What lies in the nature of man? Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, the characters believe that they are fighting against nature. However, what they are really up against is a man with wrongs to right, both his own and that of others. The intricacies of Prospero’s plans depend on the depth of his understanding of the nature of the people he is manipulating, such that he can predict their actions to achieve his desired outcome. Of the many different characters, however, there is one he cannot seem to be able to control: Caliban. Caliban defies and curses Prospero, even as he suffers due to Prospero’s power. The most polarizing character in the play, Caliban has been said to represent a variety of ideologies from the colonizer’s disenfranchised savage to the Id to Prospero’s ego. However, it can also be argued that, of all the different characters in the play, Caliban is the one who best represents humanity.
Many times in the play, the different characters question whether Caliban is indeed human or not. Prospero himself introduces him as “a freckled whelp hag-born—not honour’d with / a human shape” (1.2.283). The diction of the term “whelp” indicates that of an animal rather than a human being. Trinculo, meanwhile, gives a more visceral description of his physical appearance as being “legged like a man and his fins like arms” (2.2.33). The imagery invoked is, indeed, rather monstrous. This is the crux of Caliban’s tragedy. His humanity is questioned at every turn due to the inescapable fact of the way he looks, something that is beyond his control. In the play, he is made either the object of scorn for his deformities by Prospero or the object of mockery by others, even by those who do not know his nature, such...
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... than one who curses his very being. He wishes for a god that does not impose ideology upon him but accepts his worship gladly. Most of all, he wants the freedom to choose.
Caliban stands out from the characters of the play because, out of all of them, he displays the very human characteristic of identity-creation. He is neither all-powerful like Prospero nor is he a pawn like the other characters that Prospero manipulates. Out of all of them, he is the only one that shows a distinct identity and the wherewithal to fight for it. Like Ariel, all he wants is freedom. However, unlike the celestial being, he has the mortality to defy his ambitions through his weaknesses, the depth of his emotions and his susceptibility to society’s notion of him. Thus, through Caliban, the play shows that humanity is defined by identity—and the many trappings that go along with it.
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