Undermining the Otherness of Other: Caliban and Aaron

Topics: Julie Taymor, The Tempest, Moons of Uranus Pages: 8 (3079 words) Published: April 26, 2012
Linda Lonseth

Undermining the Otherness of Other: Caliban and Aaron

Much of the representation of the ‘Other’ in The Tempest and Titus Andronicus aligns with the Early Modern dictum that women be chaste, silent and obedient (Hull 31, 173, 195). In the interests of maintaining the social order, those that exhibited basic differences in skin colour, nationality or cultural values would likely have been expected to remain in a subordinate position within the hierarchy by adhering to the same rule that governed women – sexually restrained, silent in terms of dissent or independent thought, and obedient to their place in the hierarchy. This paper will discuss Caliban and Aaron in The Tempest and Titus Andronicus, looking at the ways in which they are clearly marked as ‘Other’ by their violation of this rule in addition to their basic differences. It will also include a demonstration of the way Shakespeare undermines this demarcation by creating similarities between the ‘Other’ and the dominant culture, and will show the means by which Julie Taymor further erodes this distinction in her film Titus. On the island in The Tempest, Prospero has recreated a patriarchal social hierarchy similar to the one he left behind in Milan. Despite the fact that he is a relative newcomer to the island, he has asserted his ‘right’ to be ruler, as he was in Milan before he was usurped by his brother Antonio (1.2.66-132). Apart from Prospero and his submissive daughter Miranda, Caliban is the only other human on the island - clearly human (Vaughan 10-15) - though Prospero regards him as slightly less, calling him “demi-devil” (5.1.275) and “the beast Caliban” (4.1.140). Whether Caliban is dark-skinned or not is not clear, though it is possible, given that he is the product of an unholy alliance between an Algerian-born woman (1.2.261-262) and “the devil himself” (1.2.321-322) (Tokson 54). In any case, he looks different enough that Trinculo says, “In England[…] would this monster make a man [rich][…]not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver[…] to see a dead Indian” (2.2.27-33), and even Antonio thinks he would be “no doubt marketable” (5.1.269) as an oddity. Unlike Miranda, who exemplifies the chaste, silent and obedient subordinate, Caliban’s behaviour demonstrates the opposite. Prospero is incensed that Caliban had previously tried to “violate the honour of [his] child” (1.2.349-350). Moreover, Caliban shows no shame: “Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else this isle with Calibans” (1.2.352-353). Caliban has no self-restraint in his sexuality and needs to be forcibly prevented from molesting Miranda, who tells him, “Therefore wast thou deservedly confined into this rock, who hadst deserved more than a prison” (1.2.362-364). His attempt to be sexual with Miranda is inexcusable, since he has threatened her chastity and has dared to presume he could mate with someone his superior in the hierarchy. This one incident irrevocably brands him as ‘Other,’ in that he displays a sexuality that threatens the social order, is very vocal in his lack of shame and remorse (a person who fit into the hierarchy would at least pretend to be ashamed or would remain silent), and does not willingly follow Prospero’s rule regarding Miranda. Caliban violates the rule of ‘silent and obedient’ in other ways too. He is vociferous in his rebellious attitude, and gives Prospero no verbal respect – “You taught me language, and my profit on’t / Is I know how to curse” (1.2.365-366). Prospero himself can not silence him: even after Prospero tells Caliban how he will punish him for his curses (1.2.327-332), Caliban still rails against him (1.2.333-367). He is unwilling to do what Prospero asks, to the extent that Prospero threatens to rack him with “old cramps” and “aches” (1.2.370-373). Caliban is not content with his place in the hierarchy, saying that “[I] was first mine own king” (1.2.344), and accuses Prospero...

Cited: Library, 1982.
Sharp, Sister Corona. “Caliban: The Primitive Man’s Evolution.”
Shakespeare Studies 14 (1981):  267-283.
Tokson, Elliot H. The Popular Image of the Black Man in English Drama,
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