caliban the tempest essay

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William Shakespeare

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Critical Essays Caliban and the Natural World

Caliban's Character

As he did in many of his plays, Shakespeare uses The Tempest to ask questions about how well society and nature intersect. Most of the characters in this play exist in a civilized world, although certainly not all of them are civilized. Caliban, though, is referred to several times as a "natural man." What then does it mean in Elizabethan society to be a natural man, to exist as a natural man, as Caliban exists?

Caliban serves to illustrate ideas about the social hierarchy of the Renaissance world, which formulated a socially rigid — and very political — hierarchy of God, king, man, woman, beast. This order was based on the patriarchal tradition and the teachings of religious leaders, which postulate a hierarchical order for mankind based on physiological and physical characteristics. Other means of defining a place within this order were emotional stability and the ability to reason. Based on these definitions, beasts were lower in the evolutionary scale than all humans. According to this rather rigid social hierarchy, Caliban belongs at the bottom of the Elizabethan social hierarchy, having little perceived social worth. And yet, for many critics and students, he dominates The Tempest.

Prospero is really the center of the play, since the other characters relate to one another through him and because he manipulates everyone and everything that happens. The play ends with Prospero's victory over his enemies; he has the most lines, and he speaks the epilogue. Although he has far fewer lines than several other characters, Caliban, at only 100 lines, is often the focus of student interest, as well as that of many critics, often with an importance far greater than his actual presence in the play. Much of this interest reflects the social position of critics, scholars, and students. Whether Caliban is a monster, whether he is a victim of colonialism, or whether he represents some other disadvantaged element of society depends almost entirely on the social and cultural constructs and interests of the reader or audience. An important part of Caliban's appeal is his ambiguity of character.

The audience first learns of Caliban from Prospero's description to Ariel, in which the child of the witch, Sycorax, is described as "A freckled whelp, hag-born — not honoured with / A human shape" (I.2, 285-286). The audience learns more about Caliban's physical description from Trinculo and Stefano, who describe Caliban as less than human. Trinculo asks if the form before him is "a man or a fish?" (II.2, 24), and Stefano describes Caliban as a "moon-calf" (II.2, 104), a deformed creature. But it is not his appearance that makes Caliban monstrous in Prospero's eyes, nor was Caliban treated as a slave — at least not initially. Caliban, himself, relates that Prospero treated him well, teaching him about God when the two first met (I.2, 337-338). But it was Caliban's attack on Miranda that resulted in his enslavement and the change in Caliban's social position. Caliban sees the attempted rape of Miranda as a natural behavior. Had he not been stopped, Caliban would have "peopled else / This isle with Calibans" (I.2, 353-354). Reproductive urges are a natural function of animals, but humans modify their desires with reason and through social constraints. Without reason to modify his impulses, Caliban's behavior aligns him with the animals. Yet, at the same time, he is clearly more than a beast.

Critics make much of Caliban's name as an anagram for cannibal. However that does not mean that Shakespeare defines this character as someone who would eat people, as modern readers may assume. Instead, the Elizabethan meaning of cannibal is better described as someone who is a savage — uncultivated, uncivilized, untamed. Caliban is more closely defined as an innocent — more like a child who is innocent of the world and its code of behavior.

Many stage productions of The Tempest have depicted Caliban in varied ways — from the noble North American Indian, to African, to South American Indian or Mexican. But Shakespeare describes this creature as an innocent — perhaps half man and half fish. Trinculo and Stefano's descriptions are untrustworthy, since the first is frightened by the storm, and the second is drunk. What is clear is that Caliban's behavior suggests many questions about what is natural and what is unnatural. Is the attempted rape of Miranda or the plot to murder Prospero a natural behavior? These acts represent Caliban's attempts to survive, but this is not acceptable behavior among civilized men. These are the actions of wild, untutored animals. Caliban demonstrates no sense of morality nor any ability to understand or appreciate the needs of anyone other than himself. In Caliban's self-centeredness, he is little more than an animal. He wants to indulge his desires, without control. This is what being free means to Caliban, whose cry for freedom (II.2, 177-178) clarifies many of his actions.

Caliban's Relationship with Prospero

In Sir Philip Sidney's Defence of Poetry (1580), the author argues that poets have a responsibility to make learning more palatable through their art. Shakespeare fulfills Sidney's requirement by using his plays to explore complex ideas and issues, and thus, he makes learning more palatable for the audience. Prospero does the same thing when he uses his art to make Caliban's learning more palatable. Caliban is never harmed through Prospero's magic, and Prospero prevents Caliban from injuring anyone else. But Caliban does learn, through the use of Prospero's magic, that Trinculo and Stefano are not gods, nor are they honorable men who can be trusted. Trinculo and Stefano are really the dregs of society, useless opportunists, who think only of pleasure and greed. The ending of the play does not suggest their redemption. But the ending does suggest Caliban's. He is finally able to see Trinculo and Stefano for what they are, and he is able to reconcile with Prospero.

Rather than view the relationship between Prospero and Caliban as that of master and victim, consider instead that Prospero uses force to control Caliban not because he wants to dominate or enslave this natural man but because this is the traditional means to subdue a beast. Caliban's behavior is more closely aligned to the beast than to man, and thus, he must be controlled in a similar manner. By the play's conclusion, Prospero must forgive his enemies; this is, after all, a romantic comedy. But if Prospero is to fulfill Sidney's mandate, Caliban must also learn from his master how to be more human. His final speech (V.1, 298-301) indicates he has learned some valuable lessons.

Caliban's Humanity

Caliban is not the noble savage that is so often used to describe the victims of social injustice; instead he is the child of the witch Sycorax and the devil. So what is Shakespeare suggesting by making Caliban's parentage a byproduct of black magic and evil? The Tempest suggests that nature is more complex than it seems at first glance. The conclusion works to illustrate the best that human nature has to offer, through resolution and promise. Harmony and order are restored in a world where chaos has reigned — the natural world that Caliban covets. This natural world will be restored, but if the ending of the play is meant to suggest a restoration of order and a return to civilization, what then does the natural world represent?

