The modern audience may feel that Caliban draws our sympathy as he is the rightful ruler of the island. Examine Shakespeare's characterisation of Caliban and say whether you would agree with this point of view.
Caliban, a central character in Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' is a very complex character, if not the most complex character of Shakespeare's play. The audience is first introduced to the character of Caliban in Act 1 Scene 2 and first impressions of Caliban are gained by the audience even before the character is portrayed on stage by an actor. This is done through Shakespeare's dramatic methods and his use of language and imagery for example when other characters on stage such as Prospero and Miranda describe or speak of Caliban. Shakespeare's characterisation of Caliban presents the modern audience with the idea that Caliban is the rightful ruler of the island and throughout 'The Tempest' Shakespeare presents a character which both draws an audience's sympathy towards this idea but also encourages them to disagree with this statement.
The play was first performed in 1611 and the attitudes then in reference to colonialism and the treatment of foreigners were very different from the egalitarian society we live in today. An audience watching the play in Shakespearian times would have thought very differently about the treatment of Caliban than an audience watching the play now. A modern audience may feel a heightened sense of sympathy towards the character of Caliban, now, as the idea of equal rights for everyone plays a greater part in our society than they did during the 17th century.
Before the audience are introduced to Caliban on stage Shakespeare uses the opinions of other characters to give them an impression of what Caliban might be like as a character. Immediately Shakespeare makes use of the character Prospero to suggest a connection between Caliban and evil. Prospero describes Caliban’s mother as ‘the damned witch Sycorax.' A Jacobean audience watching the play, straight away would associate witchcraft with suspicion and even fear. Shakespeare makes use of this idea to present Caliban as a character that the audience will already feel distain towards before he is even portrayed on the stage, as well as this Shakespeare uses language such as 'damned' which present a even greater feeling of negativity towards Caliban's mother and this will make the audience wonder what sort of creature Caliban will turn out to be.
Shakespeare makes use of the other character on stage during Act 1 Scene 2, Miranda. When the play opens Shakespeare presents Miranda as a very caring and compassionate character, for example he shows how upset she is when she realises how men may have died at sea during the tempest. Shakespeare uses the presentation of this character to influence how we see Caliban as a character. Miranda describes Caliban before he is acted on stage as 'Tis a villain, sir, I do not love to look on.' This quote from Miranda is a contrast on the character that Shakespeare has already presented her with. The audience will understand that she is a compassionate and decent character and the fact that even she doesn't seem to have a nice word to say about Caliban suggests that he himself is a character is so horrible and disgusting he cannot even be looked upon kindly.
A final staging method Shakespeare uses before Caliban is introduced on stage is the fact that before Caliban is comes on the character of Ariel is engaged in a dialogue with Prospero. Shakespeare uses this scene to present characteristics of Caliban’s character by comparing him with aspects of the character Ariel.
The audience are then introduced to Caliban by Shakespeare in Act 1 Scene 2. Prospero summons Caliban to attend him and this is when his character is first acted on stage. Shakespeare immediately presents a characteristic