Studying the character of Caliban in The Tempest Essay
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“There’s enough wood within,”- Caliban (1, 2). Those were the first words of Caliban in one of the William Shakespeare’s greatest plays. In every play of his, there is always this one character that really comes into attention – and for this play, it’s Caliban. Caliban’s character in The Tempest is portrayed in such a way; it captures the attention of many audiences. He is first shown to be a savage who in the later stages, opens up, to not become more monstrous, but a considerate human being.
After analysing this play, I have developed quite a lot of opinions on his character throughout the pay, which I will expand on, in further detail.
Commencing with a Tempest, that Prospero conjures up, we can see that the crew really has a hard time, as Trinculo and Stephano jump overboard. Once the Tempest calms down, Trinculo finds this majestic island where he first meets Caliban. “Lo now, lo! Here comes a spirit of his to torment me,” (2, 2) and also when Stephano comes in, “Do not torment me, I prithee (2, 2).” From this, I can establish that Caliban’s small fear of Trinculo and Stephano starts here. When he realises that they aren’t spirits to torment, he soon loosens himself up and says, “These be fine things, and if they not sprites! That’s a brave god and bears celestial liquor (2, 2)”
From this situation, it is evident that Caliban is a person whose fears does not get in the way of knowing people. From what briefly happened, I can tell that he is opening minded about people. Claiming that, “The spirit torments me,” to calling Stephano, “A brave God,” who in his eyes, offers heavenly beer, takes a person who can trust. To put trust into people has many great aspects – much strength, but in this case, his trust was later taken on as a weakness. The fact he also calls a person he just met, a God, shows that he has never been treated with such kindness, as a little gesture of offering beer turns a butler into a God.
However, the respect he gives, he doesn’t receive. Stephano says, “How now, moon calf? (2, 2)” The words moon calf is not very pleasant, as it means deformed offspring. With this phrase, he is insulting Caliban and his parents, as he came as an ugly child from them. Probably knowing what a moon calf infers, he didn’t come back with an insult, but replied kindly, “Hast thou not dropped from heaven?” This is very strange, because if Prospero said that, he would curse him will all the names under the sun. This shows that he respects them dearly and never wants to lose them as masters and/or friends.
His respect and trust increases as he later of says, “I’ll kiss thy foot. I’ll swear myself thy subject.” When Caliban says this, he is automatically volunteering to become at a lower status than them. He is offering to slave away and in my opinion, this is cowardly behaviour, as he knew that Stephano and Trinculo are petrified of this “Monstrous moon calf!” He could have got the 2 to be his slave, but he didn’t. Instead, he obeyed their every command, like for example, kneel when Stephano says, “Come on then down and swear.” This makes him weak, who doesn’t obey Prospero, but like a “Puppy headed monster,” acts like a loyal, cute puppy towards Stephano.
Caliban acts like this because he isn’t cut out to be a leader, but a slave. I believe this comes down to his mother failing to nurture him in a good way. Even though he is a monster, he is shown to suffer the same psychological effects as humans. This means that the absence of his mother to guide him, has affected him an awful lot, bringing down his confidence and ability to step up. Sycorax, his mother must have treated him in such a way to make him always feel like he is under everyone. For example, she stole the island Caliban found himself. She then took charge of things straight away, not letting Caliban have a say.
In a contrasting side to Caliban, he can be very violent, treacherous and rebellious. His violent side was not shown in the play, but was talked about when he, Prospero and Miranda were talking. “In mine own cell; till thou didst seek to violate the honour of my child. (1, 2)” The honours of Prospero’s child, would have been Miranda’s virginity. In the comforts of her own home, Caliban would have raped her. Caliban was really accepted as a part of their family, but he blew it as soon as he attempted to rape her, His sexual attraction towards Miranda, is what made him treacherous.
In reply to this, Caliban said “O ho, O ho! Wouldn’t have been done! Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else this isle with Calibans.” Inevitably, he would have raped her and got away with it. Nothing could have happened to stop him. And to say that he would have filled the isle with Calibans; little monstrous things running about the place, is loathsome behaviour. He also started off by saying “O ho, O ho!” In this context, he is wickedly laughing at the fact that if he did go ahead with the rape, he (like a rapist), would have no remorse.
Moreover, he is extremely insulting towards Prospero. On multiple occasions, he takes every chance to take a jab at Prospero. He says things like “May the red plague rid you (1, 2)” or “Subject to be a tyrant” and many more. The one really long speech that curses Prospero really does give the audience a huge chunk of Caliban’s emotions towards Prospero. “Teach me how to name the bigger light and how the less that burn by day and night and then I loved thee,” When he said that, it’s beautiful how he appreciated how Prospero taught him language. When he said “I loved thee,” it shows he really loved the old life he had. In my opinion, if someone, even Caliban, loved a person; an element of love will always remain within oneself.
This tiny bit of love and happiness quickly turned to anger. Anger is one of Caliban’s strengths. “Curst be I did so. All the charms of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you,” Not just anger but regret is shown when he says “Curst be I did that so,” Here, he came to a realisation that trusting Prospero was a bad idea as he had it all thrown back in his face. All this being felt, he expressed by throwing back what Prospero gave in his face. The teaching of good language, he turned to a curse, later on cursing him with his own mother.
