‘The Tempest’ is the magical story of the ship-wrecked inhabitants of an island. It deals with many serious themes such as; nature/nurture, power, magic and treachery. Many of these themes are still relevant today. The Tempest is a play, in effect, a fairytale complete with magical occurrences, suspension of the laws of nature and a happy ending. Caliban is an interesting and important character in ‘The Tempest’. He brings to the play issues that have a humorous side but are also serious, for example the treatment of inferiors. Shakespeare wrote “The Tempest” in approximately 1610-1611 and he was a major playwright for his time.
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From Act one Scene two we learn about Caliban’s history and how he came to be on the island and in service to Prospero. Caliban is very angry with Prospero, he says “first was mine own king; and here you sty me,” Caliban believes that he has been taken advantage of by Prospero. Miranda is also upset with Caliban as she says, ”Tis a villain, sir, that I do not love to look upon,’ we assume that Caliban must be truly bad if someone as sympathetic and loving as Miranda thinks so badly of him. The treatment of Caliban can somewhat be justified by Miranda at this point because Prospero says, “thou didst seek to violate the honour of my child”. Miranda has every right to thoroughly dislike Caliban as he tried to rape her. Caliban is also resentful of Prospero and Miranda being his masters because when they call him out to chop wood he says, ‘There’s wood enough within’. From this scene we also know that Caliban is bitter that Prospero and Miranda have taken over ‘his’ island, ‘This island’s mine by Sycorax, my mother, which thou tak’st from me.’ This scene does not really tell you about Caliban’s appearance, however from the reaction of the other protagonists we can tell he is grotesquely ugly, ‘a thing most brutish’.
This scene shows the audience that Caliban is not happy in servitude and is bitter and aggressive towards Prospero another sign that shows that Caliban believes that his treatment is unjustifiable. Caliban’s harsh mood may explain why he acts in the animalistic way he does, as an act of rebellion. In Act one Scene two Caliban states how Prospero and Miranda tried to teach and help him, ‘When thou camest first, thou strok’dst me and made much of me; would’st give me, water with berries in’t; and teach me how, to name the bigger light.’ This shows that Prospero and Miranda tried to nurture Caliban, but then when he tried to rape Miranda he threw away all their work. This is similar to how Stephano and Trinculo are treating Caliban in act two scene two, but substituting berries with liquor. It also gives an indication that Stephano and Trinculo will end up abusing Caliban and turning him into their slave, as Prospero did.
Caliban reacts so willingly to Stephano being his master (unlike Prospero) because Stephano offers comfort in a friend, a new life and liquor. Stephano also plots to kill Prospero, because Caliban wants him to do so and Caliban has thought about for years but it was never a realistic possibility for him. Stephano and Trinculo are not likely to be better masters than Prospero because although they are treating him well and giving him liquor in Act two Scene two. When Act four Scene one begins, Stephano threatens to, ‘turn him out of his kingdom’. The audience gets the impression that Stephano will be an untrustworthy master because he only likes Caliban because he is going to lead him to a prize in the end (Miranda and the island). On the other hand Prospero, although on occasion petty and harsh, is a fair master and rewards Caliban’s good behaviour as seen in Act five when Prospero says “to have my pardon” when he exonerates Caliban for his previous actions against him and Miranda.
We learn a lot about Caliban from Act two Scene two. It alters the audience’s first impressions of Caliban because his opening soliloquy is spoken well, in quite a poetic, remorseful way which makes you think that there is more to Caliban than meets the eye. It is also ironic because he is cursing Prospero with language that Prospero taught to him. Act two Scene two also changes the audience’s opinions of Caliban because you start to feel pity him when he describes how Prospero’s spirits tease and taunt him, as it says ‘But they’ll nor pinch me, fright me with urchin shows, pitch me I’ the mire’. This scene also reinforces the opinion that Caliban is innocent and infantile because he thinks that if he hides under his coat and lies flat on the ground, Prospero’s spirits would not be able to find him. From this scene we also learn that there is a certain naivety and vulnerability to Caliban and he is not just an evil monster. I think that although Caliban is base and cannot control his animal urges, he is not evil, therefore he is not to be hated, although Prospero and Miranda have reason to do so. I think he is simply an unintelligent creature who doesn’t know better than his animal urges. Caliban needs a leader whether to worship or rebel against. Caliban’s nature makes it difficult for him to live in society and is evidence towards his ruling nature and inability to be nurtured.
