How does Shakespeare present Caliban in The Tempest ?

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

Caliban is very important to The Tempest. He is as a prominent link between the audience and play. Elizabethan theatre was more like a football match that theatre, as we know it today. There were raucous crowds who would have particularly liked having a monster they could jeer at. Therefore Caliban would have been a central character to the lower class character, as they could feel superior to him in a very class determined society. This would have added to the visual element of the play.

Shakespeare has created the character of Caliban with depth. He has done this by giving him two possible sides to interpret. In some ways he is a puzzle for the director to solve. Should he be a hardhearted monster who wants to kill his master of should he be mentally defective and miss-guided with human qualities who we feel sympathetic towards? In my opinion he is the second. I think this is due to the fact he has always been poorly treated and used by prospero. An example of this is in Act 1, scene 2, ‘fetch us in fuel, and be quick’. Here prospero is using Caliban for his own purposes. He then says aside ‘ I must obey, his art is of such power’ this highlights his fear of prospero.

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In a recent production of ‘The Tempest’ Caliban very violently as a monster in chains kept like a beastly wild animal. This makes the audience feel uncomfortable as he was snarling and growling around the stage. This portrayal affected my entire view of the play with negative effects. I feel that by making Prospero’s control over Caliban so physical it takes away an element of his magical power he has which is essential to the play. I think this interpretation of the play would have been very suitable for an Elizabethan production. This is because the violent power would have been very popular in these times.

Although in another production Caliban was shown as human with values and feelings. This had a positive effect on the atmosphere of the play and therefore my view.

The power of Shakespeare’s writing is that it has relevance to us today. In this respect Caliban has been shown in a more humane light as a creature pitied and modern productions seem to leave you feeling sorry for him and therefore forgiving him for his bad behaviour such as the attempted rape of Miranda because of the way he is poorly treated.

Today we are very aware of people who commit anti-social acts are often abused and emotionally damaged. This concept makes it easier for us to forgive them. Consequently as an audience we are more likely to sympathise with Caliban than perhaps an Elizabethan audience who may have preferred the violent, beastly portrayal.

Caliban is a great theatrical device. Shakespeare uses him to inject humour into the play. In the scene in which he meets Stephano and Trinculo we have a classic drunk scene, which is almost, slap stick comedy. It provides a comic relief from the main action of the play. Shakespeare has used similar devices in his other plays. Caliban however is slightly different and more vital to the play as a whole. Although similarities can be drawn between him and Puck from ‘A mid summers night’s dream’. Shakespeare gives Caliban several long speeches this is very unusual as low status characters are generally given shorter lines. These more structured lines indicate Caliban’s importance as a character. An example of these speeches is at the beginning of act 2, scene 2. He is very insulting towards Prospero ‘all the infections that the sun sucks up, from bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall…’ this shows his hatred. In Act 3, scene 2 where he is plotting to kill Prosper with Stephano ‘having first seized his books, or with a log batter his scull…’ he goes on talking of exactly how the crime should be carried out. From this violent outburst we can tell he must have often planned how he would carry out the murder as it seems to come naturally and therefore must have been rehearsed repeatedly in his mind. Caliban may have repeated these ways of murdering prosper in his mind but he would have never acted upon these thoughts. Which he has obviously spent along time planning over and over in his mind. By planning these crimes it gives him an amount of power. He does not really want to kill prospero but by imagining what he would do gives him power, as his mind cannot be controlled by Prospero as he is over powered.

During act 2, scene 2, Prospero says ‘I’ll wrack thee with old cramps, fill all thy bones with aches, make the roar!’ this is an example of Prospero’s magical powers and how he uses them to control Caliban. Although Prospero treats him with little care or affection I think he is fond of Caliban. Again this is my opinion and could be interpreted in two different ways depending on the director. He could be portrayed as being hated by Prospero this could be because Prospero may be jealous of Caliban as he can be excused for living so freely and uncivilisedly as he has not been brought up with human culture and qualities.

The language that is used by Caliban is generally of lower standard of that of the other characters. Most of his lines are capable of being sympathetic towards him and angry monstrous.

To conclude the plat Shakespeare explains the ending through prospero. The audience is informed of what is going to happen to the characters with a denouement. However Shakespeare fails to explain what is to happen to Caliban. In Act 5, scene 1 Prospero admits that he has been responsible for what he has become. Caliban on the other hand admits he has been bad and will now ‘seek for grace’. It is then left to your imagination to decide what is to happen to him. The most probable explanation that the audience assume is that he is left on the island.


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