Caliban in The Tempest is an original inhabitant of the island and is the bastard son of the witch, Sycorax. He is a base and earthy slave who mirrors and contrasts several of the other characters in the plot of play.
Caliban believes that Prospero stole the island from him, rendering Prospero a colonial (and perhaps villainous) occupier.
Caliban in The Tempest: Man or Monster?
Caliban is often referred to as a “monster” by the other characters, but as an audience, our response to Caliban is more ambiguous: on one hand, his grotesque appearance and misguided decision-making make us side with Prospero. However, our sympathies are manipulated by his passion for the island and his desire to be loved.
His knowledge of the island demonstrates his native status and, as such, we believe him to be unfairly enslaved by Prospero.
However, Caliban does make a number of regretful decisions – for example, when trusting Stefano and making a fool of himself with drink. He is also rather savage in his plot to kill Prospero; but no more savage than gorse in his feet and hounds being set upon him by Prospero.
One has to respect Caliban’s proud refusal to serve Prospero, perhaps a true sign of power in The Tempest. Caliban is a complex and sensitive character whose naivety leads him into foolishness.
Caliban “is” The Tempest
In many respects, Caliban’s character reflects many aspect of The Tempest. For example:
- Caliban reflects aspects of Prospero’s darker side in his vengeance
- Caliban’s desire to rule the island reflects Antonio’s ambition which ultimately led to the overthrow of Prospero
- Caliban’s plot to murder Prospero mirrors that of Antonio and Sebastian’s plot to kill Alonso
- Caliban could also be compared to Ferdinand in that they both find Miranda beautiful and desirable – however, Ferdinand’s traditional approach is very different to Caliban’s attempt to rape Miranda in order to “people the isle with Calibans”