Explore Shakespeare's presentation of Caliban in The Tempest. How far do you accept that he is a "thing of darkness"?

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Sabaa Mahmud

Explore Shakespeare’s presentation of Caliban in The Tempest. How far do you accept that he is a “thing of darkness”?

Shakespeare very cleverly creates the character Caliban for The Tempest. Caliban is a very important part of the play. Caliban is a deformed creature, half man and half fish. Shakespeare portrays Caliban in a good way as well as a bad way. Two sides of him are shown, so the audience can decide whether they want to sympathise with him more or despise him more. Shakespeare at times makes Caliban seen as a creature with no feelings and at other times he’s shown to have very strong emotions. “What some may see as natural, healthy and good for the planet, others may see as rather smelly and uncivilised! Likewise, some generations of critics see Caliban as representing freedom, whilst others see him as merely savage and uncouth” Caliban a creature of his times by Joanna Williams, the English review.

Throughout the ages views towards Caliban have changed a lot, some audiences have sympathised with him whilst others have resented him. These views have all depended on the era and it’s views at the time. In the Enlightenment years (about 100 years after The Tempest was written) Caliban was seen as a beast but in the Romantic period (around the time of the French Revolution) Caliban was seen as a curiosity but also as natural and as a marvel. Coleridge wrote that “The character of Caliban is wonderfully conceived: he is a sort of creature of the earth…Caliban is a noble being: a man in the sense of imagination”. In the Victorian times Caliban was seen as a slave but in the Post-colonial era he was seen as a victim. The psychoanalytical interpretation is neutral and looks at both sides of Caliban.

The first time Caliban is mentioned is in Act 1 Scene 2 “We’ll visit Caliban, my slave…Tis a villain, sir, I do not love to look on”, Prospero and Miranda say before the audience has met Caliban.

Caliban’s mother was a witch and his father a devil but does that make him evil? He couldn’t help who his biological parents were and children are known to be sweet for their innocence, so it could be argued that he was born just as innocent. Then again being the son of a devil and a witch, he could have inherited evil, “Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself”. Caliban’s main speech in this scene is “I must eat my dinner. This island’s mine by Sycorax, my mother, which thou tak’st from me. When thou cam’st first thou strok’st me and made much of me; wouldst give me water with berries in’t, and teach me how to name the bigger light and how the less that burn by day and night. And then I loved thee and showed thee all the qualities o’th’ 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’th’ island”, this speech is really powerful as it shows Caliban to have emotions “and then I loved thee” but then he “cursed…first was mine own king” then is ironic because before Prospero came along Caliban was just an animal, he didn’t know about kingdom. Prospero taught him everything he knows and he’s now using it against Prospero. Prospero accuses Caliban of trying to rape Miranda “thou didst seek to violate the honour of my child” and Caliban’s reaction is anger “thou didst prevent me, I had peopled else this isle with Calibans”. He accuses Prospero of stopping lots of little Calibans coming into the World. He didn’t consider Prospero’s efforts of trying to educate him before he tried to rape Miranda. The audience could sympathise with Caliban as he’s lonely and needs affection, he’s abused by his looks (targeted abuse on beastliness). As for his actions we could argue that his animal instinct won over the human instinct therefore he can’t be blamed.

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Caliban opens Act 2 Scene 2 with his soliloquy. “All the infections that the sun sucks up from bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall, and make him by inchmeal a disease! His spirits hear me, and yet I needs must curse. But they’ll nor pinch, fright me with urchin-shows, pitch me i’th’ mire, nor lead me, like a firebrand in the dark, out of my way unless he bid ‘em. But for every trifle are they set upon me: sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me and after bite me, then like hedgehogs which lie tumbling in my ...

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