The Tempest is a Shakespearean comedy that deals with a great act of treason, abuse, the development of magical arts, and a plot of revenge that unfolds. Caliban, Prospero’s earthly slave and often referred to as a monster by the other characters, is the son of a witch and the only true native of the island to appear in the play. He is an extremely complex character, mirroring or parodying various other characters.
Caliban: mirror and contrast
Shakespeare wrote The Tempest between 1610 and 1611. The play is about Prospero, a sorcerer who plots revenge to regain his place as Duke of Milan after being stripped of his title and forced into exile, along with his daughter Miranda, to later take refuge on a lonely island It is on this island that Prospero finds Caliban, one of only two beings to remain and occupy the island. In the early days, Caliban and Prospero meet and get along well, until a certain turn of events causes their relationship to become one of slave and master.
Caliban embodies three ideas. First of all, the supernatural, since it was born from the union of a witch and the devil and is therefore deformed. With this first personification, Caliban develops an antagonistic role with respect to the celestial spirit of Ariel. While Ariel is an aerial spirit, Caliban is of the ground. His speeches revolve around springs, saltwater pools, swamps, swamps, plains, or rose bushes and pine forests.
While Ariel retains her dignity and freedom by willingly serving Prospero, Caliban achieves a different kind of dignity by refusing, however sporadically, to submit to his master’s intimidation.
Surprisingly, Caliban also mirrors and contrasts Fernando in some ways. Caliban and Fernando express their interest in untying Miranda’s “virginal knot”. Fernando plans to marry her, while Calibán tries to rape her. Fernando’s glorified, romantic, and almost ethereal love for Miranda contrasts sharply with Caliban’s desire to impregnate Miranda and populate the island with “Calibans.”
Caliban’s physical appearance is vague; all attempts to sketch this strange being have been useless. He can dig castanets, pick berries, and catch nimble monkeys, but Prospero calls him a turtle. However, in one of her speeches, Miranda equates him to a man when she tells Fernando that in his life he has only seen two men: his old father Próspero and the deformed Calibán. But in another, she excludes him from the category of human beings.
Shakespeare must have drawn some of the material used to portray Caliban from contemporary travel books about strange tales from island natives in various parts of the world. Caliban symbolizes an extraordinary form of monstrosity and unscrupulousness when he attempts to rape Miranda and when he conspires against his mistress Próspero with the butler Stéfano and the jester Trinculo. On both occasions, he was banished from Prospero’s cell and confined to a rock.
What gives Caliban supernatural qualities is his heredity and bodily deformity, as well as the curses he constantly hurls at Prospero, knowing he will be severely punished for it. This is why many readers call him unhappy, ungrateful and incorrigible.
In The Tempest , Caliban also embodies slavery on the island that Prospero has usurped. Caliban rightly resents this, as the island should have been his by right after the death of his mother, the wicked witch Sycorax. Instead, he is enslaved.
In the play, Prospero himself sees and treats Caliban as a slave, “we will visit Caliban, my slave: he makes our fire, brings our firewood and performs services in positions that benefit us,” he says. However, as a slave, Caliban hates Prospero, his harsh taskmaster. In fact, he hates any service that he requests. Thus, he represents slavery and the revolt against slavery in all its forms.
Prospero may have “patted” Caliban at some point and treated him with great affection, but, after all, Caliban is his slave and Prospero himself does not mind calling him his slave without feeling ashamed. Talking to Stéfano, Caliban says that Prospero is a tyrant who inflicts all kinds of punishment on him. The relationship between Caliban and Prospero is that of a slave and his owner. However, Caliban’s reluctance to carry out Prospero’s orders depicts a slave rebelling against authority.
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- Ruiza, M., Fernández, T. and Tamaro, E. (2004). Summary of The Tempest, by William Shakespeare. In Biographies and Lives. The online biographical encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.biografiasyvidas.com/monografia/shakespeare/tempestad.htm on June 8, 2021.
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