Maybe this natural world is the world that a child of nature (like Caliban) needs, since he finds harmony there. But the natural world, with its own disorder, is not for everyone. Caliban's world is neither the ideal world nor the antithesis of the civilized world. It is only a different existence, one that Caliban is content to occupy. Perhaps Caliban continues to fascinate the audience and the reader because he is the Other, and there is no easy way to define him or to explain his purpose. Human nature is often brutal, sometimes evil, and perhaps we are meant to understand Caliban as being no better or worse than anyone who is wholly human.

Shakespeare was seemingly unconcerned about Caliban's humanity, or perhaps he just did not want to make understanding of humanity so easy for his audience. Either way, Caliban's meaning will no doubt continue to challenge the reader's preconceived ideas about what is monstrous, what is natural, and what is civilized in the world.

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Caliban, The Tempest

Caliban is a character in The Tempest , which begins with a shipwreck off a remote Mediterranean island. Prospero and his fifteen year-old daughter, Miranda, are watching it. He tells her, for the first time, how they came to be on the island. Twelve years before, when he had been Duke of Milan, his brother Antonio, had usurped him, but he had escaped in a small boat with his baby daughter and his library of books about science and magic. They had ended up on the island and Prospero had turned the only inhabitant, Caliban, a deformed and savage creature, into his slave.

Caliban’s mother, now dead, was expelled from Algiers for being a witch. Already pregnant, she gave birth to Caliban on the island. He has known nothing else. Caliban is very interesting, in part because his presence in the play gives us insight into Shakespeare’s thinking about the fast-moving world in which he lived, which included its breathtaking expansion as the  great explorers of the day  opened it up.

There are also spirits on the island. One of them, Ariel, had been imprisoned in a tree trunk by  Sycorax , who had then died, leaving him there. Prospero used his magic to rescue him and made the spirit swear to serve him. The main story is not about Prospero and Caliban but about the passengers on the ship, who are all figures from Propero’s European past, and the story is worked through among them and Prospero. However, the Caliban subplot is interesting and seems very much informed by the new socio-geography emerging from the expanding British Empire. Shakespeare scholars see Caliban as a representative of the indigenous people the explorers encountered, and of the rebels against the exploitation that followed European occupation of their lands.

Caliban covered in shells, with a yellow sleevless top on, standing and looking to his right

Caliban delivers his lines

The European duke, Prospero, arrives on the island and the local population, composed of only Caliban, appears uncivilised, wild, unattractive, unappealing and savage. Caliban’s behaviour is alien to European sensibilities. When Prospero’s daughter, Miranda, takes it on herself to educate him his response is to attempt to rape her. In the terms of his native environment, though, he is very well educated. When he encounters two crew members of the wrecked ship, Stephano and Trinculo, he is eager to befriend them and he displays his knowledge, revealing a high level of the education needed for survival on an island.

“I’ll show thee the best springs. I’ll pluck thee berries. I’ll fish for thee and get thee wood enough. ………

I prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow, And I with my long nails will dig thee pignuts, Show thee a jay’s nest, and instruct thee how

To snare the nimble marmoset. I’ll bring thee To clustering filberts, and sometimes I’ll get thee Young scamels from the rock.” ( act 1, scene 2 )

Caliban is usually seen as a monster and portrayed on the stage as something less than human. He is dangerous and untrustworthy. He is undisciplined and it is impossible to discipline him. He cannot be reasoned with and is in a state of perpetual rebellion. He, therefore, has to be disciplined by force, and Prospero uses magic to control him. Whenever Caliban begins to look dangerous Prospero causes crippling pains throughout his body to stop him.

Before Prospero’s arrival, Caliban was free to roam the entire island and when Prospero arrived he took him into his own cell and tried to teach him things, including language, but when Caliban tried to violate Miranda, Prospero confined him to a stone cave and a limited area around it. By the time the play opens Caliban has become angry and bitter and insists “This island’s mine!” When he meets two survivors of the shipwreck, Stephano and Trinculo, he persuades the two comic characters to help him stage a coup to overthrow Prospero. The revolutionaries are ridiculous – the scenes relating to that attempt are highly comical – and the plot fails.

It is not difficult to see the similarities between this subplot and the European colonialism that has caused so much trouble and suffering in the world. Exploitation, revolution and countless deaths have been its history since Shakespeare’s time. In the hands of an imaginative stage director, Caliban could be seen as a modern freedom fighter, striving to shake off the oppressor.

Top Caliban Quotes

All the charms  Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you, For I am all the subjects that you have, Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me The rest o’ th’ island. ( act 1, scene 2 )

You taught me language, and my profit on ‘t Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you For learning me your language!  ( act 1, scene 2 )

As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen Drop on you both. A southwest blow on you And blister you all o’er. ( act 1, scene 2 )

No more dams I’ll make for fish, Nor fetch in firing At requiring, Nor scrape trencher, nor wash dish . ‘Ban, ‘ban, Ca-caliban Has a new master. Get a new man. Freedom, high-day! High-day, freedom! Freedom, high-day, freedom!  ( act 2, scene 2 )

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments  Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices That, if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open, and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked   I cried to dream again.  ( act 3, scene 2 )

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The Tempest | The Tempest summary | The Tempest characters : Caliban , Prospero , Sycorax , Stephano | The Tempest settings | The Tempest in modern English | The Tempest full text | Modern The Tempest ebook | The Tempest for kids ebooks | The Tempest quotes | The Tempest monologues | The Tempest soliloquies

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William Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Caliban Analysis

  • William Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Caliban…

Throughout history, the interaction between civilized people and native islanders has caused confusion and turmoil for cultures.  In The Tempest, William Shakespeare portrays the character Caliban as a savage, horrid beast and as the slave of the Westerner, Prospero.  Through Prospero’s ownership, Shakespeare views Caliban as a lesser being. 

Prospero symbolizes the Western power dominating an island and its inhabitants; while Caliban represents the islander who is forcefully controlled by the Westerner.  On the surface, Shakespeare’s interpretation of Caliban seems racist and stereotypical but underneath, Caliban represents the falsified image of the Caribbean people.

Caliban’s relation to Prospero embodies symbolism and irony.   The Ironic relationship between Prospero and Caliban is that Prospero, who has supreme control of the island, knows less about the island itself than Caliban. 

