Prospero's Relationship With Caliban And Colonialism In "The Tempest"

1442 words - 6 pages

The relationship between Prospero and Caliban is a perfect demonstration of the dependence relationship between a coloniser and the native of whichever colony he set his eye upon. Colonialism was a subject easily related to by Shakespeare's contemporary audience; with James on the throne the British Empire was beginning to thrive and would soon become the largest in not only the 17th Century world, but one of the largest in history. At the time 'The Tempest' was first preformed, 1611, Britain had begun to lay claim to North America and the smaller Caribbean isles, a fact the King was no doubt proud of and, similarly to his addition of the supernatural (a subject that fascinated James), aiming to impress Shakespeare chose to make colonialism a central theme in 'The Tempest'.

Within his portrayal of Prospero, Shakespeare skilfully displays this character as the embodiment of all characteristics that defined the true colonisers; strength, power, and of course the intense control of all relationships and land he is invested in. Although these characteristics can be seen in all Prospero’s actions and interactions it is those with his subject, Caliban, which present them most clearly.

From the moment in Act I, Scene II when Prospero first references Caliban, “a freckled whelp hag-born – not honoured with a human shape,” it becomes clear the low opinion Prospero has of him, and this opinion would’ve been shared by the vast majority of Shakespeare’s contemporary audience. Shakespeare’s use of imagery at this point gives the suggestion that Prospero thinks of Caliban as little more than a pet dog, an image Caliban himself emphasises at a later stage in the scene when he says, “Thou strok’st me,”. Shakespeare uses animal imagery upon multiple occasions, such as when Prospero calls Caliban a tortoise, or when other characters refer to him as a ‘fish’.

Caliban’s reactions to Prospero within this scene, both verbal and physical, tell the typical story of a native people who have been under Colonial rule for some time. When he is initially summoned Caliban’s response is hesitant and churlish, as the stage directions dictate that he does not come when called, but instead shouts in a presumptuous manner, “(Calling from the far side of Prospero’s cave) There’s wood enough within!” This suggests Caliban is used to being wanted only for manual labour, such as fetching wood. This would’ve been typical of a native in Caliban’s position – one for whom the façade originally presented by the coloniser had fallen.

For, like in many 17th century colonial relationships, it was very much the case that initially Prospero was kind to Caliban, “When thou cam’st first, thou strok’st me…And then I loved thee,” and furthermore he and his daughter, Miranda, educated Caliban in science and speech, “I [Miranda] pitied thee, Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour one thing or other.” This was a typical characteristic of a colonial relationship; in British...

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