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The Tempest, Shakespeare makes the reader feel sorry for Caliban and resentful of Prospero. Even before Caliban appears on the stage, he is portrayed by Prospero as being a deformed and bestial being. Prospero creates this through his mistreatment of Caliban and his protrayal of Caliban as an animal. However, Shakespeare does give Caliban a voice. Everytime Prospero attempts to suppress him, Caliban is always able to fight back with arguments. One thing that Caliban and Prospero share in common is that others have exercised authority over them; Antonio over Prospero and Prospero over Caliban.
The relationship between Prospero and Caliban suggests that the birth of colonialism was not only due to the exploitative attitudes of the colonizer, but is partly due to the dependency of the natives on the superior others. The Prospero-Caliban relationship resembles Cesaire’s argument about how colonization dehumanizes both the colonizer and the colony. To Prospero, Caliban is like an animal that he could rack with cramps, fill his bone with cramps as well as make him “roar” that shall make the beasts tremble if he does not obey Prospero’s commands (Shakespeare, I, 2, 369-371).
Here, both the savage treatments and the verb ‘roar’ reflect Prospero’s bestial view of Caliban’s being, embodying Cesaire’s argument about how colonization makes the colonizer get into the habit of seeing and treating other men as animals (Cesaire, p. 41). At the same time, as Cesaire said and as I will argue below, colonization also objectively transforms the colonizer into an animal. If we go back to Caliban’s story of how he first met Prospero and Miranda, we would agree that at the beginning Caliban and Prospero had a relationship similar to father and son.
Caliban used to love him and appreciate what he had taught him; “he (Prospero) made much of me.. Teach me how to name the bigger light.. ” (Shakespeare, I, 2, 333 and 335). Caliban had come to trust him so much that he then revealed the richness of the island to Prospero. Heartlessly, Prospero repays all that with persecution. Not only his treatment of Caliban resembles his inhumane personality but even Miranda, his own daughter, is often silenced by Prospero.
Although he loves her so much and she is one of his most precious treasures, Prospero does suppress her voice throughout the play. Another example that shows Prospero’s dehumanized characteristic is his mistreatment of Ferdinand. He enslaves Ferdinand and portrays him as a bestial being just like Caliban. Prospero’s ambition to take over the land from Caliban turns him into a ruthless person and the way he treats Caliban, Miranda, and Ferdinan resembles his dehumanized personality.
Colonialism not only accustoms the colonizers to see and treat the other men as animals, but it unconsciously transforms them into animals themselves. The way Shakespeare describes Caliban as savage, bestial, deformed, “howling monster” (Shakespeare, II, 2, 188), “moon-calf” (Shakespeare, II, 2, 111-112), “poisonous slave” (Shakespeare, I, 2, 318), “a born devil” (Shakespeare, IV, 189), and moreover the way Prospero ruthlessly treats him promotes the idea of dehumanization of the colonies.
Nonetheless, The Tempest is ambivalent in promoting the idea of colonial enterprise. Caliban’s sufferings encourage the reader to sympathize with him, but that is true only at the beginning of the play. Towards the end, Caliban starts to enslave himself. He decides to make Sebastian his master to replace Prospero. He even declares himself a slave, “For aye thy footlicker” (Shakespeare, IV, 1, 219) and more surprisingly he refuses to be freed by Prospero at the end of the play.
This strongly implies that Shakespeare represents Caliban as a dependent being; giving him the option to live independently yet having him choose to follow and serve Prospero instead. Although The Tempest is ambivalent in promoting the colonial enterprise, it does show resentment toward colonialism by showing how Caliban detests the mistreatment of Prospero. By emphasizing Caliban’s dependency, Shakespeare seems to agree that the birth of colonization was not only due to the exploitative attitudes of the colonizer but in fact was partly due to the dependency of the natives on the superior others.
The justification of colonialism is a conviction Shakespeare tries to embed in The Tempest. However, Shakespeare clearly shows that slavery is socially neither an appropriate nor acceptable relationship. Regardless of his dependency on superior others, Caliban dislikes all the inhuman treatment he got from Prospero. This mistreatment not only results in hatred but also leads Caliban to consider killing Prospero.