Originally, Caliban was owned by another authoritative figure, Sycorax, but Prospero freed him from Sycorax’s control and enslaved Caliban for his own uses.  With the ability to manipulate the weather, induce sleep and instantly create pain, Prospero has an almost godlike ego that the colonizers at the time felt as well.  The symbolism in this play lies in Prospero’s control of the island. 

The overpowering attitude that Prospero exhibits, symbolizes the white man’s conquest over other cultures.  The concept of one man is more powerful than another stands as a contributing factor for the immoral relationship between Prospero and Caliban.  Caliban represents the indigenous islander who cannot escape the brutality of his master.  Often in the play, Caliban makes remarks against Prospero’s exploitation of the island.

“All the charms Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you! For I am all the subjects that you have, Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me The rest o’ th’ island” (Shakespeare 1.2). In the beginning of the play, before Caliban even enters, Prospero talks about Caliban in a very patronizing tone: “Dull thing, I say so; he, that Caliban, whom now I keep in service” (2.1). Prospero’s attitude toward Caliban seems condescending and rude: “Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour One thing or other: when thou didst not, savage, Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like A thing most brutish, I endow’d thy purposes With words that made them known: but thy vile race, Though thou didst learn, had that in’t which good natures Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou Deservedly confin’d into this rock, who hadst Deserv’d more than a prison” (2.1).

Not only does Prospero abuse his power against the native Caliban but also against his own daughter, Miranda, and the indigenous spirit Ariel.  One unusual side of Caliban Shakespeare uses to highlight the primal side of Caliban is the sexual tension between Miranda and Caliban.  To tempt Caliban, Prospero brings around Miranda and keeps her at a distance so Caliban cannot touch her. 

This temptation that Prospero creates between the three characters shows the lack of respect Prospero gives to his daughter and Caliban.  Prospero’s other servant Ariel, a beautiful spirit of the island, has the ability to sing, enchant and play with air, hence the name Ariel.  The distinction between Caliban and Ariel involves the overall appearance and duties that they serve.  Caliban’s appearance seems coarse and barbaric while Ariel appears shiny, glittery, and gaudy. 

The aesthetics of Ariel express the important resources that the Western conquerors came to find, such as gold and natural resources for their Empire.  On the opposite spectrum, Caliban represents what the conquerors actually found.  In the eyes of the Westerner, the attraction of the Caribbean is not the people who inhabit the island but the beautiful landscape and the tranquil atmosphere. 

If the conquerors came to the island with interests in the Caribs’ culture, possibly Caliban wouldn’t have depicted the way he was.

Despite their differences, Ariel and Caliban exist as slaves on the island to serve Prospero’s attempt at a society.  In order to keep both Ariel and Caliban from not escaping, Prospero punishes both characters, but in separate ways.  Magically given pains by Prospero, Caliban has trouble moving about. The severity of his pains entitles Caliban to curse and fret throughout the play.

“For every trifle are they set upon me: Sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me, And after bite me; then like hedge-hogs which Lie tumbling in my bare-foot way, and mount Their pricks at my foot-fall; sometime am I All wound with adders, who with cloven tongues Do hiss me into madness” (2.2).

The author emphasizes that Caliban envisions the way Western civilization pictured people of the Caribbean at the time.  People of the West inaccurately imagined the Caribbean people as monsters and deformed beasts.  Shakespeare’s image of Caliban as a beastly, savage was done intentionally. 

In Christopher Columbus’ Diario de Navegacion he writes, “He learned also that far from the place there were men with one eye and others with dogs’ muzzles, who ate human beings” (Retamar 6).  The creative depiction by Columbus; reflects how Shakespeare wanted the reader to see Caliban.

Through the duration of the play there lies a running theme of nature versus art (art being man’s advancement of technology) and how the two conflicts in a changing society.  Nature, represented by Caliban is always in conflict with Art, the Westerners. 

The Art is presented in this play involves Prospero’s creations with magic and the arrival of the new ships.  For many of the indigenous people, witnessing a vessel land on a beach was breathtaking and haunting.  In ways, Caliban loathes what Prospero has done to the island but he always has a level of respect for what Prospero has created.

“No, pray thee.— [Aside] I must obey. His art is of such power, It would control my dam’s god, Setebos, And make a vassal of him” (1.2).

Caliban exemplifies Nature by pertaining to earthly deeds such as gathering wood. Also, Caliban actually lives on the island so he relates much closer to nature than the Westerners.  The collision of these two symbols creates problems like slavery and warfare.  At the time of Colonization the mix of these two ways of life resulted in many of the problems the Caribbean and other nations face today

When the Western nations first interacted with the native islanders they were referred to as cannibals.  “Cannibal-has been perpetuated in the eyes of Europeans above all as a defamation” (Retamar 6).  In Rosario Ferre’s poem “Coming Up the Archipelago”, the writer states “The words Carib and cannibal have the same root: anyone from the archipelago knows that.  Speaking in tongues is one of our skills. We love to suck the bone to get to the marrow and imbibe the strength” (12). 

Although the Europeans use the word in a derogatory manner, cannibal, to the Caribbean people means a person who soaks in culture all around them.  Since the Caribs have witnessed so many different people; westerners, Arabs, Africans and various other islanders, it seems there are no other options but to cannibalize all the different cultures around them.  Caliban’s ability to learn, speak and reason from Prospero is Shakespeare’s example of cultural cannibalism.  Caliban reinforces the idea of grasping onto whatever outsiders impose onto the Caribs.

In the play, Caliban is often labeled an animal or something less of a human.  Shakespeare creates a complex analysis of the western’s perception of the Caribs through these offensive terms.  To the westerner, the only distinction between an animal and Caliban is that the islander can speak an accepted language.  In this context, Shakespeare feels in order to be accepted in society, one must subscribe to the language and customs of that regime.

Despite that Ariel lives as a servant of Prospero, Ariel is looked upon differently and Shakespeare deliberately does this to make a claim about the westerners’ greedy intentions.  Caliban is viewed as a beast that serves only for laborious uses; such as: picking up firewood or collecting food.  While Ariel represents the true treasure of the Caribbean isles.

