Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest Essay

Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest Essay

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The Tempest, considered by many to be Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre, has of all his plays the most remarkable interpretive richness. The exceptional flexibility of Shakespeare’s stage is given particular prominence in The Tempest due to its originality and analytic potential, in particular in the presentation of one of his most renowned and disputed characters, Caliban. Superficially portrayed in the play as a most detestable monster, Caliban does not evoke much sympathy. However, on further examination Caliban presents himself as an extremely complex character and soon his apparent monstrosity is not so obviously transparent. The diverse range of presentations of him on stage exemplifies Caliban’s multifarious character.


Although Caliban attempts to rape Miranda, appearing initially to be nothing more complex than a degenerate beast and so should be presented as such, Caliban is in fact a human being and not a monster, misunderstood only because Prospero, the colonizer, has unjustly depicted him as being merely a primitive native.


At the time of The Tempest, settlers began moving out of Britain to colonize America, Africa and parts of Asia. Laying a claim to overseas territory was becoming increasingly important to national identity and power. The voyages of Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama sparked what has come to be known as the age of European Expansion, when England and the rest of Europe began devoting their energies to exploring and developing markets overseas. When The Tempest was written, these immensely important social events were on the top of everyone’s mind, including, presumably, Shakespeare’s. It is for this reason that the play is often considered an allegory of European discovery and i...


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...ual intentions behind the creation of the play can never be revealed. However the bulk of the evidence points towards a Caliban who is, despite his possible demonic parentage and unspecified deformity, a human, and it often appears that Shakespeare wished him to be presented as such. This view is not unfounded, as it was known that Shakespeare had read, and indeed quoted from Michel de Montaigne’s ‘Of Cannibals’ where it is argued that the customs of natives were not barbarous or uncivilised, merely different. Post – colonial interpretations of The Tempest appear to view Caliban in a similar light. Caliban’s wonderful grasp and description of his surroundings does not suggest evil, rather his words imply a true innocence. Caliban is not a monster and so should not be presented as such, he is simply bare, unimproved nature, an example of humanity at its rawest form.

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