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

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Thomas Baddeley         10RS        09/05/2007

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! A south-west blow on ye, / And blister you all o’er!” The audience warms to this disrespectful rebuke. Caliban the underdog is threatening the authoritative Prospero with no power to carry out his curses. His bravado and disrespect in the face of such authority first surprises then amuses the audience.

     Prospero gives reason for his cruel actions by reminding Caliban of when he “didst seek to violate / The honour of my child.” This shocking revelation of  his advances on the prim and pure Miranda, makes the audience think again about Caliban’s true nature until Caliban says “Oh ho, Oh ho! Would’t had been done. / Thou didst prevent me – I had peopled else / This isle with Calibans.” Instantly the suggested terrible action becomes comical at the thought of hundreds of little Calibans running over the isle. Again Caliban wins the day. His lack of contrition, his lewd and bawdy behaviour and insolence in the face of authority would have hugely appealed to the uneducated groundling audience of Shakespeare’s theatre.        

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     Caliban’s savagery is contrasted with his eloquence when he talks about things he loves, such as music, “Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments / Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices, / That if I had waked from a long sleep, / Will make me sleep again.” He speaks with eloquence equal to the words of Prospero, a Duke. This makes the audience see him in a civilised light and makes them question Prospero’s treatment. Shakespeare uses poetry to show how much Caliban values the nature and simple things, that the mercenary elements in the audience would not ...

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