Calibanned. Pun Intended.


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For my Shakespearian readers. This post is a manifestation of a composition I wrote regarding Caliban and the perspective of being judged like a book cover. Enjoy!

Calibanned, Pun Intended

The Tempest is set in an imaginary world full of entertained ideas of monsters and spirits that is strategically comparative to Shakespeare’s view of humanity’s progression in the 1600’s. In The Tempest, Caliban is a conveniently misidentified “wretched monster” from the depths of darkness to which glimpses of nobility and humanity shines through; his character reflects the innermost thoughts of Shakespeare himself as Shakespeare’s final literary prose is presented to the world. Through the course of the play, we find Caliban ignominiously placed in a role that could bring about two different mediums. The conditions of Caliban’s surroundings allow his character to conveniently protrude subliminal wit and cynicism to his master Prospero, or begrudgingly offer snide and condescending remarks to his drunken conspirators Stephano and Trinculo. Shakespeare carefully architects his own voice and opinions through each character woven into his final masterpiece. In some instances, readers may begin to see a pattern in Shakespeare’s thoughts through Caliban. The theory that I offer to you is a four-part thought representation demonstrating Shakespeare’s ability to push forth his own convictions about the current happenings in the world at the time, and how he has conveniently compartmentalized those thoughts within the segregated yet intertwined characters in the Tempest specifically through Caliban.

Shakespeare’s view on Caliban is an extension of his own feelings towards enslavement and the relationships fostered through this specific type of relationship dynamic. Here is where I will introduce the first section of the four-part thought representation. In Act I Caliban reminds Prospero that he was kind to him by showing him the ins and outs of the island which he inherited from his mother Sycorax and that his kindness was repaid by being imprisoned on his own island. Through this we first see the established identity of Caliban; by showing the island to the exiled Duke of Milan and his daughter Miranda upon their arrival, we can only lead to conclude that he was once a kind and welcoming native that was happy to have welcomed the two royals when they first set foot on the island. He may have viewed them as visitors to his own domain that can appreciate the beauty of the land that he believed belonged to him. However, we see Prospero retort to Caliban’s prose with:

“ …Thou most lying slave,

Whose stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,

Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee

In  mine own cell till thou didst seek to violate

The honour of my child…” (I.ii. 320)

Breaking apart this retort, we concur Prospero’s initial view of Caliban as a heathen is unchanged throughout the text. We must also remember that this exchange happens at the first onset of Caliban appearing to the audience, so its definitive introduction lead most to believe that he is indeed the “monster” that Prospero describes. Somehow, the rest of Prospero’s statements towards Caliban does not correlate to the view, which was presented earlier, of a man that was so welcoming and hospitable towards Prospero and Miranda. Prospero goes on to explain that although he was filth he served for a purpose and was showered with human care. Caliban was provided a home within the dwellings of Prospero and Miranda up until the moment that he accused Caliban of purporting to violate his daughter’s virtue.

Caliban’s role is expanded through the encounter he has with some of the other characters in the play that plan to overthrow Prospero. Stephano and Trinculo whom serve Prospero on the island also offer up some comedic anecdotes that belabor Prospero’s established view of Caliban as a “monster.”

In this representation of Caliban’s observable progression through Shakespeare’s writing, the coupled with the character’s conclusions, and my own digestion of the text, you can see the different mediums in which we begin to visually translate the four-part view of his character. Cascading from

William Shakespeare’s many connotations in the text about Caliban’s humanistic qualities that separate him from the view of the other characters as a monstrosity. It is demonstrated in how he writes about Caliban and what is left up to the audience to draw conclusion towards. After all, Caliban had a mother, a home, a life, a meaningful purpose, and all the things in between that were suddenly taken from him upon the arrival of Prospero on his island. If he were as stupid as presented by Prospero and described by the other characters Caliban would not have felt such regret in showing Prospero the laws of the land. Through his entrance into his initial monologue, he seems but a rational and aware human being experiencing the tide of emotions one would if one were afflicted by his same situation. Here is an example:

“…And show’d thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place, and fertile.
Cursed be I that did so!—All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o’ th’ island…”
(I.ii.320-328).

