Caliban is one of William Shakespeare’s most bizarre and intricately crafted characters, which is a bold statement to make, however his undeniable presence in The Tempest both in text and on stage cannot be ignored. The rambunctious, uncontrolled, fiery spirit of Caliban hides many of his inner qualms and this facade has been a topic of interest for many in the world of literature, but Caliban’s issues are larger than his spineless body and those, combined with his antagonism encompass much of The Tempest as a whole.
Through Caliban’s continued submittance to a “master” and vengeful antics he illustrates that fear can be the driving force behind the manifestation of unbounded desperation for attention, a recurring theme among other characters. Caliban is introduced on the stage as a red hot and temperamental creature, dangerous and fitting the “evil antagonist stereotype” as Shakespeare proceeds to reveal that indeed he has raped Prospero’s daughter and some of Caliban’s “first words” are curses towards Prospero.
Despite this a point of weakness that serves to provide reasoning behind Caliban’s harbored resentment is illustrated shortly thereafter in which he remarks of Prospero, “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,Which thou takest from me… Thou strokedst me and madest much of me… and then I loved thee” (1. 2. 334-336) in an angry rant. By outlining the issues of Caliban the reader sees that he is missing more than an island belonging to his mother, he lacks attention from when Prospero and Miranda “strokedst” him which he did “love”, yet now he has been reduced to a slave and confined in a rock he has no one.
Caliban’s lack of parents places him in the orphan category. Without having anyone to him with care and give him the attention that basic humans need as they grow and his mother being a witch there is little likelihood that he got even a small amount of that, which has harmful ramifications in terms of personality development and inner conflict, seen throughout literature in books such as Markus Zusak’s The Book Theif and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events in which the main characters experience significant problems dealing with emotions.
In a similar fashion the void left by Caliban’s mother, the island, and now Prospero releases anger, the full implications of this anger are not fully highlighted and this is something the reader has yet to see as they approach Act II in which the reader returns to Caliban and the driving force is exposed when Caliban encounters Trinculo and Stephano his immediate reaction is to plead, “Do not torment me, prithee. I’ll bring my wood home faster”(2. 2. 42).
The fear Caliban has towards suffering results in a desire to submit illustrated by him advocating to work at a more rapid pace for Prospero in spite of his hatred for him. The rapidness of his plea implies that this is his primary concern, and serves to potentially explain his position of consistently submitting to others derived from his fear. It also allows the reader to infer that this has been a frequent and arduous occurrence in Caliban’s life as fear of torture is borne usually with experience of it.
William Shakespeare skillfully evolves Caliban’s character throughout The Tempest’s exposition by initially introducing him as a harmful “wicked” being, but with hints regarding his upbringing suggests to the reader that his sinisterness is procured from a neglected background, culminating into an attention mongering creature that uses submission to avoid forlornness and abuse.
Shakespeare evidently moved through Caliban’s journey in The Tempest by syncretizing Caliban’s fearfulness with his need for attention in order to later yield the consequences of this combination along with drawing similarities with other characters in order to illustrate the larger message of fright driving the human need for attention. As readers move through the book they have seen Caliban’s desire for attention through being a kind of servant as he is angered by the lack of from Prospero and hopeful regarding the possibility posed by Stephano and Trinculo.
We see this underlined in lines 94 and 95 of Act II Scene II in which Caliban was singing, “ [Caliban] Has a new master. Get a new man. Freedom, high-day, high-day, freedom, freedom… ”(2. 2. 94-95). Caliban is excited to be submitting to a new master, and based on his background this is a consequence of his desire for attention. He might now be protected under his new master and treated well. Associating a new master with “freedom” Caliban’s heedfulness is driven by the potential consideration and better treatment Stephano may provide him with.
Although it is important to note that less harsh treatment may be something every servant wants, Caliban’s motive is different. Not desiring freedom in it’s purest form he does still feel obligated to serve someone and be protected, being exemplified when Caliban remarks, “I’ll not serve him. He’s not valiant”(3. 2. 23-24) in response to Trinculo’s comments. This demonstrates Caliban paying attention to a courageous aspect in his master so that he can use it to his advantage and be protected, this is put into action when a few lines later he pleads, “Bite him to death, I prithee”.
Clearly Caliban fears Trinculo’s threats to him, but wisely he masks it by using the lord and vassal relationship that was commonly seen in the Medieval Era in which this was written- exhibited by Caliban’s automatic dubbing of Stephano as his lord. Albeit being able to assume any position that he wanted, he chose to push himself lower rather than deem himself a being almost or equal to Stephano, but this relationship is the way that he achieves protection via attention.
Conclusively Shakespeare is using this Caliban subplot to establish a message that takes a much larger plot in our lives, the reasoning behind why humans develop inequalities between one another and so many adhere is fear that lurks behind the choices. In the larger world of The Tempest William Shakespeare does not limit this idea to Caliban as it is also seen in the plot of Antonio and Sebastian’s plan to kill Alonso, not only drawing parallels to Caliban’s proposed killing of Prospero , but paralleling in the motives behind the plots.
Sebastian conveys this when he says, “Shall free thee from the tribute which thou payest. And I the king shall love thee. ”(2. 1. 259-260) which reassures Antonio of the action they are about to perform and give him protection and attention something that similarly, Caliban would also desire as the language resembles the previous quote in which Caliban remarked, “… and I loved thee”(1. 2. 34-336) in a manner implying that he too expected love in return. Had this been said to Caliban he would have been at Sebastian’s feet, seeing as he is the most prominent symbol of this theme, but likewise Antonio agrees to the idea. Notice that Sebastian uses freedom in the context of him becoming King similar to Caliban seeing Stephano’s “rule” as something giving him freedom because it provides attention and protection.
The recurrence of this makes this an encompassing theme of The Tempest as most prominently underlined by Caliban and his character encapsulating that message in the play as he interacts with Prospero and Stephano. Between The Tempest’s messages of revenge, family, and magic Shakespeare uses Caliban as a character to illustrate the process of human submission using his enslavement journey throughout the story in order to clarify that inside characters trepidation manifests aspirations to have protection and attention.
This also appears in other characters such as Stephano and Trinculo and fits in well to some of the main messages of revenge by exemplifying the importance of fear and how it has shaped people’s actions. Prospero used fear combined with Ariel’s magic to change the course of his brother’s actions, and fear of not being free rendered Ariel complicit to heed to Prospero’s bidding.
This very concept transcends the play into the modern world, elucidating Shakespeare’s genius as in modern times people continue to be driven by fear, often acting erratically in situations where this is the case. Many in high stress situations are pushed people to “submit” to the realm of drug and alcohol abuse to gain a level of “freedom” from the problems that they fear and wish to avoid, but as Shakespeare left the stage proving that everyone comes to term with their fears and enemies- people leave the world after coming to terms with their fears.