin because human skin is not enough (Fudge np).


Gus is a sophomore studying English Education  at Ball State University, and he hopes teach after graduation. His favorite piece of Renaissance literature is Shakespeare’s The Tempest. When he’s not immersed in British Literature, he enjoys playing basketball and running.


​IMAGE in Acheson, Katherine. “THE PICTURE OF NATURE: Seventeenth-Century English Aesop’s Fables.” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 9.2 (2009): 25-50. JSTOR. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <>.

​Binkley, Pauline E. “William Harvey, M.D. the Discoverer of the Circulation of the Blood.” The Illustrated Magazine of Art 1.3 (1853): 159-61. JSTOR. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. <;.

Fudge, Erica. “Renaissance animal things.” New Formations 76.  2012: 86+. Literature Resource Center.  Web.  27 Feb. 2014.


About MGN

Miranda Garno Nesler is a specialist in early material culture, gender, textuality, and animal studies. View all posts by MGN

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