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Caliban characterisation – The Tempest

As the embodiment of the Jacobean view of foreigners as “savage”, due to 18th century xenophobia, Caliban is depicted as being elemental, debased and an “unthinking bundle of primitive instinct”-suggesting his incapacity to make measured decisions as he has been isolated from western civilisation and society. His name can be seen as an anagram of “cannibal” which once again suggests his uncivilised and survivalist nature.As the legitimate ruler of the island the modern audience can realise the exploitation of the indigenous “monster of the isle” – a beast-like, unfeeling native. Caliban is usurped from his inherited rule, much like Prospero is overthrown by Alonso. Shakespeare uses a noun as a verb as Caliban says “sty me” to emphasise that he has been kept like an animal, an image constructed by the imperialist and omnipotent author. The uneven relationship between the coloniser and the wild native is explored by the playwright’s repetitive use of the language of colonial exploitation and images of incarceration as Caliban is “confined”, with his own island as his “prison”. The power relations are highlighted by Miranda calling Caliban an “Abhorr�d slave”, the accentuated adjective emphasising the hateful, loathing tone towards the subordinate, uncouth “thing”.Caliban’s attempted rape of Miranda when he did “seek to violate/ The honour of my child” hints that Caliban brings about his own problems due to his acts of debasement, part of the nature of his unevolved, “vile race”. The socio-biological explanation explores his primitive, ethiological and basic need to satisfy his appetite albeit rapacious and lacking reason and rationality. His actions invite the romantic views of Rousseau of the “noble savage” who’s only sin was not being inculcated by society’s ideologies.Caliban is often referred to with biblical imagery and is associated to being “got by the devil himself”, being under Lucifer’s control as opposed to worshipping God like society taught the civilised Jacobean society. His diction is impregnated with images of black magic like the dark, connotative triple structure “toads, beetles, bats”. Caliban is seen as being “earth”- an element, near the bottom of the great chain of being, whereas Ariel is seen as being light and celestial, “an airy spirit”. Prospero, the tyrannical master of both creatures, calls his obedient servant “my quaint Ariel”, juxtaposing him calling Caliban “thou poisonous slave” and exhibiting Shakespeare’s methodology of using antithesis as a linguistic construction to emphasise conflict in drama by reflecting it in language. Shakespeare uses the possessive pronoun “my” to show that he sees Arial as a possession and his property. “Thou” is used by Shakespeare to exhibit power relations, showing that Propero is above Caliban in the social hierarchy. Contemporary issues and worries are used by Shakespeare to authenticate the play to the Jacobean audience; “poisonous”, as well as “blister”, are both reminiscent of the plague or black death which was array in this era.Miranda “taught [him] language”, making him less wild and able to communicate and show Prospero “the qualities o’th’isle”. As “an exiled, embittered, manipulative wizard” Prospero exploits Caliban’s innocence and naivety, overthrowing him and forcing him into enslavement using his “art” of magic as Shakespeare uses his “art” of writing to construct the scene and characters. Caliban’s language is simplistic and filled with elisions and inverted syntax like “you do keep from me/ The rest o’th’island”. He often uses simplistic terms such as “bigger light” when referring to the sun, mirroring his lack of intelligence in his speech while also adding to the cosmic context present throughout the text. The paradoxical nature of Caliban’s character is not only brought forward with the staging opportunities of this “deformed slave”, ranging from “bizarre animality to a fully human being”, but also by his speeches being laid out as blank verse, generally used for the speech of noblemen and those residing in the upper echelons of society as opposed to the “uncontrolled, uncouth, and wild” Caliban.The idea of the “noble savage” is enhanced by Caliban’s dream which, using Plato’s ideas, suggests tht the real world is a shadow of the ideal. It is revealed that the “howling monster” has an appreciation for the beauty and magnitude of the island full of “sound, and sweet airs” – the alliterative sibilance mimicking a whisper. The haunting enchantment of the “hum” of the island and the gratification the “hag-seed” shows towards his home undermines that all indigenous natives are debased and defiled and illuminates that he is misunderstood, that the island nurtures him, not society. The island gave him “delight” and “hurt not” whereas he was constantly stung by the “urchin-shows” – devilish hedgehogs – or Prospero’s servants, who were ordered to deliberately torture him.

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