Caliban in The Tempest
Shannon L. Alder, child psychology author, says that, “your perspective on life comes from the cage you were held captive in” (Alder). This perspective is useful when considering Caliban’s behavior in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, because Caliban is both literally and figuratively held captive in a cage. Through Caliban’s point of view his actions are justified; he knows no other alternative. Conflict arises as Prospero becomes obliviously inconsiderate toward the fact that Caliban legitimately doesn’t know what is right.
In his essay The Uncanny, Freud explains the fear of the unknown in things that would seem familiar, which would also suggest that Caliban can be read as a human with animal instinct. The world of The Tempest is a collision between civilized society and the natural state of evil without moral order. Prospero and Caliban were nurtured differently, therefore they have different standards of human nature, and their relationship is overtaken by evil instead of their genuine emotion. Caliban is inevitably evil from birth, therefore, no good can be expected of him.
Caliban is first introduced in Prospero’s description of Sycorax. Being both a witch and Caliban’s mother, Sycorax is important because she represents Caliban’s upbringing, morals, and genetics. Sycorax is described by Prospero to be a, “dam’d witch with mischiefs manifolds and sorceries terrible” (I. 2, 263-264). Prospero addresses Caliban saying, “Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself / Upon thy wicked dam, come forth” (I. 2, 322-323). Caliban is both man and beast. “Caliban is the child of Sycorax and the devil and Prospero treats him accordingly, because he sees no redeemable qualities in Caliban.
Stephano describes him as, “some monster of the isle with four legs” (II. 2, 60). They see him as a beast. The humans on the island wrestle with the question of whether Caliban is a man or a monster. Freud describes this principle in his essay The Uncanny. “There is no question of ‘intellectual uncertainty’: we know now that what we are presented with are not figments of a madman’s imagination, behind which we, with our superior rationality, can recognize the sober truth – yet this clear knowledge in no way diminishes the impression of the uncanny” (Freud 139).
It very well could be that Prospero, Trinculo, and Stephano agree with the act of tormenting Caliban out of fear. They recognize his beastly qualities but also subconsciously know that he is human and just as capable to hold power as they are. They order him to “Come, kiss [their feet]” (2. 2, 147). They demean what little human he has in him, so that he believes he is nothing but a creature of evil nature. Naturally Caliban is against this enslavement, “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, / Which thou tak’st from me” (1. 2, 334-335).
Caliban has the right to not be content with his current position on the island. If one reads the play in the context that there is no social hierarchy, and all are equal beings, Caliban’s inevitable evil is in the same with the noble’s evil acts. Caliban’s actions are not right, but he can not be to blame if he was raised without morals. Caliban gives in to animalistic desires. Prospero accounts Caliban’s attempt to engage sexually with Miranda, “I have us’d thee, / Filth as thou art, with humane care, and lodg’d thee / In my own cell, till thou didst seek to violate / The honor of my child” (I. , 348-351).
Caliban does not deny this act, but says, “Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else / This isle with Calibans” (I. 2, 353-354). He would have populated the island with his kin. In Freud’s essay The Uncanny, he describes the idea of an eerie similarity between two things having a link with fear. Through psychological processes fear puts a situation in reality. “Finally, we must not let our preference for tidy solutions and lucid presentations prevent us from acknowledging that in real life it is sometimes impossible to distinguish between the two species of the uncanny that we have posited.
As primitive convictions are closely linked with childhood complexes, indeed rooted in them, this blurring of the boundaries will come as no great surprise” (Freud 155). Caliban gave in to his animalistic desire. He saw beauty in Miranda and wanted to indulge. However in the animal world this would not have been seen as a crime. Prospero and Miranda claim to have attempted to teach Caliban civilized ways. Miranda says, “I pitied thee, / took pains to make thee speak, taut thee each hour” (I. 2, 356-357). However, Caliban’s morality has been skewed from birth.
A few hours of Miranda teaching him to speak did not develop him a sense of right and wrong, but instead gave him attention that he has never had. This attention then provoked a desire in him to act on, and for it he is punished. In order for Caliban to establish humanity, Prospero must show him love as his master. As the play progresses Prospero embraces a new look on life, filled with love exemplified by Miranda and Ferdinand. Prospero takes mercy on Caliban when Alonso insulted him by saying, “He is as disproportion’d in his manners / As in his shape. Go, sirrah, to my cell; / take with you your companions.
As you look to have my pardon, trim it hadsomely” (V. 1 294-297). Prospero agrees to forgive Caliban if he cleans his cell. He calls him “sirrah”, meaning sir. This is a huge jump is social rankings for caliban. Before this point Caliban was at the very lowest point of the hierarchy. Being considered part beast, Caliban was lower that the position of an ordinary slave like Ariel. Caliban recognizes this compassion he has been given by saying, “Ay, that I will; and I’ll be wise hereafter / and seek for grace” (V. 1 298-299). In this act, Caliban and Prospero have both been changed.
They are no longer as narrow minded or as negative as they were prior. Despite the fact that the noblemen and Caliban have very different origins they are able to make peace. The argument of whether nature or nurture is more significant is irrelevant. What matters is being able to see an individual in their entirety, especially when they are different than the normal. In our world, there are people of many races, beliefs, priorities, and opinions. There is a great element within The Tempest about broadening perspective that can be applied to everyday life.
Although personal slaves are not something many people in society possess, humans have the capability to hold people captive with their words, thoughts, and actions. In the end, Caliban has respect for Prospero, the authority above him. The generation today has a strong belief for the right for freedom of individuality and opinion. However, people are no longer putting emphasis on the repercussions of their choices. Society is quick to judge, and the judgements are harsh. The Tempest teaches that change is not easy, and it has to come from a state of vulnerability.