The complexity of colonization has created an almost withdrawal to the oppressed people of the islands.  Fernandez Retamar, a well-respected Cuban writer, claims: “For it is the colonizer who brings us together, who reveals the profound similarities existing above and beyond our secondary differences.  The colonizer’s version explains to us that owing to the Caribs’ irremediable bestiality, there was no alternative to their extermination” (Retamar, 7).

This primal ownership can be seen with Caliban when he was first owned by Sycorax and followed by Prospero’s possession.  After meeting Stephano and Trinculo, Caliban again tries to become their possession.

William Shakespeare never traveled to the Caribbean Island’s so his visualization of what Caliban should be, appears to be based on the assumptions and literary documents of his time.  Influences like Montaigne’s “Of Cannibals” written in 1603 may have given Shakespeare ideas for Caliban.  “Because if in Montaigne-in this case, as an unquestionable literary source for Shakespeare” (Retamar 8). Considered to be the most respected playwright, Shakespeare purposely displays Caliban in an important way.  “What has happened in simply that in depicting Caliban, Shakespeare, an implacable realist, here takes the other option of the emerging bourgeois world” (8). 

On the outside, the physical appearance given by Shakespeare seems to present itself as stereotypical of the images represented by other authors of his time.  The part animal, part human aspect of Caliban represents the way people envision how an islander appears physically, but what Shakespeare does by having Caliban speak is transforming a creature of horrible appearance into a real person with thoughts and human emotions.

In a way, William Shakespeare to me seems almost like a soothsayer of the problems the Caribbean people faced and currently are troubled with at this present time.  The brutal depiction and social status of Caliban are all warning signs of how slavery and condescension are problematic.  At the end of the play, Caliban rises above his master and defies him.  This plotline challenges the reader’s expectations and as a result, makes the slave the conqueror. 

This unusual but most important plotline conveys how Shakespeare saw Caliban as something more than a creature.  One of the primary motives in writing is to persuade the reader into believing whatever the author intends.  Shakespeare intended for the reader to see a Carib in a new light by the end of the play.  Not as some savage animal but as a character who had true emotions just like the reader would.

In addition, the closing scene may have been a future warning for revolution and destruction against the colonizers of the world.  In many ways, Caliban appears horrid and ugly but internally Caliban represents a beautiful person who has emotions and character just like all people in the Caribbean, and no matter how the Europeans at the time depicted the Caribs; they are people of true beauty.

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it said there are sexual tensions between caliban and miranda, but left out the fact caliban tried to assault her.

I might be playing Caliban in the fall!

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Writing help, paraphrasing tool, caliban in ‘the tempest’: shakespeare’s mirror of colonialism.

This essay delves into the intricate character of Caliban in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, exploring his role as a symbol of colonialism and a representation of the ‘other’. It examines Caliban’s portrayal as both a brutish creature and a poignant, eloquent figure, highlighting the complexity and depth of his character. The essay discusses Caliban’s relationship with Prospero, framing it as a metaphor for colonial exploitation and a reflection on the nature of power dynamics between colonizer and colonized. It also touches on the themes of humanity and civilization, suggesting that Shakespeare’s portrayal of Caliban challenges the notions of what it means to be civilized. Furthermore, the essay considers Caliban’s interactions with other characters as a means to explore broader themes of subjugation and resistance. Overall, the essay presents Caliban as a multifaceted character, whose narrative in ‘The Tempest’ offers profound insights into Elizabethan perceptions of the ‘other’ and continues to be relevant in contemporary discussions of imperialism and identity. Moreover, at PapersOwl, there are additional free essay samples connected to The Tempest.

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In the realm of Shakespearean literature, few characters stir as much debate as Caliban, the enigmatic native inhabitant of the enchanted island in ‘The Tempest’. This play, believed to be one of Shakespeare’s last, presents a rich tapestry of themes, with Caliban often at the heart of discussions about colonialism, the nature of savagery versus civilization, and the complexities of power dynamics. Exploring Caliban’s character is like unearthing layers of historical and cultural significance, making him a subject of continuous scholarly interest.

One of the most compelling aspects of Caliban’s character is his relationship with Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan and self-proclaimed ruler of the island. Caliban’s servitude to Prospero can be seen as a metaphor for the colonial exploitation of indigenous peoples. Initially, Prospero treats Caliban with kindness, teaching him language and treating him almost as a member of the family. However, this relationship sours, descending into abuse and enslavement. Caliban’s subsequent resentment and desire for freedom mirror the sentiments of colonized peoples rebelling against their oppressors. Yet, Shakespeare presents this relationship with complexity; Caliban is neither a noble savage nor a mindless brute, but a nuanced character caught in the throes of an unequal power struggle.

Moreover, Caliban’s relationship with the other characters, like the jester Trinculo and the drunken butler Stephano, adds a layer of comic relief to the play but also serves to further explore themes of subjugation and rebellion. His easily swayed nature and susceptibility to empty promises reflect the complexities of resistance and the often tragicomic nature of the struggle for power and autonomy.

In conclusion, Caliban is a multifaceted character who embodies the turbulent intersection of nature, nurture, and the imperialistic impulse. His portrayal in ‘The Tempest’ offers a rich ground for analysis, inviting readers to ponder the intricate dynamics of power, colonization, and identity. Shakespeare, through Caliban, not only provides a window into the Elizabethan perception of the ‘other’ but also inadvertently sets the stage for future debates on the ethics of imperialism and the definition of humanity. Thus, Caliban remains a relevant and compelling figure in Shakespearean studies, a testament to the Bard’s enduring ability to capture the complexities of the human condition.

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How Is Caliban Presented In The Tempest Essay

The play The Tempest was written by William Shakespeare in the early 17 th century. The main character Caliban is depicted as a deformed monster who lives on an island made up of Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan. The name Caliban is thought to derive from the word calamari which means squid in modern Italian, this leaves many people to believe that The Tempest was inspired by tales of sea monsters. The character Caliban is often seen to be one the most misunderstood characters in The Tempest, with many literary critics believing him to be Shakespeare’s symbol for all humanity.

The story begins when Prospero (the rightful Duke of Milan) and his daughter Miranda are stranded on an island after Prospero has been overthrown by his usurping brother Antonio, who had set himself up as king. The play starts six years later when Prospero raises a storm using sorcery which results in his controlling both the weather and causing destruction at sea while wrecking his enemies’ ships. After this he returns to the island where he raises his slave Caliban into helping him prepare for revenge against those who usurped his dukedom.

