Caliban in 'The Tempest'

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  • Created by: Shelley
  • Created on: 25-05-13 12:48

Caliban's name itself needs to be unpacked, many believe it is an anagram and a play on the word 'cannibal' which makes him appear savage and uneducated. Elizabethans would have associated this with him along with the man-eaters they were reading about during the exploration era of travel. It also likely that his name is a play on the Romany word 'cauliban' meaning 'black' or something associated with blackness. This could indicate his different skin colour of the fact his mother was a 'black witch' who practised dark magic, he is often referred to as "This thing of darkness" and "thou earth". He may be used as Miranda's opposite as he represents darkness and dirt and Miranda is light and purity. (critic Kim F. Hall).

For many, he is symbolic of the victims of European colonisation as, like Caliban, colonised people were "disinherited, exploited, and subjugated...Like him, they were torn between their indigenous culture and the culture superimposed on it by their conquerors". ( Virginia Mason Vaughan & Alden T. Vaughan). 

His actual appearance is largely ambiguous and so has led to many different stage interpretations as he is described as a "monster", a "Demi-devil", and not "honoured with human shape" or "strange fish". However, Prospero at one point states how the island when he arrived was not inhabited by humans EXCEPT for Caliban, suggesting that he is human.

"You taught me language, and my profit on't/ Is I know how to curse" - Caliban to Prospero and Miranda

This demonstrates the idea that the colonisers (P+M) have corrupted the colonised (Caliban) by teaching him language. Prospero believes he has educated Caliban and sees him as ungrateful for this. Language to Prospero and Miranda is means to knowing oneself (a gift). However, Caliban does not feel empowered from this 'gift' but rather, it is a constant reminder of how different he is from Prospero and Miranda and how they have changed him from what he once was. His only hope for an identity separate from the colonisers is to use what they have given him against them (as demonstrated when Caliban speaks very scathingly…


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