The Tempest

Caliban (The Tempest)

Caliban is one of the primary antagonists in William Shakespeare's The Tempest.


While he is referred to as a mooncalf, a freckled whelp, he is the only human inhabitant of an island that is otherwise "not honour'd with a human shape“ (Prospero, I.2.283). In some traditions he is depicted as a wild man, or a beast man, or sometimes a mix of fish and man, stemming from the confusion of two of the characters about what he is, found lying on a beach. Caliban is the son of the witch Sycorax by (according to Prospero) a devil. Banished from Algiers, Sycorax was left on the isle, pregnant with Caliban, and died before Prospero's arrival. Caliban refers to Setebos as his mother's god. Prospero explains his harsh treatment of Caliban by claiming that after initially befriending him, Caliban attempted to rape Miranda. Caliban confirms this gleefully, saying that if he hadn't been stopped he would have peopled the island with a race of calibans. Prospero then enslaves Caliban and torments him. Resentful of Prospero, Caliban takes Stephano, one of the shipwrecked servants, as a god and as his new master, after being given some of Stephano's wine. Caliban urges Stephano to kill Prospero and become lord of the island. Caliban learns that Stephano is neither a god nor Prospero's equal in the conclusion of the play, however, and Caliban agrees to obey Prospero again.

Despite his portrayal, he also has moments in which he delivers beautiful speeches, such as in        -Act 3, Scene 2


The name "Caliban" is an anagram of the Spanish word canibal, also the source of the English word "cannibal". Canibal comes from Christopher Columbus' designation Caniba for the Caribs.

Other interpretations and references

Caliban was originally mostly a comic figure; however, in later years, he became a symbol for the wild, natural man. For Ernest Renan he symbolised the struggle for democracy. And, in more recent times, Caliban has been used as a metaphor for colonialism by various post-colonial intellectuals.

The fact that neither Caliban nor Sycorax are native to the island, but were exiled there in much the same way as Prospero and Miranda, is often overlooked in this view.

The most well known example of this post-colonial interpretation of the character is the play "Une Tempete" by Négritude poet Aimé Césaire. In the following lines from Césaire's play, Caliban, acting as a symbol for the colonized and oppressed, confronts Prospero, here cast as the European colonizer:

For years I bowed my head
for years I took it, all of it--
your insults, your ingratitude...
and worst of all, more degrading than all the rest,
your condescension.
But now, it's over!
Over, do you hear?
Of course, at the moment you're still stronger than I am.
But I don't give a damn for your power
or for your dogs or your police or your inventions!
Prospero, you're a great magician:
you're an old hand at deception.
And you lied to me so much,
about the world, about myself,
that you ended up imposing on me
an image of myself:
underdeveloped, in your words, undercompetent
that's how you made me see myself!
And I hate that image...and it's false!
        -Act 3, Scene 5

In this version, Caliban rejects Prospero's offer to return to his master's service; and the play ends with Prospero's eventual defeat and seclusion to the Island, away from the family and friends that left him.

Robert Browning wrote one of his dramatic monologues from the point of view of Caliban, Caliban upon Setebos, in which he views Caliban as a Rousseauvian "natural man." Caliban also gives a lengthy monologue in the style of Henry James in W.H. Auden's long poem The Sea and the Mirror, a meditation on the themes of The Tempest.

Ernest Renan's philosophical drama Caliban represents the struggle between aristocratic and democratic principles, represented by Prospero and Caliban.

The American poet Louis Untermeyer (1885–1977) wrote Caliban in the Coal Mines, published in 1914 in his collection Challenge.

Fantasy author Tad Williams retells the story of Caliban from his point of view in the short novel Caliban's Hour (1993).

Inspired both by The Tempest and Caliban upon Setebos, Caliban is revived as a monstrous inhuman beast in Dan Simmons' literary science fiction duology Ilium/Olympos.

Caliban also is mentioned in the Preface of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, albeit very briefly, as quoted below:

"The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.
The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass."

In John Fowles' novel The Collector, one of the main characters, Miranda, constantly compares her abductor, Frederick Clegg, to Caliban. He reminds her of a monstrous savage, deprived of any human emotion.

In P.G. Wodehouse's novel Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit Percy Gorringe, a poet, is mocking the crude Stilton Cheesewright in a poem called Caliban at Sunset.

In James Joyce's novel, Ulysses, Malachi "Buck" Mulligan compares Stephen Dedalus with Caliban. This reference becomes ironic because Stephen feels oppressed by Mulligan and Haines in his own house (like Hamlet and Telemachus). Also, the analogy becomes a political reference in terms of the Irish desire for "Home Rule" in place of British occupation.

"The rage of Caliban at not seeing his face in a mirror, he said. If Wilde were only alive to see you!" - Ulysses, Chapter One: Telemachus

In Jeanette Winterson's novel Written on the Body, the narrator compares herself to Caliban, chained to a rock, ostensibly by love.

Grace Slick references Caliban in her song "Fishman" on the album Baron von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun saying that Fishman is "the son of Caliban / he roams the ocean land."

In 1925, W. H. Auden played Caliban in a Gresham's School production of The Tempest.

"Caliban" is also the name of a deformed mutant who is a member of "The 198" in the Marvel Universe.

"Caliban" makes an appearance in Jasper Fforde's book The Fourth Bear where he is seen as a small, thieving character.

"Caliban" is also the name of the main character in Rob Thurman's book, Nightlife who is half human and half monster.

"Caliban" is also a metalcore band from Germany.

"Caliban" is referenced as half-man, half-fish in Vladimir Nabokov's 1969 novel, Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle.

"Caliban" is also the alias of the protagonist in Michael Pryor's 1996 novel The Mask of Caliban.

"Caliban" is the name of the home planet of the Dark Angels Space Marine Chapter in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Nineteenth-century Russia is referred to as the "Caliban of Europe" in Tom Stoppard's play The Coast of Utopia.

In the Swedish animated film Resan till Melonia, which is very loosely based on The Tempest and has a strong environmental theme, Caliban is depicted as a creature made entirely of vegetables.

In the 1956 American science fiction film Forbidden Planet, which is loosely based on The Tempest, "The Caliban" refers to the deadly and powerful so-called "id monster" that was subconsciously unleashed by Dr. Morbius using the ancient Krell machinery.

"Caliban" is also used metaphorically in a Caribbean History book by Harvey Neptune entitled Caliban and the Yankees.

The video game Silent Hill: 0rigins features a monster known as 'Caliban' that is described as someone's 'twisted memory of The Tempest.'

Friday and Miranda Caliban are among the castaways who feature in Lemony Snicket's The End.

"Caliban" is referenced/used as a synonym for Jim Peck, by Joe Allston, in the novel All the Little Live Things by author Wallace Stegner.

The film Clash of the Titans features a creature named Calibos which bears more than a passing resemblance to Caliban.

Notable performances of Caliban


External links

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