Caliban: The Wild Man
Presentation Outline/Hand Out
· During the time The Tempest was written and performed, imperialism was occurring in the more advanced countries such as Great Britain, Spain and Portugal
o British settling of Jamestown, Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish settlements of South America, the general settlements in the Caribbean and Africa
To sum it up, people were familiar with the general progression of settling. Paralleled in The Tempest with Prospero’s landing on the island, it would start with a mutual symbiotic relationship between the two groups of people. At first, the more advanced society introduces the natives to the technology, the natives show the newcomers the tricks of the land, the two groups live in harmony until the advanced group subdues the natives with their advanced technology for an unjust or ambiguous reason.
o Tales of cannibalism were rampant, drawing from real accounts, myths and legends, or the idea that the lesser, native society has this uncultured lifestyle. Shakespeare would have read many of them while writing this work.
· Resurgence of English efforts to subdue and govern Ireland, the wild Irishman occurred during late 16th century, early 17th century. The tales of the wild Irish may have been a contributing factor in creating Caliban’s character.
· Natives were thought of as savage, uncultured, and barbaric.
· Traveler tales, stories and accounts of voyagers, were abundant in English society as everyone was fascinated with the discoveries of the New World, as well as the native people and the different cultures that explorers encountered.
· The parallelism of how Prospero assumed control of the island to the current events of the time. He showed up vulnerable to Caliban’s island, who in return for his knowledge and company showed Prospero how to acquire food and water and almost opened a doorway to his own culture. Prospero accepted Caliban’s company until Prospero believes that Caliban is trying to rape his daughter. After that point Prospero seizes control of any freedom Caliban had ever had, enslaved him to do his grunt work, stripped him of his former culture and pretty much broke him down to nothing all because of Prospero’s advanced “technology” in knowledge and magic.
o Essentially, Caliban’s role in The Tempest may have been, in part, intended to symbolize European imperialism
· Some claim Trinculo and Stephano originally thought that Caliban might have been an Indian or a devil, due to their initial remarks in 2.2
o “Were I in England now… where they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.” 2.2.27
o “Do you put tricks upon’s with savages and men of Ind?” 2.2.56
· The name of Caliban is thought to be an anagram for the world cannibal, or derived from the African city Caliba, Shakespeare uses the idea that cannibals were primarily known through stories and rumors in order to antagonize Caliban as the counter force, when in reality he may be just a victim.
· Shakespeare may have uses the reference cannibalism as synonymous with savageness and uncivilized, not necessarily as identifying Caliban as literally a cannibal.
· The speech that Gonzolo makes ashore the island could be interpreted as mocking his utopia as well as drawing attention to the concepts in and underlying the speech through the speech itself, the other’s reactions and the placement of the speech in the scene. The way he described this workless, community utopia touches upon multiple things. First, it can be seen as a form of levity to cheer the king up by saying that Gonzolo himself could not control an island by bringing up the unconventional ideal of his control. Secondly, it touches up on the idea that these Europeans always believe that when they land upon an unknown, seemingly uninhabited Island, they know what is best for the island because they have a bigger stick. Finally, it mocks the ideal that this perfect form of government where no suffering or risks and that everyone is equal. Shakespeare’s placement of the speech in this scene may be a commentary on the meaning of the speech, literally mocking Montaigne’s ideas, or it could be commentating that Montaigne’s favorable view towards native, cannibalistic cultures holds many unpopular views that many find unfavorable.
o Gonzolo’s speech is almost verbatim to the Montaigne’s essay “Of the Cannibals,” where he describes almost idealistically the indigenous inhabitants of Brazil. Montaigne criticizes the English as ignoring the natural appeal of their culture, a culture he sees as uncorrupted and untouched by greed. He claims that while the inhabitants are cannibals, their culture is one that has distinct advantages to English society. The obvious connection that Shakespeare draws is Caliban representing the cannibalistic natives, although perhaps not cannibalistic in a traditional way, but more representative of savage and unsophisticated.
· It is alluded to that Caliban has this secret culture that was destroyed when Prospero arrives, due to the fact that he has limited nomenclature for specific fruits that symbolize the native’s rudimentary but complete form of a culture. For example when Trinculo and Stephano first meet Caliban, Caliban mentions finding scamels in the rocks, a word which has no known definition.
o Some believe the word may be a typo, but others think that it is the last remaining trace of Caliban’s life and culture before Prospero arrived on the island. This could be indicative of the practice by European colonists, voluntary or not, of destroying the native culture, overriding it with their own customs and ideas.