Shakespeare’s Characterisation of Caliban Essay

Shakespeare’s Characterisation of Caliban Essay

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Caliban is arguably one of the most complex characters in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, despite his low position in the social hierarchy. Primarily, we form our first impression of Caliban through what Prospero says about him. Prospero draws parallels between Caliban and his other servant Ariel, who was ‘too delicate’ to perform the ‘abhorred’ commands of the witch Sycorax. He then goes on to compare Ariel with Caliban; “a freckled whelp hag born – not honoured with/A human shape.” In line 317 of the play, Prospero refers to Caliban as a ‘tortoise’ and then immediately compares him to Ariel, who is a ‘fine apparition.’ This shows the variation of the two servants and shows Prospero’s obvious derogatory attitude towards Caliban and his biased preference towards Ariel. Prospero helps the audience to envisage Caliban despite the fact he has not yet appeared onstage and in some way, prepares the audience for feeling negativity towards this apparently evil creature.
Caliban’s name is a Spanish anagram of the word ‘cannibal’ and is supposedly a variation of the word ‘Carib’ which was the term used to describe an inhabitant of the West Indies. It should be noted that in the original cast listing of The Tempest, Shakespeare described Caliban as a ‘savage’ which links in with colonialism and natives. In Jacobian times, it was not uncommon for wealthy countries and civilisations such as the English to conquer and subdue the natives of other countries with alcohol, and as a result, claiming the land as their own. Shakespeare’s contemporary audience would have been accustomed to that and would have a basic view of anyone below them, while nowadays, people and countries have strived towards equality between all people and all nations.
At this...


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...rvant, king’.
He shows himself to be academically more superior to both Stephano and Trinculo, and towards the end of the play, we notice that they are both tricked by Prospero’s distraction. Prospero has used shiny clothes so that Stephano and Trinculo are distracted from their mission; to kill Prospero. Caliban notices this distraction immediately and furthermore brings to our attention his superiority:
“The dropsy drown this fool! What do you mean
To dote thus on such luggage? Let’t alone,
And do the murder first! If he awake,
From toe to crown he’ll fill our skins with pinches,
Make us strange stuff”.
It could possibly be noted that Caliban is more, himself, the leader of that group, in the sense that he is more knowledgeable in the intricacies and workings of Prospero’s mind. He knows how valuable time is to them.












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