Back to: The Tempest by William Shakespeare
In the play The Tempest, which is written by Shakespeare, Caliban is one of those characters who have been used tremendously outside the play. Caliban is the son of Sycorax, a witch mentioned several times throughout the play.
The first time when Prospero speaks of Caliban to Miranda in the play, he says that Caliban is someone who never “yields us kind answer” and Miranda replies that he is “a villain.”
In the play, we come to know that the island belonged to Sycorax and as his son, it is Caliban’s right to rule over it. Sycorax was a witch and Caliban’s shape is an ambiguous one.
Various characters observe him in the play as someone who looks like “a fish” or someone who is “not honored with a human shape.” Miranda, in the beginning, says that she doesn’t even like to look at him.
Prospero, as a master, is too harsh with him but the fact that initially, Caliban tried to rape his daughter, is one of the reasons behind it. Harold Bloom (a literary critic) thought of Prospero as a father figure to Caliban who is disappointed by his rigid denial to learn the culture.
Prospero says that even though he is “a filth”, he took “human care” of him. Miranda boldly states that he is “capable of all ill.” She taught him how to speak the language, she filled his “purposes with words that made them known” but Caliban’s revolting character is revealed when he replies to her that “you taught me language, and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse.” This characteristic of Caliban is the reason behind his character brought into the post-colonial context.
His character is forever in revolt with Prospero but he doesn’t show any Master trait either. When he comes across Stephano and Trinculo and they show him the effects of alcohol which is full of surprise for him, he starts treating Stephano as a God and wilfully starts addressing him as his “new master.”
Caliban also shows certain signs of learning sensibilities from Prospero as he might’ve tried teaching him. Caliban says, “if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming, the clouds me thought would open, and show riches ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again.”
It tells us of the amount of civilization imbibed by him from the company of Prospero. Towards the end, Caliban apologizes for his errors and Prospero, almost as a patron, forgives him and frees him from the spell of his magical power.
Caliban remains one of such literary characters who “hungrily” accommodates ideas that we put into them.