Analysing those 2 lines, we can see that Caliban is a troubled person who just wants what a human wants. His main wish is respect. All he wants is to be treated with respect just like before. The trouble is Caliban doesn’t understand why all the trust in him was lost. This is one part of him that makes people think, he isn’t human, even though other parts of his personality is. Using “Sycorax” in the curse, makes me think about his desperateness for a human body and a normal mother. Deep inside, Caliban must blame his deformed body on his mother, who is so foul; she is used in a curse.
When it comes to the ruling system and their stories to the crown, Caliban and Prospero have a similarity. “Which first was mine own king,” He is here simply saying that he himself was the king of the island until Prospero came along. This is similar to Prospero’s story, as he was a usurped king. I think Caliban can empathise with Prospero, but the opposite can’t be done
The reason this can’t happen is because Prospero loathes Caliban. “Though poisonous slave got by the devil himself,” By him getting called a poisonous slave, shows how much he thinks of Caliban. Calling him a poisonous slave, show that all the think Caliban does is cause death and is sent by the devil to do so.
Moreover, the devilish thought of him is expanded. He believes that Caliban is a “most lying slave, whom stripes may move not kindness,” When he says this, he means that Caliban will not listen, or do anything out of kindness, but out of escaping all the whipping he gets. Miranda then responds to this and says “Though thou didst learn, had that int which good natures!” Here, she is telling Prospero and Caliban no matter how much she taught him about manners, he never seemed to learn. Here is where the idea of nature and nurture comes in. Some people would argue, this is down to nurture and how he was raised by his horrible mother.
They would blame it all on her as she neglected him to let him fend for himself. This is not what a good mother would do. However, others would argue that this is all down to nature and that some people were born evil. To be born evil, means that they will never learn, they would always be heartless, not care about anyone surrounding them, all because the person is selfish. I don’t think either of these factors are to blame because I know Caliban has a heart, but he just chooses when and when not to be kind and when and when not to listen.
Through kindness, he could explain what he feels to Prospero, but instead plots to have him murdered, alongside Stephano and Trinculo. “I’ll yield him thee asleep, where thou mayst knock a nail into his head,” This method of death is very gory, showing he is a very violent person, as knocking a nail into ones head involves a huge amount of blood. On the other hand, Caliban may be thinking horrid death methods, but is unable to carry out the murder himself. He explains how he will get Prospero to sleep, but then orders Stephano to knock a nail in his head. There are 2 ways of analysing this, Caliban is mentally weak and doesn’t have the capacity to carry any murder out or he still has good attributes towards Prospero, and can’t hurt him, as they had a good relationship in the past.
In the play, a couple of characters speeches before, he says, “Revenge it on him,” This shows that he felt as if Prospero put him to sleep, hit a nail into his head and snatched all his freedom away from him. I do feel a bit of pity for Caliban because he can’t express his hate through talking, not through violence.
He however, can express beauty through speech as in Act 3 Scene 2; he shows Stephano what is not to be feared of in the island. “Be not afeared. The isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not,” From the first 2 lines of the speech, I can see that Caliban has a soft spot, and really appreciates the joy of nature. “Sweet airs that give delight and hurt no one,” shows that he knows the true meaning of beauty and delight. He says “Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming, then later on “The clouds me thought, would open and show riches,” This part shows that he has an interest in magic.
Influenced by Prospero, I can see that Caliban isn’t that earthly, rough monster, but he is a bit of a sky person too. Even though he didn’t know that all these beautiful sounds were made by Ariel, he moulds to like this music, getting influenced by Ariel’s creative poetry, beauty and thinking. Additionally, he says he wants to dream; dream about all the fantasies and melodious music. In this 3rd scene, he is not portrayed as a repulse, but a beautiful human who has a deep appreciation for Prospero’s magic, music, art and beauty. His depth of attachment to this island is as strong as Prosperos was to his old island. “I cried to dream again,” is what he says after and this is very emotive, especially after it came out of Caliban’s mouth. His crying for it shows he is desperate to dream for beauty and to just dream about that forever.
The relationship between Caliban and Prospero is very unstable, because throughout the play, we can see their highs and lows. Even though Caliban can be quite nasty, he really respects Prospero as a leader. Nearing the end of the play, Caliban asks for forgiveness as if he is still under Prospero’s lead. “Ay that I will. And I’ll be wise hereafter and seek for grace,” From this, we can see this experience has educated Caliban into being wise after and to never make a huge mistake again. Seek for grace shows he is looking for forgiveness and does respect Prospero, even though he shows a lot of hate.
In the Tempest, Caliban was mainly portrayed as a monster, but in my opinion, he isn’t one. Many people have different opinions of him because if he were to e human, he wouldn’t be judges the same. As time passed, his position in society changed, due to many historic events. When America was found, places were colonised, changing people’s civil rights. If these rights were to have been there at the time the play was written, William wouldn’t have made him look to be this monster, especially after Prospero took the isle off him. Discrimination, and him being a ‘moon calf’ made people think less of him.
This low standard that characters in the play had set for him, forces Caliban to be the savage people said he was; leading him to attempt to rape Miranda and attempt to kill Prospero. I can’t blame him because I would say he was nurtured in a bad way by his cruel mother Sycorax. As she was a witch, her lifestyle and personality traits, must have influenced Caliban to be the same. He wouldn’t have had an escape from her, because he didn’t have a father he could rely on. After analysing this, I would say that Caliban is a normal human; I don’t have the right to judge, because everyone has different circumstances, whether it is a broken family, or society being harsh on a person.