The play has been thoroughly interpreted by many critics with each having their own way of viewing the story and its characters. The character Caliban is often viewed as a deformed monster who only wishes to kill people and drink blood, but it has also been suggested that he may be representing different aspects of humanity such as racism, slavery or colonialism. The conflicting views on the character Caliban within The Tempest create an interesting debate about whether some literary critics believe him to be nothing more than a darkly depicted monster while others view him as a deep symbol for some aspect of human motivation and nature.

Caliban also exhibits qualities which some readers interpret as those similar to those of African slaves in early 17 th century London; Caliban has no control over his destiny and is forced to live in servitude while Prospero controls everything that happens on the island. The process of reading The Tempest can be very interesting because it does not give any direct or clear answers about what Caliban represents, which may make The Tempest difficult for some readers to understand at points.

When The Tempest was first performed audiences were left with many conflicting views about the characters Caliban and Prospero; by today’s standards The Tempest would be considered racist because it depicts Caliban as a barbaric character who is unable to speak fluently like the other major characters. Some literary critics believe there are links between Caliban and African slaves in early 17 th century London both are shown to not have any control over their own lives and are forced to work as servants.

The ideas of freedom and choice were often seen as something which only the wealthy could enjoy, with many critics believing Caliban’s enslavement within The Tempest reveals how his lack of freedom and choice shows that he is not one of Prospero’s equals. Other literary critics believe The Tempest is a story about power and how it corrupts those who do not have the ability to exercise that power; this interpretation views Prospero as an unjust ruler who manipulates people into doing what he wants them to do by using magic. The debate around The Tempest continues because no single interpretation can be viewed as correct or incorrect, his has led to many differing views on how characters such as Caliban should be viewed by readers.

The contrasting views of Caliban in The Tempest show that the play is open to many different interpretations, which adds an interesting dimension when reading The Tempest. The fact that The Tempest does not offer any clear answer about what Caliban represents makes The Tempest difficult for some readers to understand at points, but many literary critics believe this shows just how much people can learn from reading The Tempest because it challenges them to try and make their own interpretation.

Caliban is one of The Island’s native inhabitants in The Tempest. He born to a witch named Sycorax .. Caliban is often described as “a savage and deformed slave” (V 2, 255). He had been exiled from Algiers to The Island, where he serves as Prospero’s slave. Despite being viewed as monstrous and ugly, Caliban’s appearance does not affect him because he believes that man but only derives from how another person perceives him. The monster represents the primitive man in The Tempest. Caliban is often compared to the devil.

The monster also has a pet bird who serves as its slave, but it’s possible that the creature owns Prospero’s books because his library collapsed when he met The Monster. Caliban hates Prospero because The Monster was abused by The Magician when The Monster was young , and resents being enslaved by him. Nevertheless, he does not kill Prospero when given the opportunity to do so. Instead, The Monster attempts to rape Miranda , only to be stopped by Caliban ‘s mother Sycorax. Caliban is depicted in different ways throughout The Tempest depending on which character is present at any time.

The monster is seen as a villain by The Court because The Monster attempts to rape Miranda . The Magician views Caliban with contempt because The Monster is rebellious, lazy, and flatulent. Alonso describes Caliban as “a born devil” for his actions. The character Ariel , who has been enslaved by The Magician , perceives Caliban as being bad because of what The Monster has done to Prospero. All of the characters in The Tempest have an opinion on Caliban that contradicts one or more other characters.

There are no generally accepted opinions about monsters , so the main question arises how he should be perceived by audiences. An advantage of multiple sides was used in different productions of The Tempest depending on the race / ethnicity of the actors playing The Monster. The only perspective that The Tempest expresses through Caliban is The Magician’s view, but this perspective is neither constant nor exact. In the opening pages of The Tempest, The Monster has been enslaved by Prospero by being beaten with a stick and made to swear an oath not to harm anyone on The Island.

This suggests that The Monster is a savage and dangerous creature who is inherently evil, or at least far away from humanity. However, he also resists attempts by other characters during the play to do him physical harm. If The Monster were truly evil, why would have wanted to help Trinculo climb a tree? Furthermore, if Caliban had been born bad like he describes himself as during his first soliloquy, The Monster would have never helped Alonso’s people. The Monster’s motives are not clarified during The Tempest, so The Magician’s opinion about The Monster is the only one provided for audiences to consider.

Caliban acts bad, but that does not mean he is evil or destined to remain that way. The character may be rebellious and defiant, but The Monster may show goodness through his actions like helping Trinculo climb a tree (I 3 184-186). Caliban was portrayed as a black man throughout The Tempest in New York Shakespeare Festival production in 2013 directed by Tina Landau . The choice of having an African American actor portray Caliban divided critics because some believed it was done out of racial ignorance , while others supported the production for its political relevance.

The Caliban actor, Patrick Stewart , argued that The Monster was not considered evil through The Tempest because of The Monster ‘s race , but because The Magician hated The Monster . He claimed that The Monster represents “the repressed unconscious mind”, which makes him good . He concluded by saying that racism is everywhere in the world. Caliban was portrayed as a Native American named Arrow in The Public Theater 1993 production directed by George C. Wolfe . This version of The Tempest calls attention to the mistreatment of Native Americans in the past and offers an appropriate reflection on past injustice using modern language.

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The Tempest

Caliban: the monster anjumon sahin college.

The concept of monstrosity, at an explicit representational level, has followed a set pattern in literature, but it has been politically deployed and modified differently in different contexts. Etymologically, the word “monster” is derived from the Latin monstrum , meaning “that which reveals” -- a warning or a portent. It is often used to refer to misshapen or deformed creatures. In Elizabethan England, with the various voyages, discoveries, and travel narratives of the time -- such as The Wonders of the East , the Liber Monstrorum , or the Travels of Sir John Mandeville -- the connotations of the term extended to the other races. In fact, representing another culture as monstrous often served to justify its displacement, or even its extermination. William Shakespeare’s work boasts of richly crafted characters such as Iago (from Othello ), Macbeth, and Edmund (from King Lear ) who are often deemed monstrous due to their moral degeneracy and malignancy. Nicholas Royle asserts, “Shakespeare is relentlessly concerned with making up monsters, with what is ‘unacceptable,’ ‘intolerable,’ and ‘incomprehensible’ in characters,” often associating ontological differences (for instance, dark skin in the case of Aaron, the Moor [from Titus...

