William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest,’ was first performed in 1611 and was the last play that Shakespeare wrote. The main character, Prospero is thought to be a representation of Shakespeare as he controls all of the characters in the play just as Shakespeare controls the characters in his scripts also at the end of the play, Prospero asks the audiences’ permission to leave the stage in the epilogue, this could be seen as Shakespeare announcing his retirement: “Let your indulgence set me free.”
The play suggests many differences between the primitive Caliban and the civilised Prospero. We see these on a number of occasions throughout the play as the two, very different personalities clash.
Caliban is a portrayed as a primitive man, He acts on instinct and his basic urges to eat, sleep and reproduce. We see this when we learn why Prospero keeps Caliban as a slave. The audience would empaphise with Caliban, as he is very innocent although bestial.Order now
Whereas Caliban has no urge or desire for material possession or power, Prospero does.
Prospero ideally sums up the civilised as he is educated and knows right from wrong. Prospero has lived in a world governed by laws whereas Caliban has only ever known his island, where there are no rules.
Calibans first appearance on stage is in Act 1 Scene 2. As, he approaches Prospero; he immediately curses him using an image taken from nature. This shows the audience of the hate between Prospero and Caliban. We know this because Prospero previously calls Caliban a ‘tortoise,’ so he is referring him to an animal, and the curses that Caliban uses:
“A south-west blow on ye,
And blister you all o’er.”
For Elizabethan times, the curses that Caliban directs to Prospero would be very severe and insulting. All of the curses are images taken from nature as Caliban refers to the wind, wildlife and dew on the ground. These images show that Caliban lives in harmony with nature and the island, and loves everything about wildlife:
“As wicked dewâ€¦
Prospero responds to Caliban by punishing him by threatening to order his spirits to hurt him in his sleep.
Prospero treats Caliban, as a worthless creature that he feels should have no liberties, for what he tried to do to his beautiful Miranda. Even before this event though, Prospero didn’t treat Caliban as equal, although he taught him about the world, he kept him as a pet. Now Caliban is forced to be a slave to Prospero who dismisses all curses Caliban and returns his own dehumanising insults:
Caliban has lived on the island all of his life as he was born there. His mother, Sycorax, who was a wickedly evil witch used to rule over the island but has since passed away.
Caliban is also said to be the son of the Devil. This is why Caliban has a disfigured appearance and has no idea of rules and boundaries. After Sycorax died had died, Caliban had become the ruler of the island, as there was just him and the spirits living there in harmony. When Prospero arrived on the island he used his magic to demand power and with this usurped the position of leader of the island from Caliban, much to the anger of the native.
At first, Prospero taught Caliban language and how to understand life. Caliban was treated as if he was a pet:
” And teach me how to name the bigger light.”
As Miranda grew up there were no real clashes between Caliban and Prospero until Miranda reached her early teens. Caliban’s primitive, instinctive urges led him to attempting to rape Miranda. Prospero was enraged by this and ever since has forced Caliban into being a slave using the spirits to taunt him if he disobeys.
Caliban is forced to live in a dark cave and has to collect food and wood for Prospero and his daughter. Caliban would feel very bitter about his and that he has lost his island:
“This islands’ mine by Sycorax my mother.”
Prospero views himself as the beautiful white European and as Caliban is indigenous, he is looked upon by Prospero as ugly and different as he is not the same as Prospero’s ideal.
A reason for this is colonial arrogance. During the time this play was performed many British explorers were venturing to new shores around the world and setting up new colonies using the natives as labour or use them to help themselves. Prospero is just like these explorers who tries to utilise the skills of the indigenous people.
I would cast Caliban as having dark tanned skin being played by a beautiful attractive man, just to emphasise the prejudice of Prospero:
â€¦Filth as thou art”
Caliban would wear gowns made of natural materials. E.g leaves bark. He would also wear a shawl of what once was Prospero’s, to show the audience that Prospero once respected him:
“Thou strok’st me, and made
Much of me.”
When Caliban has a soliloquy he would speak clearly and gently, to show his sensitive side but in the presence of Prospero his anger would engulf him and he would growl and snarl. Hen would walk with a slight limp, a sign of when the spirits hurt him, and crouched, as his cave is very small and cramped:
” Caliban snarling
Caliban would always look innocent to gain sympathy from the audience.
After the Tempest, the crew of the ship became washed up on the shore of the island in a number of small groups. Stephano and Trinculo believe that they could make some money out of the being back in Europe:
“Were I in England now
As I once was And had this fish painted: not a holiday
Fool there but give a piece of silver.”
Shakespeare is poking fun at the Elizabethan desire for spectacle and hard-heartedness. Caliban would be in awe of the two strangers especially Stephano as Caliban views him as his new leader and as his God, who has been sent from heaven
“Hast thou not dropp’d from heaven?”
