I have chosen a conversation in Act 1 Scene 2 of The Tempest. This is basically the scene where Caliban is introduced and where he curses Prospero and Miranda for what they have done to him.
This passage of text encompasses Caliban’s inner feelings and shows a deeper connection to the colonialism analogy. Traditionally, colonialism is the act when a dominant country takes control over a smaller and less influential nation in order exploit them for their resources, in an act to acquire more power. Although is was adopted by many countries, Shakespeare’s The Tempest can be analyzed as a criticism of colonialism and its impacts on the native peoples of the land. We see that colonialistic ideas are not only present in this play, but they are the basis of why everything happens the way it does.
The relationship Caliban and Prospero share is awfully clear from the start of the play: Prospero is the master and Caliban is the servant. On many different occasions, Caliban is referred to as an abhorred (ab-whore-ed) creature, a slave, and a savage. It is also worth noting that the word Caliban is an anagram of cannibal. By giving Caliban these offensive titles, Prospero and Shakespeare reinforce the idea of Caliban being a lesser individual. Another connection to the thematic unity of colonialism is how Prospero and Miranda physically and emotionally abuse Caliban. Even in the quote, Prospero threatens Caliban with filling “all thy bones with aches” in order for Caliban to do as he is told. Caliban realizes that Prospero sees him as a lesser human being and as only a creature fit to serve, although he is unable to do anything about it because Prospero is more powerful than him. Nevertheless, the concept of reverting back to treating people with inhumane actions is an idea Shakespeare clearly wants to discuss. In many retrospects, Caliban is a direct representation of an indigenous person and their hardships faced. Another parallel between Caliban and the native people who were victims of European ideologies, is his connection and relationship to nature. Caliban remarks on “the fresh springs” and the “fertile land” in his speech to highlight all the beneficial and natural riches of the island that he himself finds valuable, however, Prospero only sees them as food and water. The disconnect of ideas the two share ultimately leads to the underlining conflict. Not only is their view of the natural world unalike, their view of land ownership differs substantially. The reader is first introduced to Caliban’s perspective when he blatantly declares that “this island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, which thou takest from me.” Without this significant comment from Caliban, the reader is blocked from learning Caliban’s perspective on his situation, therefore, his actions and words would have seemed unjustified. However, Shakespeare’s inclusion of this line proves that he wanted the reader to feel sympathetic to this character. Caliban feels that in fact, it is Prospero who is threatening his individual identity and culture. And from this difference of opinion, oppression is born.
Throughout the play, Prospero is depicted as a civilized, well educated, and righteous European. His daughter Miranda, in a way, is an extension of Prospero as her extremely sheltered point of view has been forged by Prospero’s own thoughts and ideas. Although Caliban is the true inhabitant of the island, the reader is given many different instances that show Prospero has absolute control over the land. For example, the fact that Caliban is forced into a position of servitude shows the hierarchy at play and how it is a driving factor in this society. Prospero’s view of Caliban parallels the colonialist’s extremely narrow outlooks on the people of the land and how the world should be formed. One of these outlooks was that if you failed to look a specific way or use the same language, then you were considered a blasphemy and deemed inferior in the eyes of the Europeans. Continuing with this idea, the reader sees that Miranda has taught Caliban how to speak English. Miranda states that she taught Caliban language for the sole purpose of civilizing him, and that leading Caliban astray from the “brutish gabble” he once spoke in, would cure him of being a “vile race.” If this position Prospero and Miranda share would have been removed, the reader would have no point of reference and justification for giving Caliban language. This, in turn, would have painted an even larger picture on Caliban being ungrateful and dishonorable, however, by Miranda admitting that she taught Caliban language for the betterment of her and Prospero shows the colonialist behaviors at hand. This is not only where more conflict arises, but the reader is forced to ask themselves; who is right? From Prospero’s perspective, he is certainly justified with his actions of enslaving Caliban. From this, the basis of the colonialism theme is shown. Just like with Caliban, both points of view must be taken into account when forming an opinion about the characters in order to fully comprehend the circumstances.
LANGUAGE as a THEME
Language is the pinnacle of understanding and is able to alter the world as we see it.
Another byproduct of colonialism is the introduction to new language. Language in this play proves to be a recurring message that has the ability to change how individuals see the world. It is how individuals communicate with each other, but is also a medium to understand your own personal feelings. During this speech, Caliban drops one of the most famous lines of the play: (“You taught me language; and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you for learning me your language!”). Caliban realizes that Prospero has stripped him of his culture, his land, and now his knowledge and beings to rebel against the oppression. By cursing Prospero and Miranda in their own language, Caliban has effectively attempted to maintain the last of his identity. Unfortunately, from now on, language for Caliban is an unnatural activity he is forced to engage in. Similarly, Shakespeare has shown us that the introduction of a new language can cause not only textual confusion, but also confusion of the world around us. For example, Prospero provides actual terms to describe “the bigger light” in the sky. Due to this new information Caliban has never heard before, he assumes that Prospero is more knowledgeable than he is. Although this may be true, Caliban blindly resorts to holding Prospero’s knowledge above his own because he ethically feels inclined to do so. He mentions in his flashback that he once thought that Prospero had gifted language to him, however, now he knows Prospero has actually taken something away from him. In doing this, Prospero has not only gained control over reality on the island, but has exploited Caliban’s isolated mindset to gain control over Caliban himself.
LANGUAGE as a SYMBOL
This being said, the reader is able to see that language is a symbol of power. As indicated previously, Prospero is able to control what Caliban, and even Miranda, think to be true. Because of the island’s remote location, the only access to information is through Prospero. Taking this into account, this puts Prospero at an advantage over Caliban and the rest of the island due to the fact that Prospero’s persuasive nature and his colonialistic goals have nothing to oppose them. He is able to spread his individual beliefs across all aspects of the island by using his language. The combination of language and isolationism is how he gains his influential power. Not only does Prospero have linguistic power, but he also possesses books that grant him magical power. It is disclosed earlier on that it is, in fact, the books where Prospero draws the magical abilities from. Often, books are thought of as gateways to language and knowledge, and this case proves no different. Through Prospero’s magical abilities, he is given yet another advantage over Caliban and is able to torture and intimidate him to do all his bidding. This symbol contributes to both the colonialism analogy along with the theme of language by providing specific examples of Prospero’s rule on the island.
Finally, one subtle, yet influential device used in this passage is imagery. Imagery has been a staple for poetry and descriptive writing for decades, and rightfully so. The use of imagery provides the reader with a vivid description of the scene and allows for the text to become more meaningful. During Caliban speech, the reader is provided with a descriptive portrayal of the island that informs the reader why Caliban finds importance in maintaining his relationship with it. (show quote) He juxtaposes the words fresh with brine, and fertile with barren in order to make it seem like he is responsible for Prospero’s survival and make him feel guilty about what he has done to him. After that attempt fails, Caliban resorts to cursing Prospero with his knowledge of the most wicked and vile creatures. “Toads, beetles, bats” all have the same connoted meaning of foulness that Caliban wishes to ensue upon Prospero. Later on, Caliban uses a reference to the Bubonic Plague to yet again curse him out by saying “the red plague rid you.” Back in the colonialism period, the black plague was the epicenter of what disease and death looked like and I think Shakespeare choose to connect the red plague with the black death in order to show the intense feelings Caliban had about Prospero.