The Other in the Tempest
In order to understand the characters in a play, we have to be able to distinguish what exactly makes them different. In the case of The Tempest, Caliban, the sub-human slave is governed largely by his senses, making him the animal that he is portrayed to be and Prospero is governed by sound mind, making him human. Caliban responds to nature as his instinct is to follow it. Prospero, on the other hand, follows the art of justifiable rule. Even though it is easy to start assessing The Tempest in view of a colonialist gaze, I have chosen instead to concentrate on viewing Caliban as the monster he is portrayed to be, due to other characters that are not human, but are treated in a more humane fashion than Caliban. Before we meet Caliban, we meet Ariel, Prospero’s trusting spirit. Even though Ariel is not human either, he is treated kindly and lovingly by his master who calls him “my quaint Ariel.” Caliban, on the other hand, is called a “tortoise” and a “poisonous slave” by Prospero. As Caliban enters in Act 1 Scene 2, we realise his fury at both Prospero and Miranda. He is rude and insulting and Prospero replies with threats of torture. Prospero justifies his punishment of Caliban by his anger at the attempted rape of his daughter, something Caliban shows no remorse for. Miranda distinguishes herself from Caliban by calling him “a thing most brutish” and inadvertently, a thing that has only bad natures. She calls his speech “gabble,” but doesn’t stop to wonder whether it was she that didn’t understand him because she didn’t know how to speak his language. Surely Caliban communicated verbally with his mother for the twelve years before Prospero killed her? It seems that Prospero and Miranda expect Caliban to be grateful for the knowledge of their language, but Caliban has just learned “how to curse” and justifies his anger by claiming rights...
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