The Tempest presents an argument against the concept of the noble savage through the character of Caliban. Caliban is the main focus as far as the notion of "nature" and "natural man" is considered in the play. Proof of this can be found in his name--"Caliban" sounds very similar to "cannibal," and hence serves to link him with primitive, natural man. In the first scene of the play, Caliban's character is connected with the lower objects of the planet, including the "springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile." Caliban thus appears to be beneath most human men because of his bestial nature. His mother's background also indicates that there may be quite a bit of evil in him. Characters in the play call him a "monster," however, at times, Caliban speaks some of the most beautiful and lyrical language in the play. Thus, Caliban, as the representative of nature, emerges as a very complex character.
In the first scene, it seems as if Shakespeare intended to present Caliban as a beast and a savage. However, two items come across to reveal the fact that Caliban is more than just a monster, he is a human being with real emotions (Wagner 13). First, the audience sees a sense of sensitivity when Caliban reflects on his previous relationship with Prospero, when Prospero spared him and attempted to educate him. Prospero exchanged his teachings for lessons from Caliban about the island itself; because Caliban is so close to nature, he is the best person to teach Prospero about it:
When thou cam'st first,
Thou strok'st me and made much of me, wouldst give me
Water with berries in 't, and teach me how
To name the bigge...
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...gne would expect to see. Not only does Caliban act instinctually, thus pushing him beyond the bounds of morality, but he is also spiteful and angry. On the other hand, Shakespeare does not demonstrate a bigoted response, for if he believed that the natives deserved what they got, he would not have made Caliban so sympathetic. Hence, Caliban becomes a natural representation of what Shakespeare believed the natives were: a complex mixture of various aspects.
Ferguson, Francis. Shakespeare: The Pattern in his Carpet. New York: Delacourt Press, 1970.
Knight, Wilson. The Wheel of Fire. London: Oxford University Press, 1930.
Thorndike, Ashley. How Shakespeare Came to Write "The Tempest." Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1969.
Wagner, Emmar. Shakespeare's Tempest. Yellow Springs: Antioch Press, 1933.
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