Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest Essay

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The Tempest, considered by many to be Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre, has of all his plays the most remarkable interpretive richness. The exceptional flexibility of Shakespeare’s stage is given particular prominence in The Tempest due to its originality and analytic potential, in particular in the presentation of one of his most renowned and disputed characters, Caliban. Superficially portrayed in the play as a most detestable monster, Caliban does not evoke much sympathy. However, on further examination Caliban presents himself as an extremely complex character and soon his apparent monstrosity is not so obviously transparent. The diverse range of presentations of him on stage exemplifies Caliban’s multifarious character.…show more content…
In the introduction to Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, Editor Alden T. Vaughan describes how the commonly accepted view of Prospero’s character was that of “a wise and rational ruler [who] could govern the forces of disorder that undermine the family and the state”. Indeed, before the beginning of the nineteenth century Prospero was presented as thus, while Caliban as an abominable, inhuman beast. As the play drew a greater audience worldwide however, that view began to change and post-colonial interpretations began to present themselves in which Caliban was cast in a more empathic light. These critics noted how easily the figure of Caliban converges with the image of the cannibal, the mythical ‘savage’ whom many European travellers claimed to have encountered. The name Caliban even seems to be a pointed anagram of ‘cannibal’. Since that time, views have changed on the savagery of those natives and with it, on the savagery of Caliban.

In the 1978 Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Tempest, David Suchet played a humanized, though exploited, ‘third-world’ Caliban, possibly a representative African or West Indian. This interpretation draws on many views that Caliban represents a subjugated native and that the relationship between Prospero and Caliban is, in fact, a relationship between the oppressor, and the oppressed. Indeed, the island was Caliban’s before Prospero and Miranda arrived where he was then reduced to being a slave.
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