The Character of Caliban in The Tempest

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The Character of Caliban in The Tempest

Caliban is the only authentic native of what is often called 'Prospero's Island'. However, he is not an indigenous islander, his mother Sycorax was from Argier, and his father Setebos seems to have been a Patagonian deity. Sycorax was exiled from Argier for witch-craft, much like Prospero himself, and Caliban was born on the island. Caliban's own understanding of his position is made eloquently plain when we first meet him:

I must eat my dinner.

This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,

Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first,

Thou strok'st me, and made much of me, would'st give me

Water with berries in't, and teach me how

To name the bigger light, and how the less,

That burn by day and night. And then I loved thee,

And showed thee all the qualities o'th'isle,

The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile.

Cursed be I that did so! All the charms

Of Sycorax - toads, beetles, bats light on you!

For I am all the subjects that you have,

Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me

In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me

The rest o'th'island. (1.2.330-344)

We can clearly sense Caliban's resentment of what he sees as a colonial occupation of his island. The story of his upbringing is not so simple, however. It seems that when Prospero and his infant daughter arrived on the island twelve years before, Caliban was an orphan, his mother having died. This is not entirely clear: in conversation with Ariel (formerly Sycorax's spirit) Prospero recalls the 'blue eyed hag', 'The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy, Was grown into a hoop' (1.2.258-259), but it is not clear wheth...

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...pression to both sides of the question, and leaving much to the interpretation.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Davidson, Frank. "The Tempest: An Interpretation." In The Tempest: A Casebook. Ed. D.J. Palmer. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1968. 225.

Kermode, Frank. Introduction. The Tempest. By William Shakespeare. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958. xlii.

Palmer, D. J. (Editor) The Tempest - A Selection of Critical Essays London: MacMillan Press Ltd., 1977.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans, et. al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974.

Solomon, Andrew. "A Reading of the Tempest." In Shakespeare's Late Plays. Ed. Richard C. Tobias and Paul G. Zolbrod. Athens: Ohio UP, 1974. 232.

John Wilders' lecture on The Tempest given at Oxford University - Worcester College - August 4th, 1999.
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