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caliban the tempest essay

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The Tempest: a Literal Monster in Caliban

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  • Caliban in The Tempest

Caliban, a savage and deformed slave to Prospero, plays a very important role in The Tempest. Caliban represents a being of “pure nature. ” He is referred to as a monster by the other characters on the island. He is a very complex character and he mirrors other characters in the play. Throughout the play he makes several speeches about his island to Prospero. The first speech that Caliban makes is to Prospero. He insists that Prospero and Miranda stole the island from him.

Throughout this speech Caliban suggests that his situation is the same as Prospero’s, whose brother Antonio, sent him and his niece out to sea when she was three so he could take over his position as the duke of Milan. While on the island Prospero teaches Caliban how to be civilized and how to speak. He also tries to educate him and treats him kindly despite the fact that he is a “monster. ” “You taught me language, and my profit on’t is I know how to curse.

The red plague rid you for learning me your language! I. ii. 366-368) Basically Prospero is trying to colonize Caliban. After a while though, Caliban is refusing to learn manners and a proper way of living. The more that Prospero tries to “civilize” Caliban, the more he rebels. Caliban both compares and contrasts to Prospero’s other servant Ariel. While Ariel is an “airy spirit”, Caliban is an “earthy spirit. ” His speeches turning to “springs, brine pits” (I. ii. 341), “bogs, fens, flats” (II. ii. 2), or crabapples and pignuts (II. ii. 159-160).

While Ariel maintains his freedom and dignity by serving Prospero willingly, Caliban achieves his dignity differently by refusing to bow before Prospero’s intimidation. Caliban also compares and contrasts with another character, Ferdinand. They both have a very strong interest in untying Miranda’s “virgin knot”. Ferdinand plans on marrying Miranda, while Caliban tried to rape her. In Caliban’s first speech to Prospero, he regretfully reminds Caliban about how he showed him the entire island when Prospero first arrived.

A few scenes later though Caliban comes in drunk before a new magician in his life: Stefano and his bottle of liquor . Soon Caliban is begging Stefano to let him show him around the island. Caliban repeats these mistakes that he claims to curse. In Caliban’s final act of rebellion, he is subdued entirely by Prospero. He is dunked in a bog and ordered to clean up Prospero’s cell in preparation for dinner. Despite the fact that Caliban is a savage and he doesn’t have the best appearance, Caliban has a nobler, more sensitive side which Prospero and Miranda do not acknowledge at all.

His speeches about his island provide a great amount of imagery in the play. “Be not afeared. The isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instraments Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices That, if I then had waked after long sleep Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again” (III. ii. 130-138). This is Caliban’s explanation to Stefano and Trinculo of mysterious music that they hear by magic.

The Tempest is a play about Godliness, redemption, forgiveness, and the basic struggle between nature and civilization, which is carried out through the relationship between Caliban and Prospero . In the end of the play Caliban repents for his plotting against Prospero. In conclusion, Caliban plays a very important minor character in the play “The Tempest. ” He does a lot of good things around the island, but he also does a few not so good things. Caliban is a very intriguing character who allows himself to become transformed into a fool.

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Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest Essay Example

Through Shakespeare’s portrayal of Caliban as a monster and his symbolization of Caliban as a native of the new world, Caliban is unable to receive the justice that the rest of the characters come by. When Shakespeare introduces us to Caliban, he emphasizes Caliban’s most abhorrent qualities: his lack of human attributes, his attempted rape of Miranda, and his plot agaisnt Prospero. Furthermore, as the play progresses, Shakespeare’s views on colonialism are revealed through Caliban’s toxic relationship with Prospero and the other characters in the play. It is clear that Caliban is being seen as lesser, considering that his land has been stolen, he is forced into slavery, and his constant belittlement by the rest of the characters.    

Throughout the entire play, Caliban is depicted as a horrid monster whose violence and intemperance juxtaposes the attributes of the other humans who have been shipwrecked on the island. Caliban is constantly ridiculed for his appearance, being referred to as a “Mooncalf” (3.2., 99),  “...thou tortoise.” (1.2., 316), and “...some monster of the isle with four legs…”(2.2., 61). The other characters refer to him as everything other than a man, suggesting that they see him as a creature not a human. Similarly, Julia Reinhard Lupton’s interpretation of Caliban in her essay, Creature Caliban, illustrates that, “Although...the word creature appears nowhere in conjunction with Caliban himself, his character is everywhere hedged in…[the] category of the creaturely.” (Lupton). Lupton’s view of Caliban comes from the subtext surrounding Caliban’s character rather than his description. Through both the text and the subtext it is clear that Caliban’s humanity has been diminished. Although Caliban is consistently condemned from the start of the play, he was initially embraced by Prospero and Miranda when they were exiled to the island. They taught him english and provided him shelter. However, instead of appreciating their efforts in cohabitation, Caliban attempts to rape Miranda in hopes to “...[people] this isle with Calibans” (1.2., 355-356). In turn, Prospero punishes him with torture and slavitude, in which Caliban continues to curse his now captors. In addition, in act 3 scene 2 of The Tempest, Caliban conspires to overthrow Prospero with the help of two drunken servants, Trinculo and Stefano. While convincing the two, Caliban reiterates his unsavoury views on Miranda, selling the idea of her to Stephano, telling him to “...most deeply...consider...the beauty of his daughter” (3.2., 92-93). Ultimately, through his actions, Caliban is seen as the definition of monstrosity and is not worthy of forgiveness. 

