How Does Shakespeare introduce Caliban in The Tempest?

August 21, 2017 September 1st, 2019 Free Essays Online for College Students

Shakespeare introduces Caliban into act 1: scene 2 before he even speaks by the shared dialogue between Prospero and Miranda. Before he has even entered the stage, the audience learn that Caliban is a slave controlled by Prospero “Whom now I keep in service” because he was born to a wicked mother; Sycorax. As Shakespeare unfolds the evilness that the “hag” Sycorax had previously executed, the audience gain a bad initial impression of Caliban as a character. This idea is also emphasised by the connotations attached to his name, for example it is clear for the audience to see the similarity between the word Caliban and Cannibal, and in fact to see it is an anagram. This brings imagery of a primitive, feral savage.

The imagery is reinforced further by the wordplay associated with his name; implying the modern day term of Caribbean, also bring undomesticated and untamed suggestions to the character before he has even spoken. It is easy to recognise that Caliban does not get on well with his ruler, as conversation prior to his arrival on stage such as “Dull thing” makes it evident that he is disrespected and also the use of animal imagery used by Shakespeare emphasises this point further. By comparing Caliban to “A freckled whelp” conjures up connotations associated with wildness and unruly disliked animals. The term “Tortoise” holds implications that he is slow working and lazy and Shakespeare continues the animal imagery with references to wolves “Did make wolves howl” and also “ever-angry bears” enhancing this point further. Miranda also refers to Caliban as a “villain” which she does “not love to look on”, this is a strange concept for the audience, as so far she has been portrayed as a very loving and compassionate character, and this comment shows a possible alternative side to her character.

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Prospero instantly insults Caliban “What ho! Slave!” with a series of short sentences. The use of exclamation marks here shows Prospero has an authoritative tone, bossing Caliban around rudely and quickly with commanding language. Throughout the play there are close links with an integral theme of the elements and natural surroundings. The quote “Thou earth, thou!” suggests Caliban represents the earth. This is an interesting contrast with Prospero’s other slave; Ariel as he is associated with the air and fire. The two characters differ in the way they are treated by Prospero too and this strong contrast close to one another in the play can be seen as Shakespeare using the technique of Juxtaposition. This makes the contrast seem harsher, as Prospero speaks to Ariel with respect and gratefulness “My quaint Ariel”, which he does not show any signs of to Caliban when he abuses him. Instead Caliban receives insults all associated with the wicked deeds and implications of the devil, such as; “poisonous slave, got by the devil himself// Upon thy wicked dam”. Also the use of animal imagery; “my mother brushed// With raven’s feather” holds connotations to the devil, as ravens were recognised as the demons bird, and in Shakespeare’s time this was something which was strongly believed in, so would scare the audience.

As the audience are aware Prospero can mistreat people (as they have earlier witnessed him threaten to lock Ariel into an oak tree) it is almost assumed that Caliban does not deserve the ill-treatment he is receiving, as he appears to be performing his duties and is vital to Prospero “We cannot miss him”. Prospero’s tone and language can be interpreted as unfair treatment and can gain Caliban sympathy from the audience.

The constant threats exchanged between Prospero and Caliban “south-west blow on ye,// And blister you all o’er” make their hatred towards each other mutual and builds tension on the stage as the characters tempers begin to boil. Shakespeare uses a similie to describe the pain Caliban will be in due to the pinches he will receive from his cramps “As thick as honeycomb”; this implies the pain will be severe because the pinches will be in high concentration. This figurative language is continued with the similie and comparison of the pain to bee stings “each pinch more stinging// Than the bees than made ’em”.

Later, Caliban reveals his and Prospero’s past to the audience and answers a lot of previously unanswered questions. The audience learn that once Caliban respected Prospero as his teacher “Thou strok’st me and made much of me” and ironically taught him in return and shared all his knowledge of the island with him as well as using the animal imagery to describe himself. This can be interpreted in different ways; either Caliban is mocking by sarcastically referring to himself as an animal or he has been brought up to believe that for so long, he is starting to genuinely believe it himself. We know Caliban had been educated well by Prospero and also Miranda as she proclaims “taught thee each hour”. Also Caliban uses the term “thou” instead of “you”, suggesting he is equal to Prospero and his status and uses language well. His biblical reference “bigger light, and how the less// That burn by day and night” also shows how well educated he really is.As so far Caliban has been associated with nothing more than a drunken, disobedient slave it is therefore ironic that some of the most poetic and eloquent speeches within the whole play are spoken by him and this comes as surprise to the audience.

From Caliban’s long speech the audience also discover the reason behind Caliban being hated as he had formerly attempted to rape Miranda “seek to violate// The honour of my child”. This explains to the audience why he is loathed, particularly by Miranda and gives her and her father good reasoning to detest him therefore the audiences impression of Caliban has now been changed especially when he shows no remorse for his actions. It could be argued that he was not in the wrong or to be blamed for his actions as he did not know right from wrong, as he had not been brought up in a society with any morals instead being confined on an island for 12 years. However, Caliban (now, after being taught) should be repentant and regretful but he is not. The repetition of the argument Nature Vs Nurture is reintroduced here to whether Caliban wronged due to his inheritance through his mother or because of the way he has been treated and brought up. When “any point of goodness wilt not take” is said my Miranda, this reinforces the Nature Vs Nurture argument as it is implying Caliban is incapable of being good. Also Shakespeare repeats the idea of Prospero and Miranda being betrayed by someone they trusted, as they have previously been by Antonio.

In this scene, Miranda agrees with her father’s views on their “abhorred slave” although Caliban has an answer to everything they say against him and states how they have been a negative influence on him, “I know how to curse”. Prospero is trying to assert his authority here by using threats and backing them up with animal imagery, “Fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar,// That beasts shall tremble”. However Caliban is rebelliously challenging it as we have seen earlier in the play by Boatswain.

In conclusion, Shakespeare introduces Caliban very strongly into “The Tempest”. He has shown courage and guts to challenge and confront his master who controls him whilst maintaining his resentment against him for stealing the land which was rightfully his. Early impressions are instantly made of him, although in most cases these are dramatically turned around when the truth about his past is revealed. However the audience may sympathise with him as all he really wants is ironically the same as his contrasting character – Ariel; his liberty and freedom which he debatably deserves. The audience will therefore be keen to find out if he is later granted this by Prospero or not, and their relationship with one another increases the audience’s anticipation of the unfolding of future scenes.


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