Caliban in the Tempest
Jordan SanEmeterio Professor Stracke Works of English Literature 13 June, 20011 Caliban: Stock Character of Colonization In Shakespearean literature Caliban will always be a character that will garner debate and stir up conversation. The “monster” Caliban is first introduced, in The Tempest, as a “freckled whelp hag-born–not honour’d with a human shape” (Tempest) that was ‘littered’ on an island by a witch and fathered by the devil. His body is described as either “half fish and half monster” or “half fish and half man. (Tempest) Either way the point is clear, Caliban is initially portrayed as a barbarous being that lacks the common social graces of the imperial world. Many scholars go further to try and pinpoint his origins as either a Native American or a savage of Europe. Through an analysis of where Caliban is from, this essay will explain how he is a representation of all the colonized people during Shakespeare’s time. There are many arguments that say Caliban is not from America. One such example can be seen in the topography, flora, and fauna described of the island by Shakespeare himself as well as by the geographical origins of the characters. n The Tempest, Arial clearly stated that Sycorax, the mother of Caliban was born in Algiers. Adding this to the knowledge that Prospero was the Duke of Milan can give us a good guess as to where the island is. Looking on a map, Algiers borders the Mediterranean Sea on the south and the duchy of Milan borders it to the north. If one were to draw a straight line between the two locations, two islands would lay in its path. Looking further into the text, we can see the physical description of the island by Caliban. show’d thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle, the fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place, and fertile. ” (Tempest) The island of Corsica is known for its salt exports which is cultivated from brine pits, or more commonly known as salt marshes. In addition Corsica is known for having natural springs as well as fertile and infertile lands, due to its mountainous nature. One could therefore declare that Caliban is Algerian and end the discussion there but in The Tempest, Shakespeare also wrote that Sycorax worshipped the god Setebos; a God known to be worshipped in South American countries.
Additionally in the online etymology dictionary, the name Caliban is described as “from Sp. canibal “a savage, cannibal,” from Caniba, Christopher Columbus’ rendition of the Caribs’ name for themselves. ” (Harper) This would further bring proof that Caliban is in fact from the new world. Additional evidence can be inferred from Trinculo saying in reference to Caliban “they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian. Legg’d like a man, and his fins like arms! ” (Tempest). This could be dismissed as a jester’s geographical incompetence in assuming he washed up ashore the new world.
However, this is still ample evidence to argue that Caliban is Native American. All the proof given creates uncertainty on where Caliban in from. Is he from the new world or simply from Algiers? To assume that Shakespeare suffered from a lack of continuity is tantamount to literary blasphemy. Therefore, I argue that he is in fact a stock character or amalgamation of the colonized peoples of the world. In 1898, premiere Shakespearean scholar Sidney Lee stated that “Caliban is no precise presentation of any identifiable native American.
He is an imaginary composite portrait…” (Vaughan) evidence to back this up can be seen in multiple places throughout the tempest’s text. It seems clear that Caliban is himself colonized because he is taught a new language, goes on to share the islands resources and eventually becomes enslaved. Furthermore, he was clearly treated as a monster and outsider, the parallels of this to the treatment of aboriginal people from around the world is uncanny. Therefore it seems that Shakespeare is trying to convey a message about aborigines in general.
Professor Allan Carey-Webb of Western Michigan University states, in his writing Shakespeare for the 1990s: A Multicultural Tempest, that Shakespeare was influenced in writing the Tempest by “Montaigne’s essay ‘Of Cannibals’—which discusses the values of societies insulated from European influences” (Carey-Webb) by writing Caliban the way he did, Shakespeare was commenting that once people like Caliban are colonized by Europeans by being introduced to “magic” like alcohol and technology, they lose their simple purity and become no different from us.
With this in mind, one could see the tempest not as just the storm that lures Antonio and the King of Naples but also as the social and cultural enticement that lures natives away from their beliefs and ways of life. BIBLIOGRAPHY •Carey-Webb, Allen. “Shakespeare for the 1990s: A Multicultural Tempest. ” English Journal, v82 n4 (1993): 30-35. •Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology Dictionary. 10 October 2008. 10 June 2011 . •Tempest, The The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Edited by Dinah Birch. Oxford University Press Inc. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. CUNY Graduate Center. 6 June 2011