Shakespeare successfully depicts Caliban as a monster; however, this opens up discussions on why Shakespeare chose to represent Caliban this way. Shakespeare’s The Tempest pulls direct parallels from the colonization of the new world as he explores the complex and problematic relationship between the European colonizer, seen to be Prospero, and the native colonized people, seen to be Caliban. When they first encountered each other, Prospero and Caliban engaged in a symbiotic relationship where Caliban taught Prospero how to live on his island; he taught Prospero where to obtain clean water, and which lands were the most fertile. In return, Prospero and Miranda shared their knowledge with Caliban and allowed him to live with them harmoniously. This is a direct parallel to the colonialism in Jamestown that Samual Purchas describes in his essay: Virginia’s Verger. He reveals that, “The barbarians...gave our people kind entertainments in mutual cohabitation and commerce…”(Purchas), implying that both the natives of Jamestown and the European colonizers both benefited from each other. However, Caliban’s relationship with Prospero turns negative as Prospero views Caliban as a lesser being than himself. Prospero believes that Caliban should show him gratitude for educating Caliban and lifting him out of ‘savagery’. Furthermore, to build on the parallelisms between Purchas and Shakspeare, Prospero does not believe that he has stolen the island from Caliban, because Prospero can not imagine Caliban as being fit to rule anything. Similarly, in Purchas’ essay he rationalizes the stolen land by arguing that the first inhabitants were “not worthy of the name of a nation, being wild and savage” (Purchas). On the other hand, Caliban realizes that renouncing his rule over the island in exchange for his education was not worth it, since Prospero does not see him as equal. This results in Caliban retaliating through violence, which only reinforces how Prospero views him: a savage. Shakespeare uses the relationship between Prospero and Caliban to demonstrate how the cohabitation of colonizers and the colonized lead to conflict with only one side winning. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the winner, Prospero, prospered in the end, and the loser, Caliban, was punished for the rest of his life. 

It is unclear when The Tempest ends whether or not Caliban is set free or not; however, we can infer that he was not. Shakespeare illustrates Caliban as a brute, scapegoating his life and thus predicting his demise. He was the antagonist of the story: he assaulted Miranda and attempted a coup. Generally, ‘bad guys’ do not get happy endings and Shakespeare’s view on the colonialism of the new word enforces this idea that the winners should be rewarded and the losers should be punished. Shakespeare’s views on colonialism was that of it’s time: he believed that Europeans were in all ways superior and always winners, entitled to all that they found without care of who encountered it first. In conclusion, Shakespeare did everything he could to create a villain out of Caliban; thus, sealing his fate and making freedom impossible.

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Essay: Characterization of Caliban in The Tempest

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In The Tempest, Caliban is described as a “savage,” a “demi-devil,” a “hag-seed,” and a “strange fish,” but he could also be described as a “native.” Scholars have speculated him to represent how the English would’ve reacted to the Native Americans in the New World. Others have stated that his character represents the fear of the unknown. Simply put, he is one of the more discoursed figures in the works of Shakespeare. So is The Tempest the story of Caliban, the son of the devil himself, losing ownership of his island to a Duke of Milan? Or is this savage hermit meant to represent the Native Americans who fell victim to colonial expansion? Caliban could represent more than just the Native Americans, he could portray the African American’s migration to the New World for example, but above all Caliban seems to be an Indian character. In dissecting the characterization of Caliban in The Tempest, we’re able to see what Shakespeare and his audience believed about the native peoples of America.

In Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror, he explains how the different races were introduced to America. African Americans arrived as slaves who would be “enslaved and prohibited from owning arms” (Takaki, 19). Asian Americans arrived during the California Gold Rush and were stereotyped as unassimilable. A majority of Irish Americans came during the Potato Famine to find work in America as construction workers, factory operators in textile mills, and as maids. Mexican Americans entered America during the war against Mexico but unlike most immigrants, their homeland bordered the United States. Although some immigrant groups had more of an advantage due to legislature such as the Naturalization Law of 1790, most were able to find their place in America. Native Americans however, were not immigrants but were the original people of America. So how was it that these original Americans, who had been farming the land for hundreds of years, been stereotyped as “savages” and then categorically removed from their homeland? In order to grasp this, you have to recognize Caliban in the setting of the New World.

According to Takaki, in order to understand Caliban you have to examine him from the context of English theater in 1611 London. When the play was first performed, it was after the English had invaded Ireland but it was before the colonization of the New World. So that’s after John Smith arrived in Virginia and connected with the Natives but before any warfare was begun against them. To the audience Caliban could’ve represented the Irish, who at the time were considered to be people living on the outskirts of civilization. Their tribal affiliations seemed barbaric, their Christianity seemed to be nothing more than a front for their paganistic beliefs, and to the English colonizers they were deemed despicably lazy. When the English took over, the Irish were subject to violence. The English burned down their villages, and beheaded their victims. It’s however more likely that Caliban represents the Natives of America. When the English found the Native Americans and saw the unsophisticated workings of their people, they instantly drew similarities between them and the Irish they were already persecuting. According to Takaki, Captain John Smith observed that the deerskin robes worn by the Indians were not so much different from the clothing the Irish wore. Furthermore, their rural villages and unsophisticated hunting methods only helped to connect them with the stereotype the English had created with the Irish. The Indians came to be defined as savages just as the Irish. Considering the timing of The Tempest, it would be hard to ignore the Native Americans as inspiration for the character of Caliban.

As we’re told by Prospero, Caliban was the island’s only inhabitant and that he is the product of a witch named Sycorax and the devil himself. We know that after Prospero and his daughter Miranda washed up on the island’s shore, Prospero had a good relationship with Caliban. He showed Prospero the workings of the island and how to survive, while Prospero taught Caliban how to speak. We learn that Caliban attempted to rape Miranda in order to populate the island with his offspring. As an audience, it’s obvious we’re supposed to feel disgusted by Caliban’s behavior and so it’s simple to understand why Prospero would use his sorcerer powers to make him feel constant pain. Yet, we also can feel sympathy for Caliban as a victim of Prospero’s enslavement. Before Prospero’s arrival, Caliban was alone on the island, ”This island’s mine, by Sycorax, my mother.” Prospero basically takes over and makes Caliban his slave. And even though Caliban curses at Prospero, it’s only because he taught him how to speak, “You taught me language, and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you for learning me your language.” As mentioned by Takaki, a Virginia tract stated that colonizers should take Indian children and teach them English. Later the king propelled a plan to bring Christianity to the Native Americans who as yet lived in “darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God.” Another Virginia tract stated it was the education of men rather than the innate nature of men that caused them to be uncivil and barbaric. To the new settlers, it was their duty to educate the savage Indians (Takaki, 53).

