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How does Shakespeare influence the audience's response to Caliban?

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Introduction

How does Shakespeare influence the audience's response to Caliban? My essay hopes to draw into focus one of the most complex characters in Shakespeare's play The Tempest, - Caliban. Shakespeare influences the audience's response to Caliban using in turn, humour and pathos to make the audience relate to the various strands of his character. Caliban can be interpreted in many ways, and only when examining his character as a whole, can we truly understand how Shakespeare wanted us to interpret him. I will now further examine how he accomplishes this. Our first introduction to Caliban is not in person but instead, he is described by Prospero as "a freckled whelp, hag born - not honoured with / A human shape"; this account of Caliban's appearance gives the audience good reason to feel negatively about Caliban and also makes them eagerly anticipate his entrance. However, when we do indeed meet Caliban for the first time, this vision of an evil disfigured monster as expected, is replaced in favour with a cheeky insolent being that the audience warms to. Prospero speaks to him in a cruel manner, calling him a "tortoise" and a "poisonous slave", instead of covering, he ill temperedly answers back "As wicked dew as e'er my mother brushed / With raven's feather from unwholesome fen / Drop on you both! ...read more.

Middle

Slavery in any form is wrong and even in Shakespeare's time this injustice would be disapproved of. The audience sympathises with Caliban when Prospero describes his dreadful punishment, "For this, be sure, tonight thou shalt have cramps / Side stitches that shall pen thy breath up, urchins / Shall, for that vast of night that they may work, / All exercise on thee, thou shalt be pinched / As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging / Than bees that made 'em." This torture is atrocious and the 'monster' here is Prospero, not Caliban. Furthermore, the sympathy the audience had for Prospero and his great loss is again directed at Caliban. When Prospero first came to the island he was good to Caliban, "Thou strok'st me and made much of me; wouldst give me / Water with berries in't," Prospero taught Caliban to speak. Caliban confesses "And then I loved thee". The fact he loved Prospero makes the audience realise how hurtful the betrayal must have been. The audience also see that Caliban is na�ve and easily tricked. This is emphasised when Caliban meets Stephano and mistakes him for the "man i'th'moon"; "Hast thou dropped from heaven?" ...read more.

Conclusion

Prospero states that he had lavished kindness and attention upon him when they first met ``I have used thee/Filth as thou art, with humane care, and lodged thee/In my own cell, till thou didst seek to violate the honour of my child''. However, Caliban's evil nature (probably an inheritance from his mother) had bubbled to the surface and caused him to attack Miranda and later plan the murder. Prospero's own cruel behaviour did nothing to illustrate the correct way to behave, nor did it deter Caliban from trying to commit further calumnies. This is a classic case of nature versus nurture, and the audience is left to decide whether Caliban is really good but corrupted by his up-bringing, or is basically bad with occasional flashes of gentleness and caring. Caliban's character proves so successful with the audience because unlike some of the other characters in the play he shows a complex mixture of both good and evil. It is this interesting contradiction of traits that makes him more believable and accessible to the audience. His physical ugliness combined with his gullibility, hot temper, mischievousness, sense of natural beauty, eloquence and humour make him irresistible and one of Shakespeare's most appealing and enduring of characters. Thomas Baddeley 10RS 09/05/2007 ...read more.

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