We are shown a glimpse of Caliban’s underestimated intelligence as he, Stephano, and Trinculo begin to conspire to overthrow Prospero. Caliban knows that Prospero’s books are a symbol of his power so he ensures that the joker and the butler  know to take on the endeavor of capturing this first. “Remember/  First to possess his books,” Caliban says to Stephano and Trinculo, “for without them / He’s but a sot” (III.ii.86–88). If he were a monster and a fool Caliban would not have to audacity to succinctly identify where the source of one’s power may lie. The fact that every single character misidentifies Caliban is also a fascinating play on your imagination as you read The Tempest. Many times throughout the text, he is ignominiously compared to a pile of manure, an accused rapist, and a monster. All of those characteristics describe the lowest of the rung as far as ethically, mentally, spiritually and physically which leave the audience subliminally conditioned to the fact that Caliban may just be these things since it was spoken more than once by all the characters as they verbalize their first encounter with Caliban.

I believe the following about Caliban; I believe him to have noble aspirations. He is comedic, resented, underestimated, and aware. Above all I also believe him to be human. There are several pieces of evidence to which I draw my conclusion. I particularly like to bring forth the monologue in which Caliban professes his innermost desire;

“…Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked,
I cried to dream again…”
(III.ii.148-156)

In this example  we see a glimpse of Caliban’s  noble aspiration for the simple things in life. At some point, we all want to go back to our childhood where we do not have to be accountable for paying bills, acting on responsibilities, and fulfilling appointments and schedules that seem to have no end. Caliban lets the audience into a portion of his desire and dream to just be left alone in his own island with nothing but its sounds to soothe him to sleep. Where no puppet strings govern his ways, where he has no masters to serve and shave off every layer of his integrity. You can relate for I am sure that at one point in your life these words sounded very familiar. Now, ask yourself, would a monster be capable of asking for such simple pleasures? My vantage point is no, for the pure simple fact that a monster is defined as a heartless, thoughtless, careless being. No one mindless, thoughtless, and careless could articulately profess their most noble aspirations. It would not even belong in the same thought pattern or sentence.

I come to the defense of what Caliban has been put forth to be viewed. I believe that Shakespeare intended to make his audience think about the common themes in his last written masterpiece. Through Caliban, Prospero, the relationships between Miranda and Ferdinand ,and many others, we are painted a magnificent picture to which we can draw many open-ended conclusions upon. We are afforded the ability to imagine the picturesque pasts of each of the characters as they enter each scene. Shakespeare has so cleverly expressed in this work the power at which he proposes in his words. In the end, the themes of nature versus nurture, the norm in which we believe in become questioned and not as foundationally accurate as we once believed it to be.

I went into reading The Tempest rooting for the obvious and only after rereading it three times was I presented with the heart and humanity that was presented to me through Caliban’s character. It was not obvious at first, but something within his interactions and assumption of his past was magical in really creating his humanity within the play. There were moments when he was foolish but still had very insightful knowledge that he imparted in his brutish way of speaking.  The Tempest redefines what was believed to be status quo in the sixteenth century and still redefines what we perceive to be status quo now. In this particular event, it is the lingering theme of identification between man and monster. What really is a monster? How are they created? Who creates them? What really is a man? These questions are a perfect storm to which Shakespeare so beautifully constructed many idioms.

To quote Shakespeare The Tempest is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of. Caliban having nowhere to go but up is consistently Calibanned from being recognized as a human being. However, Shakespeare offers us glimpses of these moments through the interactions Caliban must go through during the play. I leave you know with the words Caliban utters prior to approaching Prospero’s cell;        “Pray you, tread softly, that the blind mole may not/ Hear a foot fall: we now are near his cell” (VI.i.1937). You may not realize it but on a 30,000-foot level, Shakespeare is insinuating that what you think you know you may have no idea about. This statement represents Prospero as our own mind with Caliban being the “realization” of enlightenment. Just as we are about to discover what our minds have conditioned us to believe, we are then snapped right back into reality and are then Calibanned from tapping into that enlightenment as it is open to our own interpretation.

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