Caliban’s mood changes sporadically throughout the play, however when it does, it heavily influences his actions. At the end of Act two Scene two Caliban is in a positive mood, the best we see him in throughout the play, because he is inebriated and he has got the promise of new masters and a better life. Caliban is hopeful for the future because he believes that he has escaped Prospero’s ‘tyrannical’ mastery. He has become loud, obnoxious and childish in his inebriated state. From Act three Scene two we learn new things about Caliban. Caliban’s character also develops in this scene, because of the liquor. The liquor makes Caliban an extrovert rather than an introvert, good humoured compared to his previous black mood and it makes him open with his emotions. He tells Stephano everything about Prospero and Miranda without a second thought. Caliban’s loyalty is to Stephano and not Trinculo because Stephano is the one with the liquor, which is the real reason that Caliban is following them. Also Stephano is kinder to Caliban than Trinculo and calls him his ‘poor monster’ whereas Trinculo mocks him and calls him a ‘very weak monster’. Stephano also tells him how he will give him more liquor and he can be his lieutenant. He also beats Trinculo when he mocks Caliban. There is irony here as Caliban is angry with Prospero about him controlling the island but now he will effectively give control of the island to Stephano. Caliban also treats Stephano as a god, “I’ll kiss they foot; I’ll swear by thy subject”. Stephano is allowing Caliban to continue to praise him in this fashion as he plans on exploiting him. Exploitation is a major theme of the play as in Jacobean times mainly people who has unfortunate disabilities were exploited for their owners to make money out of them.
Caliban has lacked female company by being one of the only inhabitants of the island. He has only ever seen two women in his life, Sycorax, his mother (a disfigured hag) and Miranda. This explains why he is so impressed with Miranda’s beauty, ‘but that to be most deeply considered is the beauty of his daughter. He himself calls her a nonpareil…’ To some extent this explains why he tried to rape Miranda, but it is also because he cannot control his nature (animal urges). Caliban has also lacked social education, therefore doesn’t have the social skills to know what to do around Prospero and Miranda. He has also lacked friendship and respect because he cannot control his animal urges, so is not fit to be around people such as Prospero and Miranda who are educated and sophisticated. A Jacobean audience would agree with Prospero and Miranda’s current treatment of Caliban as many people were exploited in that time.
The speech of Caliban’s starting; ‘Be not afeared . . .’ shows that Caliban can be sensitive and poetic and he speaks about the island tenderly. It also shows that he is not completely averse to being nurtured, because he has learnt Miranda and Prospero’s language. It also makes you pity Caliban, that his reality is so terrible that he ‘cries to dream again’. It reveals that Caliban is not totally base and animalistic, if he notices the flora and fauna of the island, i.e. ‘sounds and sweet airs that delight and hurt not.’ The speech shows Caliban’s more human side because it reveals that he does take in the environment around him and can so be nurtured. This speech reveals a lot about Caliban. It is written in poetry rather than prose, which shows that he has been nurtured to the extent of learning Prospero and Miranda’s language. Dreams seem like the only way that Caliban can escape from his everyday servitude, which is a childish way of thinking. This scene changes the audience’s attitude towards Caliban because it shows his more human side as it is a typical human trait; to daydream. At this point the main character’s treatment of Caliban cannot be justified as Caliban clearly some aspects of human emotions, which is a sign that he feels great pain when the characters, particularly Prospero exploit him.
