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The Character Of Caliban In Shakespeare's The Tempest

1820 words - 7 pages

The Character of Caliban in The Tempest

 
  'This thing of darkness, I must acknowledge mine' It is impossible to understand The Tempest without first understanding the character of Caliban. Despite numerous novels and poems praising the virtuous, the pure and the good, everyone has within them a darker side of depravity and evil thoughts. This makes us human. What distinguishes between good and bad people, though, is the way in which this 'alter ego' manifests itself to both the rest of mankind and to oneself.

 

Ostensibly, The Tempest is a play based around Prospero: his power to punish verses his power to forgive. Many scholars believe that this is an almost autobiographical work, written towards the end of Shakespeare's literary career. This idea is reinforced throughout the play, especially towards the end and in the epilogue:

 

'...my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer.'

And

'I'll break my staff,

Bury it in certain fathoms in the earth,

And deeper than did ever plummet sound

I'll drown my book'

(i.e. his tools that work the magic)

 

Therefore, our understanding of Caliban's position in the play is of great import. Critics debate on whether his presence is necessary to show Prospero's darker side, and to illustrate his imperfections (Caliban is the only character to whom Prospero is deliberately, and often unnecessarily antagonistic) or whether he is rather Prospero's ugliness personified into one character.

 

Either way, his presence and basic character must be understood if we are to understand that of Prospero. Therefore the question of whether Caliban's wickedness is pure evil or mischief is necessary in the ultimate judgement of the play.

 

Therefore, if Caliban is to be seen as a poor misguided soul, twisted into the creature that he has become, through cruelty shown to him by foreign invaders, then maybe he isn't so evil after all. If this is the case, then his actions can be blamed on natural instinct and a tormented mind.

 

In the second scene of Act one, Caliban attempts, with some success, to plead his case as the hard done by innocent. Upon their arrival on the island, he apparently treated them very well:

 

'...I loved thee,

And showed thee all the qualities o'th'isle,

The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile...'(Shakespeare 1:2:337)

 

while Miranda and Prospero took him in as their own. This situation continued, while Miranda 'took pains to make him speak' until Caliban attempted to 'violate the honour' of Miranda. This could be seen as an act of pure instinct rather than malice: a wish to populate 'this isle with Calibans' is natural? His lack of remorse however, is obvious. This act only served him in being shut in a rock-prison and punished with the help of Prospero's magic.

 

These actions though, are justifiable, if they are to be combined with Caliban's situation. His precious...

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