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Claiming Caliban Essay

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Updated: Oct 12th, 2018

Scholars have mostly argued that, The tempest, written between 1610 and 1611 was the last play by William Shakespeare. The play has its setting on a remote Island and at first we see Prospero, who has been exiled as the Duke of Milan, using illusion and manipulation to have his daughter restored to her place.

The play begins with an eponymous tempest which is orchestrated by Prospero to force Antonio, his brother who has overthrown him and Alonso, the king of Naples into the island. Prospero has acquired knowledge of magic through learning and is served by the spirit Ariel.

The spirit Ariel was rescued by the magician after she was trapped by a witch Sycorax on a tree on the island. Before she died, Sycorax had a son, Caliban who, unlike other characters in the island, was not possessed by spirits before the arrival of prospero. Caliban was adopted and raised by prospero, from whom he learned religion and language while Caliban oriented prospero into the ins and outs of the island. Caliban was forced to be a slave by prospero when he attempted to rape Prospero’s only daughter, Miranda.

Caliban, as a slave hated Miranda and her father because they had usurped his sovereignty in the island and on the other and, prospero and her daughter held Caliban with disgust and contempt. This paper discusses the character of Caliban, and how its representation demonstrates the future treatment of America’s indigenous people. It will start by exploring the identity of Caliban by asking ourselves, who is Caliban?

As we have seen, Caliban is Prospero’s slave who is seen by other characters as a monster. Caliban is a complex figure who can be said to be a microcosm of several other characters in The Tempest. Caliban’s feeling is that the island has been snatched from him by an alien just like Prospero’s Dukedom was usurped by his brother Antonio.

The character of Caliban is an opposition to that of Ariel, the other servant of prospero, in that Caliban is a human figure while Ariel is a spirit. Moreover, Ariel serves his master willingly but Caliban believes that it is not his mission to bow before his master’s intimidation and thus acquires a different kind of dignity.

In another contract, both Caliban and Ferdinand are interested in Miranda but in a different way. Caliban wants to untie Miranda’s virgin knot by raping her and impregnating her so that the island is filled with Callibans, while Ferdinand want to do the same by marrying her for romantic ethereal love.

When Caliban was delivering his first speech to prospero, he regretted how he showed the magician around the island when he arrived but latter he plots to kill him. The final consummation of rebellion by Caliban is seen when his plot to kill his master fails and he is subdued and treated in the most inhuman manner by prospero and we see him being forced to clean a filthy bog in preparation for his master’s dinner.

However, Caliban is a sensitive character and his speeches are an imagery of the events that run throughout the play. Through his speeches, we are reminded that Caliban occupied the island before his master and triggers the feeling that it was very unfair and unjust for an alien to come and enslave him.

We can deduce from this characters appearance, his enslavement and native status on the island that Caliban is symbolic of the America’s indigenous people or native cultures which were subdued and colonized by western societies. These colonizing powers are represented by the power of the magician prospero and the America’s indigenous people by the monster character of Caliban.

Shakespeare wrote at the time when Europeans were getting colonies and he must have heard some myths about the cannibals of the Caribbean and thus created the anagram Caliban from the concept. Secondly, it also resembles the term Cariban from the West Indies which was used to refer to some natives there.

Therefore, Shakespeare through the play could be shedding light into the morality of colonialism. This morality is seen in for instance Gonzalo’s utopia, the enslavement unleashed by prospero and subsequent resentment of this enslavement by Caliban. Just like the natives or the America’s indigenous people, Caliban is the most natural character who is very much in touch with the natural world. He is the one who welcomed and showed his colonizer the world endowed to him and was latter subdued in his own world.

His resentment, plot to kill his master can be seen as an attempt by the colonized America’s people to rebel against those who threaten to dominate them as exemplified by the modern day claim that Hispanics are taking all jobs from America’s indigenous people . Although this failed, it was a good foreboding that the colonized will come to realize that they are being enslaved unfairly and they will plot some offensive.

His being referred by other characters as a monster is true of the power the colonized American natives had but they did not realize it; thus they were always fooled and colonized. Generally, Caliban was a sensitive monster but Prospero and Miranda did not acknowledge it.

This was the case with colonizers as they did not acknowledge that the colonized were human being and that they had human feelings. They therefore treated them like objects, not as humans. However, their will to regain their sovereignty was seen by the will of Caliban to overthrow his master, impregnate Miranda and fill the island with Caliban.

Finally, the play has most scenes showing themes of the dominated and the dominant figures. This master-servant binary opposition shows up where there is a crisis in this relationship; for example the resistance of a servant or the ineptitude of the dominant.

This should not, however, be seen as a pessimistic destiny when analyzing the future of the colonized American natives but can be seen as unresolved rebellion where force may subside and negotiations rule as evidenced by today’s philosophy of the melting pot, where coexistence is seen as a solution.

In the United States, the alien issue, as in the island, has become a feature of economy and society. The character Ariel, which contracts the rebellion of Caliban can be seen as the future of American people as for now. Ariel preferred what can be called negotiations and accommodation of the alien colonizer. Therefore it can be concluded that Caliban, as far as the future of America is concerned, represents a kind of rebellion which is no longer popular among the current generation.

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"Claiming Caliban." IvyPanda, 12 Oct. 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/claiming-caliban/.

1. IvyPanda. "Claiming Caliban." October 12, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/claiming-caliban/.


IvyPanda. "Claiming Caliban." October 12, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/claiming-caliban/.


IvyPanda. 2018. "Claiming Caliban." October 12, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/claiming-caliban/.


IvyPanda. (2018) 'Claiming Caliban'. 12 October.

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