Shakespeare’s The Tempest contains many contrasts and mirrors. Prospero’s Dukedom has been usurped, but he in turn steals Caliban’s Island. Prospero’s desire for revenge on his brother is mirrored in Caliban, who desires revenge on Prospero and Miranda. Ariel the airy spirit, who is also enslaved by Prospero, can also be compared and contrasted to Caliban. Prospero disparages Caliban, enslaves him, sends his magic to torment him and generally mistreats him, actions which he justifies because 1) Caliban tried to rape his daughter, 2)Caliban is a witches’ son and 3)Caliban is deformed. Caliban is one of Shakespeare’s most layered characters. This leads one to ask whether Caliban would be evil if given the chance, or if it is his mistreatment at Prospero’s hands which has shaped him? An analysis of the character of Caliban focuses on the way he is a mirror, a contrast, or foil in many ways to Prospero, to Ferdinand, to Ariel, to Antonio, and to native cultures.
Caliban is a foil for Prospero’s desire for revenge. Prospero engineers the entire play to get his revenge, yet Caliban’s revenge is short-lived. His sole desire is to murder Prospero, and have his island back. He bitterly laments that he showed Prospero all over the island when Prospero first arrived…
“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!” (Act One, Scene 2 lines332-338) Yet, he makes a similar error, and offers the same service...
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...e in her whole life, yet she denies his humanity on occasion as well. One wonders if the abuse, the name calling and the cruelty Prospero shows Caliban and Ariel has continued the entire twelve years or if it is only since Caliban’s attack on Miranda. It is a pattern of behavior that has led to Caliban’s actions. If Prospero had treated Caliban as a son instead of as a slave, then Caliban would have seen Miranda as a sister, not a conquest. Prospero and Miranda taught Caliban to speak their language, but one wonders if that was a convenience for them, as what good is a slave you cannot give orders to?
Caliban has many faces to him; he is a complex character who acts as a mirror to many of the other character’s actions. Compared to Prospero, to Fernando, to Ariel, to Antonio and to native cultures, Caliban falls short. It is his monstrousness that seems to define him.
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