Sesame Street’s Big Bird and Shakespeare’s Caliban

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Sesame Street’s Big Bird and Shakespeare’s Caliban

“Caliban...takes shape beneath the arc of wonder that moves throughout the play between “creatures” and “mankind,” between animate beings in general and their realization in the form of humanity. Is he man or fish? creature or person?" (Lupton, 3).

“Although in The Tempest the word creature appears nowhere in conjunction with Caliban himself, his character is everywhere hedged in and held up by the politic-theological category of the creaturely" (Lupton, 3).

"A freckled whelp, hag-born " (1.2.285).

"Legged like a man, and his fins like arms! " (2.2.31-32).

"I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy-headed monster" (2.2.146-147).

"A howling monster, a drunken monster" (2.2.179).

"This is as strange thing as e’er I looked on" (5.1.292-293).

"He is as disproportioned in his manners /As in his shape" (5.1.294-295).

He is a poetic paradigm. When performed properly, he can take an audience from tears of laughter to tears of sorrow within a few paragraphs. Caliban is an actor’s dream, a scholar’s vision. Sighted as being both the missing link, but also portrayed in adaptations as more human than Prospero, Caliban is commentary, character and caricature. However, there is a question that plagues authors, directors, actors, and stressed out, indignant English professors: What is Caliban?

Many books, articles, updates, adaptations, and arguments tackle this question. Together we will confront these demons, I will lead you down a path, present arguments, ideas, my own bias, but in the end leave you to answer the daunting question of Shakespeare’s man-monster:

Four pictures taken from different productions and different collections of The Tempest illustrate how diverse Caliban is. Each one has a unique view of who or, more precisely, what Caliban is. They progress in an order, from pure beast, through something less to someone almost resembling a man. The pictures lead us on a progression from something entirely bestial to something else entirely.

The first image demonstrates the best description of Caliban, a creature that slightly resembles a man and slightly does not. Throughout Shakespeare's text, no character refers to Caliban as a man. The other characters describe him as the indescribable. As Alonso says, "This is a strange thing as e'er I / looked on (5.1.292-293)."

One of the most common terms used in The Tempest to acknowledge Caliban is moon-calf. The Oxford English Dictionary defines moon-calf as "A misshapen birth, a monstrosity.

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