Character Analysis of Caliban in the Tempest, a Play by William Shakespeare

Category: Fiction
Last Updated: 28 Jun 2023
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In The Tempest, Shakespeare poses the mystery of "man" versus "monster" through Caliban, the half-human son of the malevolent witch Sycorax. In his speech with Miranda and Prospero in Act I Scene ii, Caliban manages to capture the sympathies and the disgusted reactions from the audience. After his island is occupied by Prospero and his daughter Miranda, Caliban becomes their slave, trapped in a cave on the island and tormented with harmful magic if he does not obey commands, Caliban claims that he was kind to Prospero, and that Prospero repaid that benevolence by imprisoning him.

Prospero explains his harsh treatment of Caliban by arguing that after initially befriending him, Caliban attempted to rape Miranda, Caliban confirms this gleefully: "Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else / The isle with Calibans" (Lii.350-51). Which perspective the audience decides to believe depends on whether it views Caliban as inherently inhuman, or as made brutish by oppression.

Caliban's speech is presented so the audience first sympathizes with him—until Miranda and Prospero give their viewpoint on his imprisonment. At first, it seems as if Caliban was wrongfully confined and that he had ownership over the island because he was born there: "This island's mine by Sycorax my mother," (Lii.331). Caliban's "nobility" can be shown through Shakespeare's use of iambic pentameter for his speeches. Shakespeare is known for writing the nobles' lines in a more cultured manner by using iambic pentameter, while writing the commoners and servants' lines in prose.

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His speeches might be more sophisticated because he was taught language by nobles, or maybe because he is "king" of the island passed down to him by his mother. However, Miranda and Prospero counter by saying very little that shows that he is human. Miranda reminds Caliban that before she taught him language, he prattled "like / A thing most brutish" and Prospero says that he gave Caliban "humane care"

Hoàng 2 (Lii.358, 347), implying that this was something Caliban ultimately did not deserve. Miranda and Prospero both have contradictory views of Caliban's humanity. On the one hand, they think that their education of him has lifted him from his formerly animalistic status. On the other hand, they seem to see him as intrinsically inhuman. His evil nature can never be overcome by nurture, according to Prospero.

Miranda expresses a similar sentiment in: "thy vile race, / Though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures/Could not abide to be with" (I.ii.359-360), Miranda and Prospero believe the inhuman part of him drives out the "good nature" that is imposed on him.

Shakespeare questions the constitutions of humanity through Caliban and the different perceptions of the people around him. While Miranda and Prospero loathe Caliban because they think he is inherently monstrous, the servant Trinculo, upon first seeing Caliban, thinks he is monster because he is ugly. Describing a past trip to England, Trinculo says that Caliban could be shown off for money: "There would this monster make a man. Any strange beast there makes a man. When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian" (II.ii.27-29).

What seems most atrocious in these sentences is not the "dead Indian," or "any strange beast," but the cruelty of those who capture and gape at them. A few scenes later, Trinculo and his drunken friend Stephano almost make fun of Caliban even when he offers help and praise. This makes Stephano and Trinculo seem like the monsters while Caliban actually seems quite human-like. Caliban's exact nature remains ambiguous throughout the play, and it is up to the audience to interpret Caliban's humanity.

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Character Analysis of Caliban in the Tempest, a Play by William Shakespeare. (2023, Jun 28). Retrieved from

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