Caliban would throw himself at the feet of Stephano in awe as if he is a God, and Caliban a forever-loyal servant. This shows how gullible he is and Shakespeare implies how Elizabethans believed in myths and legends. Caliban would circle Stephano and distance himself from Trinculo. He would hang on Stephano’s every drunken word and spit at the ground where Trinculo has stood.
Trinculo feels ashamed that he was scared of the savage and now he is jealous of Caliban that Stephano is paying more attention to Caliban. Stephano feels very special and important when Caliban is being very sycophantic towards him:
“I’ll kiss thy foot.”
Caliban uses imagery connecting them to the heavens as he refers to Stephano as a ‘brave God,’ or deity and he views the alcohol as if it has been sent from the heavens:
Caliban offers his only gift to Stephano in showing him the island. He offers himself to Stephano and curses Prospero:
” A plague upon the tyrant that I serve.”
The word ‘tyrant,’ implies that Prospero exercises power in a harsh, cruel manner. Caliban sings and rejoices at the thought of no longer having to be a servant to Prospero.
We know that Caliban loves the island because of his knowledge of the island and the imagery of nature that he uses. We can see that he is grateful that can finally show his love for his home.
In Act 3 Scene 2 Caliban plots with Stephano and Trinculo to usurp Prospero from power and leadership of the island. As this takes place though, Ariel, Prospero’s spirit servant plays a trick on the scheming group.
I would stage this scene as the group on one side of the stage in a huddle with Trinculo nonchalantly leaning up against a tree mimicking Caliban’s comments in a jealous way. On the other side of the stage there would be a large rock. Ariel would hide behind this and when he would speak he would peek his head over the top so that the audience realise that it is Ariel. Ariel would call Caliban a liar, hide behind his rock and laugh with the audience at the unfolding events. This would be a joke between Ariel and the audience but the other three wouldn’t have any idea what is going on. This is effective use of dramatic irony. We learn even more of the hatred of Prospero by Caliban in this scene. Caliban calls Prospero a tyrant and claims that he cheated the island from him. Caliban describes Prospero to Stephano and Trinculo as an evil sorcerer and he intends to kill Prospero and help Stephano to claim the island.
I would stage Caliban as when he talks about Prospero to talk with bitter anguish in his voice and act very aggressively and perhaps he could punch a tree as he describes the ways that they could kill Prospero in his sleep:
“Batter his skull, or paunch
Him with a stake, or cut,
His wezand with thy knife.”
These acts of violence emphasise the deep hatred that Caliban has for Prospero, he even believes that the spirits dislike him. Saying this could help get the audience on Calinban’s side by trying to portray Prospero as a bad person.
We learn about Caliban’s personality in this scene as the audience are shown of his intelligence when he tells the others of the best time and way to kill Prospero, by seizing his magic books. Caliban thinks Prospero is nothing without his magic and would stand no chance against the three men. He detests how Prospero can enchant the spirits into serving him through blackmail and false hope in the case of Prospero telling Ariel he would be free from duties.
Towards the end of the scene, Ariel plays a tune on his tabor and pipe. This scares Stephano and Trinculo as they can hear music that is played by nobody. Caliban reassures the men that it is normal on the island to hear delightful music and gives a speech about it using imagery of soft sleep and dreaming along with beautiful instruments and light clouds to show his sensitive side and how he lives in harmony with the island as he often enjoys the delicate sounds of the spirits.
The speech shows that the island is a very beautiful, fascinating place that is full of magical goings-on. Even with Prospero ruling over the island.
In conclusion, I feel that Caliban has been the most interesting character in the play through the way Shakespeare has used Caliban’s language use and innocence to portray a good indication of what a ‘tamed,’ savage being would be. I admire Caliban as he has not lost faith in his beautiful island and he will fight for what he believes in/against, even when it involves being subjected to physical pain. He even shows how sensitive and intelligent he can be even if he is usually aggressive and can sometimes act bestial:
” I cried to dream again.”
I think that Prospero was wrong to treat Caliban as a slave and although Caliban tried to rape Miranda, Prospero treats him badly and unfairly, as Caliban knew no better than to rely on his basic, primitive urges. I agree that Caliban should have been punished so that he can learn what is right and wrong, but on not such a severe scale. Prospero views him as a Devil who cannot be changed, but when Prospero arrived on the island he must have thought differently because he taught him the ways of life:
“A devil, a born devil.”
Caliban realises that he has chosen to worship the wrong person when Stephano is only interested in possessions where Caliban is unmaterialistic and he does not want to hurt anyone or cause suffering, he just wants his island.
‘The Tempest,’ raises the issue of colonial arrogance, which is relevant today, just as it was in Elizabethan times.
Still, today, there are many ‘Prospero’s,’ who visit different cultures and believe the natives are different and therefore do not give them or their culture a chance. We learn in the end that the prejudiced people in the world will get what they deserve as in this case, the audience sees Prospero as quite a manipulative figure.