Posts Tagged ‘Mistreated’

I wrote this in April of 2012 for my Shakespeare class.

Besides the conjured spirits, Caliban was the only native to and inhabitant of the mysterious island which is the setting for William Shakepeare’s The Tempest. Prospero and his daughter Miranda chanced upon the island after fleeing forces from Milan that drove them out and appointed the dukedom to his brother, Antonio. This new exotic place became territory for Prospero to rule and utilize in his studies of the magical arts. Yet instead of being accepted and befriended, Caliban was enslaved and subjected to constant torments and insults. Prospero referred to him as “thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself” (1.2.319). Did he deserve this treatment and portrayal as a monster, or was he simply a reflection of the more savage qualities to which any man can be reduced?

Caliban is the son of the witch Sycorax who previously ruled the island in tyranny before her death. His appearance is described as not quite human and animalistic in nature. Prospero attempts to civilize him and even teaches him how to speak properly. Yet all he does is give him orders and chores, threatening torture of cramps and unpleasant tormentsif he refuses to obey. Caliban retorts back, “You taught me language, and my profit on’t / Is, I know how to curse” (1.2.363-364). He finds ways to defy Prospero and eventually joins up with Stephano and Trinculo in an attempt to seek revenge.

The two members that are part of the shipwrecked crew, Stephano and Trinculo, aren’t the most ideal companions, but they accept Caliban readily enough and impress him with a fascinating item in their possession: alcohol. Particularly affected by the drink, he sees Stephano as a god and pledges them fealty: “These be fine things, and if they be not sprites. / That’s a brave god and celestial liquor. / I will kneel to him” (2.2.116-118). Caliban is regarded in a comic and almost pitiful light. The two men do nothing but enforce the portrayal and use him for their own means as a guide. However, Caliban shines forth as a true and reverent guardian of the island, filled with respect for it. “Be not afeared, the isle is full of noises, / Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not” (3.2.135-136). He speaks eloquently about the island in a way those regarding him stereotypically would not expect, sharing his own hopes and vulnerabilities. “The clouds methought would open, and show riches / Ready to drop upon me. That when I wak’d / I cried to dream again” (3.2.141-143). Winning the two over, he includes them in a plot to overthrow Prospero and gain power.

Ultimately, the plan fails, and Prospero sends spirits on a chase after them as punishment. However, as he speaks to the gathered group, Prospero recognizes Caliban as a part of him: “This thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine” (5.1.275-276). He admits imperfection and asserts everyone’s rights to fairness and deliverance. Everyone has a darker side, and both light and dark sides should be embraced. Humanity gives rights to all seeking a place in the world.


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