Here are all the ingredients you need to bake up a spanking essay on the character of Caliban.

Essay Question
Is Caliban an Evil Monster or A Noble Savage? Discuss.

Think of yourself as a detective, or a lawyer, or a forensic expert looking for evidence to build a case. You are going to investigate.

Get the complete text by searching online ‘whole text Tempest’. You will need to be familiar with the events of the play. Get a summary here. Answer each of these questions, using the evidence shown below. 

Paragraph Plan
1. Is Caliban a born slave? Does he want to be controlled?
2. Is Caliban the true master of the island? Who says so? Do we believe them?
3. Is Caliban shown as human or as a monster / animal?
4. Does Caliban have any talents or skills? Is his language savage, or noble?
5. Is Caliban evil? Does he say or do evil things?
6. Is Caliban the only evil character? Are there others?
7. If Caliban is a symbol of savagery* (uncivilized people), are civilized people much better behaved?
8. At the end, does Caliban feel sorry, or that he has done wrong?

One you’ve cut and pasted some evidence (from below) to answer the above questions, write your answers in eight paragraphs as above – or go freestyle. Genius!

Quotations from the Play in the Order in Which They Appear.

PROSPERO ‘blue-ey’d hag was hither brought with child’, Act 1 scene 2 268
‘a freckl’d whelp, hag-born – not hounour’d with / A human shape.’ Act 1 scene 2 283
P to ARIEL ‘thou wast a spirit too delicate / To act her [Sycorax’s] earthy and abhorr’d commands’ Act 1 scene 2 273
‘Caliban, my slave, who never/Yields us kind answer’ 313

MIRANDA ‘Tis a villain sir I do not love to look upon’ Act 1 scene 2 309

PROSPERO: ‘we cannot miss him, he does make our fire … and serves in offices / That profit us’ Act 1 scene 2 311
‘slave’ Act 1 scene 2 313
‘thou tortoise’ Act 1 scene 2 316
Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself / on thy wicked dam, come forth.’ Act 1 scene 2 319

CALIBAN: ‘A south west blow on ye /and blister you all o’er’ Act 1 scene 1 324
PROSPERO: ‘for this… thou shalt be pinch’d’ Act 1 scene 1 333
Exchange of curses between them…

Act 1 scene 2 330-
CALIBAN This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak’st from me. When thou cam’st first,
Thou strok’st me and made much of me, wouldst give me
Water with berries in’t, and teach me how to name
the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night; and then I lov’d thee,
And show’d thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile.
Curs’d be I that did so!… For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me,
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me 
The rest o’the’ island.
PROSPERO Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodg’d thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.’
CALIBAN: ‘O ho ho! Would’t had been done’

Act 1 scene 2 352
MIRANDA: Abhorred slave,
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee… savage… a thing most brutish… But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in’t which good natures
Could not abide to be with.’

CALIBAN ‘my profit on’t / is, I know how to curse.’ Act 1 scene 2 363 

TRINCULO wants to use Caliban as a freak: ‘There would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man [rich]; when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.’ Act 2 scene 2  
STEPHANO: refers to ‘savages and men of Ind’  (of India/West Indies)
STEPHANO: ‘This is some monster of the isle’  I will ‘keep him tame’ Act 2 scene 2 62 
‘Four legs and two voices; a most delicate monster! His forward voice is to utter foul speeches and to detract.’ Act 2 Scene 2 83 
‘This is a devil and no monster’  ‘freak’ ‘animal’  Act 2 Scene 2 91

CALIBAN ‘That’s a brave god, and bears celestial liquor. / I will kneel to him.’ Act 2 Scene 2 109
‘I’ll swear upon that bottle to be thy true subject, for the liquor is not earthly.’ Act 2 Scene 2 116
‘Hast thou not dropp’d from heaven’ Act 2 Scene 2 127
Caliban actually believes Stephano’s claim to be the ‘the Man i’ th’ Moon’
TRINCULO describes Caliban as: ‘shallow’ ‘weak’ ‘a most poor credulous monster’ Act 2 Scene 2 134 
‘I’ll show thee every fertile inch o’ th’ island; and I will kiss thy foot. I prithee be my god.’ Act 2 Scene 2  138 
‘a most perfidious and drunken monster! When god’s asleep he’ll rob his bottle.’ Act 2 Scene 2 139 
‘a most ridiculous monster, to make a wonder of a poor drunkard!’ Act 2 Scene 2 155
Caliban’s talents as a forager are almost animal ‘long nails’ Act 2 Scene 2 157
CALIBAN ‘Ca – Caliban / Has a new master – Get a new man. / Freedom, high-day! high-day, freedom! freedom, high-day, freedom!’ Act 2 Scene 2 176
STEPHANO ‘O brave monster! Lead the way.’ Act 2 Scene 2 177 

