In the Tempest, Shakespeare, portrays Caliban as an uncultured half- man, half beast, who is enslaved in his own land by a foreign intruder. Shakespeare portrays him as a person who has limited understanding on how the modern world works. Through Prospero’s own description, Caliban is shown as a beast that lacks self-control and remorse. Amidst all this pain and suffering, Shakespeare typecasts Caliban as a symbol of defiance against oppression. He continues to observe his traditional cultural beliefs and does not readily accept alien values of his master, Prospero (Shakespeare 35). Shakespeare strengthens the appeal of Caliban as a character by showing that even though Prospero has subdued him, he still has a free spirit and an open mind.
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Caliban is portrayed as a vile character that is mainly driven by his own self-interest and this is shown in the way he attempts to rape Miranda. It is evident that Prospero and Miranda use their perceived higher social status to portray Caliban as a beast that deserves no sympathy. Therefore, Shakespeare uses him to represent people who are kept in bondage, whose fate is entirely dependent on their oppressors. He yearns for freedom so that he can live freely on the island he calls home (Shakespeare 40).
Shakespeare’s play shows Caliban as a resolute individual who understands that he depends on the goodwill of his master, Prospero to survive. Ultimately, Caliban’s portrayal as a half-man half beast shows his conflicted awareness about his true cultural heritage. He fails to understand how he can continue to observe his traditional cultural practices in an environment where foreign values are considered to be more credible.
In Cesaire‘s Tempest version, Caliban is portrayed as a black slave who is constantly oppressed by Prospero. Cesaire’s version gives a stronger voice to Caliban, who is shown to have a lot of hatred for his master. This differs greatly with the original version, where the play was mainly narrated from Prospero’s perspective. In this version, Caliban is used to show the power struggle between oppressed people and their oppressors. Through Caliban, Cesaire shows the folly of colonial European societies that conquered and ruled foreign territories against the wishes of natives. Cesaire changes Caliban’s role in his adaptation by portraying him as a conscious and brave protagonist who defies his tormentor to safeguard his own pride and dignity (Shakespeare 52). Therefore, Cesaire description shows Caliban to be a man that understands his identity and this contrasts the European ethnocentric portrayal originally used by Shakespeare in his play.
Cesaire maintains the original role of Prospero as an oppressor even though the historical setting of the story is different from the one highlighted by Shakespeare. Prospero’s description is that of a racist patriarch, who exploits other people’s naivety to increase his power and authority. Towards the end of the play, Shakespeare portrays Prospero as more humane and capable of forgiving but Cesaire version ends by typecasting Prospero as vindictive and bitter towards Caliban. As a result, Prospero still thinks of him as an uncivilized savage who is not entitled to a dignified existence. Through Ariel, a mulatto slave, Prospero is shown as a cunning man who deceives his slaves to make them more loyal to him (Shakespeare 57). Prospero’s craftiness is shown by the way he manipulates all people under his authority to make them more submissive and obedient.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. London: Dover Thrift Editions, 1998. Print.