How can the dramatic presentation of Caliban and Miranda affect the dominant readings of the play

Authors Avatar

How can the dramatic presentation of Caliban and Miranda affect the dominant readings of the play?

The Tempest is seen to be a richly complex play; the play itself conforms to John Fletcher’s definition of a Tragicomedy.

‘A tragicomedy is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy, yet brings some near it, which is enough to make it no tragedy’. (From the preface to The Faithful Sheperdess [1610].)

Due to the level of complexity and leeway of vivid thought, this play has been interpreted in many different ways to be dramatised. I am going to explore the dramatic presentation of Caliban and Miranda to see how their characters affect the dominant readings of The Tempest.

Shakespeare’s play was written in the renaissance period and said to be written as part of entertainment to celebrate the betrothal of King James the first's daughter Elizabeth to Frederick, who was the Elector of the German Palatine states. It has also been highlighted that The Tempest might have been influenced by another contemporary writer which Shakespeare would have known; Montaigne’s Essay, Of Cannibals. The Tempest itself is set on a remote island which might have been somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea because Italy is mentioned in the beginnings of the play. Shakespeare uses contextual points of the times that are integrated somewhere in the play. For example; the idea of Colonialism, enslavement of the Africans and the conventions of the renaissance period Themes of Nature or nurture, Masters and Servants and The Supernatural run profusely in the play and of which I will elaborate later on in the essay.

        Caliban, the only native of the island as well as Prospero’s slave is described as part man, part beast and a mixture of humanity, as well as boorish wickedness. In dramatisations of the play, he is usually played by a black man to emphasise issues of colonialism and the enslavement of the black people from Africa throughout the play. In simple words, he is used as a catalyst in a contextual point of view to symbolise an outcast. He is the son of Sycorax a renowned and evil witch.

“This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, which thou tak’st from me”. (A1, S2. L331-332)

This suggests that the he feels the island was taken away from him out of his control. I think it has an undertone of bitterness and resentment which can be clearly seen when he speaks to Prospero, his master. I think that at times Caliban’s situation can be distinctly paralleled with the situation of Prospero. Just as Caliban feels his island was taken away from him, is how Prospero feels his brother Antonio usurped his dukedom of Milan. The scene which consists of Caliban, Prospero and Miranda is a key point in the play, because the roles of both Caliban and Miranda can be assessed in light of both characters in comparison. In this scene Caliban accuses Prospero of using him, because at first when Prospero acquainted Caliban he treated him kindly, while he found out about the ways of the island and then once he knew all that he needed to, he enslaved Caliban to take over the island. This mirrors the situation between Prospero and his brother also.

Join now!

Prospero responds angrily stating that he only changed his attitude towards him when he tried to rape Miranda.

‘Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee

 In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate, the honour of my child.’ (A1, S2 L346-248)

This part of the play destroys any sympathy that may have accumulated for Caliban by the reader and displays the true nature of Caliban and his role in the play.

        The character of Prospero is an intense and multifaceted one. He is the foundation of the play itself. When on stage, he remains the staple ...

This is a preview of the whole essay