In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Caliban is depicted as a subhuman, deprived of his virtue, reducing him to nothing more than a hideous slave owned by the protagonist, Prospero. Throughout his seemingly perpetual time in servitude under Prospero, Caliban is transfigured by the sorcerer’s depraved action through both physical and mental incarceration. In addition, Prospero’s betrayal of Caliban’s trust perverts Caliban into a tool easily exploited by the magician. Lastly, Caliban is compared to the landscape: mindless, earthly, insignificant, in contrast to the diligent sylph, Ariel, who is treated with a certain degree of deference by Prospero. Though Caliban evolves into an immoral, violent, and abusive monster, it all starts with quite the opposite: confinement, more specifically the denial and subversion of Caliban’s identity.
Subject to Prospero’s godlike bewitchment, Caliban loses his innocent nature and is forced to adopt the identical perspectives that Prospero confers on him. Caliban is not only trapped in his cave, unable to see the rest of the island, but he is also chained down by the culture that Prospero forces him to assimilate, and even after he breaks free from Prospero, he continually seeks a new master. “No more dams I’ll make for fish, nor fetch in firing at requiring, nor scrape trenchering, nor wash dish,”, sings Caliban, “Ban’ ban’ Ca-caliban, has a new master, get a new man. Freedom, high-day; high-day freedom; freedom high- day, freedom” (Shakespeare 2.2 176 – 182). Due to the deception that Prospero carries out on Caliban, the miserable creature sees the definition of freedom as being liberated from Prospero; even after attaining freedom, he is unable to adjust to the life of liberty because his mind remains as that of a slave. Though the violent tendencies of Prospero shaped Caliban into the monstrosity that he is; to the contrary, he was actually born a creature with a generous spirit.
Prospero’s facade lured Caliban into trusting the wizard; however, he was dehumanized by realizing Prospero’s true intentions. When Prospero first arrives on this alien island, he treats Caliban with veneration and affection since Caliban knows the hidden resources of the land. “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 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: …,” claims Caliban., “Cursed be I that did so!” (#). The abrupt changes in Caliban’s role from “prized pupil” to “vermin” displays not only the manipulative powers of Prospero, but also an unseen side to the once benevolent sorcerer. The traumatic betrayal by Prospero plays a part in Caliban’s brutalization, as he now defines himself as a forlorn captive.
In contrast to Caliban, the airy sprite, Ariel, gains Prospero’s esteem by completing the magical tasks that the conjurer commands. Pleased by the destruction Ariel’s has wrought upon Antonio’s ship, he greets him with tender words. “Fine apparition, my quaint Ariel,” exclaims Prospero, “hark in thine ear.” (#). But when he addresses Caliban during the scene when Caliban attacks Miranda, his words become dark and ominous; “Thou poisonous slave,” shouts Prospero, “Got by the devil himself upon thy wicked dam; come forth!” (#). The distinction between the spirit and the monster becomes unequivocally clear when Prospero speaks to each one, unveiling a preference for the obedient sprite over Caliban. Although one could argue that Prospero had reason to be furious at Caliban for his attempted sexual misconduct, Prospero has only himself to blame for bringing Caliban to that degree of desperation.
Stripped of his nobility under the bondage of Prospero, Caliban becomes a debased creature. Due to the abuse heaped practiced upon Caliban, he devolves from a naive and harmless inhabitant of the island to a repulsive and dangerous animal. The abrupt changes in Prospero’s treatment towards Caliban shatters his trust in Prospero’s role as his master. Juxtaposed to compliant Ariel, the recalcitrant Caliban becomes the scapegoat for the magician’s anger. Because of Caliban’s lower social standing, Prospero has no compunction when it comes to his care of one he views as “other.”. Authority without humility or regard for for and courtesy towards those for whom one is responsible can lead to havoc, as can be seen in every institution today, from politics to world finance.