CALIBAN: ‘As I told thee before, I am subject to a tyrant, a sorcerer, that by his cunning hath cheated me of the island. Act 3 scene 1 40
ARIELl: Thou liest.’
… ‘I do not lie.’
CALIBAN ‘Thou shalt be lord of it, and I’ll serve thee.‘ Act 3 scene 1 54 This makes us wonder, is he a natural slave? Or has he been so damaged and limited by his experience that he can’t think of anything else.
CALIBAN talking about PROSPERO ‘Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake, / Or cut his wezand with thy knife. Remember / First to possess his books; for without them / He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not / One spirit to command; they all do hate him / As rootedly as I.’ 86 

CALIBAN: ‘bite him to death I prithee.’ (he says this to TRINCULO – about STEPHANO) Act 3 scene 2

CALIBAN: ‘I will have none on’t. We shall lose our time, / And all be turn’d to … apes / With foreheads villainous low.’ He says this when TRINCULO and STEPHANO get distracted and want to steal Prospero’s clothes Act 4 scene 1 235

CALIBAN: I’ll be wise herafter, / And seek for grace. What a thrice double ass / Was I to take this drunkard for a god, / And worship this dull fool’ Act 5 scene 1 294

Literary Criticism and Social and Historical Context: Grab this for an A-A*
Colonial Perspectives

When Caliban meets Prospero, then Trinculo and Stephano, it represents ‘savages’ meeting ‘Civilization’, or colonialism for the first time. Caliban is a symbol of pagan so-called ‘savages’ colonised by Europeans. In the play, he is said to worship ‘Setebos’, a pagan Patagonian God.

Caliban’s reaction to Stephano and Trinculo links into the colonial fantasy that natives will think of colonisers as Gods: because they’re more technologically advanced. Here, alcohol is the ‘magic technology’, which is a comic and ludicrous idea. The alcohol makes Stephano extremely stupid, and silly.

Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan write, in Shakespeare’s Caliban: A Cultural History: ‘Caliban stands for countless victims of European imperialism and colonization. Like Caliban (so the argument goes), colonized peoples were disinherited, exploited, and subjugated. Like him, they learned a conqueror’s language and perhaps that conqueror’s values. Like him, they endured enslavement and contempt by European usurpers and eventually rebelled. Like him, they were torn between their indigenous culture and the culture superimposed on it by their conquerors.’ p. 145

Prospero calls Caliban, ‘thou earth,’ (1.2.42) and says of him, ‘This thing of darkness / I acknowledge mine,’ (5.1.20). Kim F. Hall argues that Caliban’s association with, ‘darkness and dirt,’ is the opposite of Miranda’s association with purity and light.

Many critics argue that Caliban’s name is a play on the word cannibal, a term derived from ‘carib’, as in the Caribbean, which became a European term used to describe flesh-eaters.

Montaigne’s Influence on Shakespeare: The Ideal of the Noble Savage
Shakespeare may have been familiar with a very popular book by Montaigne. Of The Caniballes (transl. John Florio) was published in 1603, shortly before Shakespeare wrote The Tempest. Critics argue that Shakespeare based Gonzalo’s speech in Act 2 scene 1 directly on the book. The similarities are uncanny. In it, Montaigne idealises the ‘noble savage’ (a phrase later coined by Rousseau) and the pure, uncivilized state.

In The Tempest, Act 2 scene 1 Gonzalo speaks of a ‘golden age’; Montaigne writes of a ‘common-wealth’ of ‘perfection’  with no apparell but naturall … no use of wine … The very words that import lying, falshood, treason, dissimulations, covetousnes, envie, detraction, and pardon, were never heard of amongst them’.
Do you think Shakespeare agreed with Montaigne? Argue either side, just make sure you support your argument with evidence.