After reading The Tempest and A Different Mirror, it would be difficult to see Caliban as anything but an allegory for the New England settlers reaction to the Native Americans. In comparison to their ways, the Indians were savages lacking civility in all aspects: their clothes, tools, and even their spirituality. Caliban is described as a savage: he lives on an island alone, lacks the ability to speak, and attempts to rape a girl. And the similarities don’t end there. Prospero also taught Caliban how to speak just as the settlers did with the Indians. Seeing as this play was made in the early 1600’s, it would be difficult to see Caliban as anything but a Native American.


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Claiming Caliban: “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare Essay

Scholars have mostly argued that, The tempest , written between 1610 and 1611 was the last play by William Shakespeare. The play has its setting on a remote Island and at first we see Prospero, who has been exiled as the Duke of Milan, using illusion and manipulation to have his daughter restored to her place.

The play begins with an eponymous tempest which is orchestrated by Prospero to force Antonio, his brother who has overthrown him and Alonso, the king of Naples into the island. Prospero has acquired knowledge of magic through learning and is served by the spirit Ariel.

The spirit Ariel was rescued by the magician after she was trapped by a witch Sycorax on a tree on the island. Before she died, Sycorax had a son, Caliban who, unlike other characters in the island, was not possessed by spirits before the arrival of prospero. Caliban was adopted and raised by prospero, from whom he learned religion and language while Caliban oriented prospero into the ins and outs of the island. Caliban was forced to be a slave by prospero when he attempted to rape Prospero’s only daughter, Miranda.

Caliban, as a slave hated Miranda and her father because they had usurped his sovereignty in the island and on the other and, prospero and her daughter held Caliban with disgust and contempt. This paper discusses the character of Caliban, and how its representation demonstrates the future treatment of America’s indigenous people. It will start by exploring the identity of Caliban by asking ourselves, who is Caliban?

As we have seen, Caliban is Prospero’s slave who is seen by other characters as a monster. Caliban is a complex figure who can be said to be a microcosm of several other characters in The Tempest . Caliban’s feeling is that the island has been snatched from him by an alien just like Prospero’s Dukedom was usurped by his brother Antonio.

The character of Caliban is an opposition to that of Ariel, the other servant of prospero, in that Caliban is a human figure while Ariel is a spirit. Moreover, Ariel serves his master willingly but Caliban believes that it is not his mission to bow before his master’s intimidation and thus acquires a different kind of dignity.

In another contract, both Caliban and Ferdinand are interested in Miranda but in a different way. Caliban wants to untie Miranda’s virgin knot by raping her and impregnating her so that the island is filled with Callibans, while Ferdinand want to do the same by marrying her for romantic ethereal love.

When Caliban was delivering his first speech to prospero, he regretted how he showed the magician around the island when he arrived but latter he plots to kill him. The final consummation of rebellion by Caliban is seen when his plot to kill his master fails and he is subdued and treated in the most inhuman manner by prospero and we see him being forced to clean a filthy bog in preparation for his master’s dinner.

However, Caliban is a sensitive character and his speeches are an imagery of the events that run throughout the play. Through his speeches, we are reminded that Caliban occupied the island before his master and triggers the feeling that it was very unfair and unjust for an alien to come and enslave him.

We can deduce from this characters appearance, his enslavement and native status on the island that Caliban is symbolic of the America’s indigenous people or native cultures which were subdued and colonized by western societies. These colonizing powers are represented by the power of the magician prospero and the America’s indigenous people by the monster character of Caliban.

Shakespeare wrote at the time when Europeans were getting colonies and he must have heard some myths about the cannibals of the Caribbean and thus created the anagram Caliban from the concept. Secondly, it also resembles the term Cariban from the West Indies which was used to refer to some natives there.

Therefore, Shakespeare through the play could be shedding light into the morality of colonialism. This morality is seen in for instance Gonzalo’s utopia, the enslavement unleashed by prospero and subsequent resentment of this enslavement by Caliban. Just like the natives or the America’s indigenous people, Caliban is the most natural character who is very much in touch with the natural world. He is the one who welcomed and showed his colonizer the world endowed to him and was latter subdued in his own world.

His resentment, plot to kill his master can be seen as an attempt by the colonized America’s people to rebel against those who threaten to dominate them as exemplified by the modern day claim that Hispanics are taking all jobs from America’s indigenous people . Although this failed, it was a good foreboding that the colonized will come to realize that they are being enslaved unfairly and they will plot some offensive.

His being referred by other characters as a monster is true of the power the colonized American natives had but they did not realize it; thus they were always fooled and colonized. Generally, Caliban was a sensitive monster but Prospero and Miranda did not acknowledge it.

This was the case with colonizers as they did not acknowledge that the colonized were human being and that they had human feelings. They therefore treated them like objects, not as humans. However, their will to regain their sovereignty was seen by the will of Caliban to overthrow his master, impregnate Miranda and fill the island with Caliban.

Finally, the play has most scenes showing themes of the dominated and the dominant figures. This master-servant binary opposition shows up where there is a crisis in this relationship; for example the resistance of a servant or the ineptitude of the dominant.

This should not, however, be seen as a pessimistic destiny when analyzing the future of the colonized American natives but can be seen as unresolved rebellion where force may subside and negotiations rule as evidenced by today’s philosophy of the melting pot, where coexistence is seen as a solution.

In the United States, the alien issue, as in the island, has become a feature of economy and society. The character Ariel, which contracts the rebellion of Caliban can be seen as the future of American people as for now. Ariel preferred what can be called negotiations and accommodation of the alien colonizer. Therefore it can be concluded that Caliban, as far as the future of America is concerned, represents a kind of rebellion which is no longer popular among the current generation.

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IvyPanda. (2022, March 23). Claiming Caliban: "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare.

"Claiming Caliban: "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare." IvyPanda , 23 Mar. 2022,

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IvyPanda . 2022. "Claiming Caliban: "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare." March 23, 2022.

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IvyPanda . "Claiming Caliban: "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare." March 23, 2022.

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