Caliban and Antonio’s plots, although similar, are different because although they are both treacherous plots against their masters, Caliban’s is a base plot to kill Prospero with no real thought behind it. Antonio’s plot, on the other hand, is pre-conceived and vitriolic. Also, Caliban’s is not likely to be realisable, whereas Antonio’s could have easily succeeded if Ariel hadn’t intervened. When Caliban is plotting against Prospero it is very savage and desperate, as he has nothing to lose. When Antonio is plotting, he already has a lot to lose, so needs to be wily and careful. This plot could be used as evidence that Caliban is not able to be nurtured and is ruled by his nature because even though Prospero has looked after him (even after he mis-treated his daughter) for many years he still wants to kill him.
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Caliban’s plot is more reasonable, the island’s which is his has been taken away from him. Caliban feels that he has the right to have the island because he should rightfully inherit it. The theme of colonisation is apparent here as Caliban rightfully inherited the island but it now is under his control, due to it being removed from him due to Prospero’s hunger for power and control. Antonio is pure evil, but on both accounts there is a distinct lack of guilt and his ambition is a sign of his inhumanity. Another difference between the two plots is that Caliban wants what he thinks is rightfully his, whereas Antonio is simply greedy. We know that Caliban is disillusioned with his new master as he says, “and worship this dull fool”. The real reason why Caliban had liked Stephano was the liquor and the promise of liberty that he gave him.
The last and most important them of the play is nature/nurture. In Shakespeare’s day people believed that if you came from an unknown place you must be evil and Prospero and Miranda tried to change Caliban, they almost treated him like an experiment, their actions were common of people in the 17th century. Caliban did not want to be nurtured as he never sounds sorry for his wrong actions. Prospero may have been unsuccessful in nurturing Caliban because the nurture was intended to control him, not educate or free him. Magic is used kindly when Prospero sets up the plot with Miranda and Ferdinand, but is used to cause harm when Prospero conjures the ‘Tempest’ to shipwreck the other characters on the island. Sycorax never uses magic kindly, for example, she imprisoned Ariel in a tree. The use of magic in Shakespeare’s day was used frequently as people were constantly discovering aspects of magic and it fascinated them.
Prospero attempts to nurture Caliban failed because the caring was intended to control him not free him. For example, Prospero taught Caliban his language so he could tell him what to do and he would understand. Another example is that they (Prospero and Miranda) were kind to Caliban so that he would show them around and teach them how to survive on the island. Caliban is possibly the only character in ‘The Tempest’ that truly appreciates the nature of the island because he lived there for so long alone after Sycorax died. After she died Caliban had no choice but to explore the island and find out everything he could about it. As it says in Act two Scene two “I’ll show thee the best springs; I’ll pluck thee berries”. Caliban knows everything about the island as he has been on it his entire life.
Prospero generally uses his power wisely but he sometimes uses it to control people too much, for example, Caliban. He makes Caliban into his slave by controlling him through his power as it says in Act two Scene two, “here comes a spirit of his, and to torment me”. People like Caliban are always looking for a leader because although Caliban complains about Prospero (and even plots to kill him) he still likes the comfort of having a leader who will look after him. Although Caliban rebels against Prospero he still stays with him because that is better than having to fend for himself. In the 17th century people like Caliban were exploited because of disfigurement and disability. Caliban has been exploited by Prospero as he did not know how to defend himself. . Prospero says in Act five that Caliban is “mine”. Prospero says this as there was an obsession in the Jacobean time of having and maintaining power. Having power and control in the 17th century was vital if one planned on prosperous and fulfilling life, otherwise people like Prospero and later Antonio will exploit you specifically now the ‘you’ being Caliban and take advantage of you.
I think that Caliban is possibly the most important character (excluding Prospero) because he is so different from the other characters and that is why he is treated so contrastingly to how any other character is treated. He offers a light hearted dissimilarity to the vitriolic nature of characters such as Antonio. Rather than fear or hate Caliban, the audience should consider him a naÃ¯ve creature that needs to be led. Caliban shows a side to human nature that some would want to disown, and so call him a monster, but I think that he is a faintly frightening part of the human mind-set that cannot be avoided.
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