Shakespeare – Module 4: Shakespearean Comedy- The Tempest – 3 of 3

Hello Year 7 and Year 8! Last session, you considered aspects of comedy in ‘The Tempest’. In this final session on ‘The Tempest’, we will examine the character of Caliban more closely.

Caliban and Prospero

WHAT: analysing the character of Caliban

By the end of this session you will be able to:

✓ describe what Caliban is like
✓comment on some of the language used to describe Caliban
✓show empathy with Caliban in a piece of writing

Today you will need:

✎ A pen
☰ A word document, notepad or paper to record your ideas

STARTER- YOU DO: Look at the image below from BBC Bitesize. Can you write a definition for the three words used to describe Caliban (Bitter, Subservient, Savage)?

Caliban is the only native of the island that we meet. It is unclear whether he is a man or a monster and as such this character has been performed in many different ways over time. He is introduced early in the play as Prospero’s slave, a position he resents and rages about. In the past he has attempted to attack Miranda, and she cannot bear to even look at him. He plots with the drunken Trinculo and Stephano to murder Prospero.

Character attributes

Bitter – he complains and curses about Prospero and claims his island has been stolen from him.

Savage – Caliban’s behaviour seems rough and unpleasant throughout most of the play. However, he does have a more sensitive side that is shown in his speeches about the beauty of the island.

Subservient – when Caliban meets Stephano he bows to him and calls him a god and yet sings about being free from Prospero. In truth he is replacing one master with another.

Views of Caliban before the first key scene

In Act 1 Scene 2 we hear how Caliban and his mother lived on the island before Prospero and Miranda arrived.  Caliban’s mother was a witch called Sycorax who was banished to the island.  Prospero describes how she was ‘with age and envy… grown into a hoop.’  She died before Prospero arrived, leaving her son, Caliban.

Caliban seems to be at least vaguely human, but he is also referred to as a ‘monster’ throughout the play.  

YOU DO: Read the quotations below. They all describe Caliban As you read, make notes on what Caliban might look like. Then design a ‘Caliban Costume’ for an actor/actress to wear.

‘a thing most brutish’
‘dull thing’
‘thou tortoise’
‘lying slave’
‘my slave’
‘thou earth’
‘a very shallow monster’
‘a freckled whelp, hag-born’
‘this puppy-headed monster’
‘a most scurvy monster’
‘poisonous slave, got by the devil himself’
‘a villain I do not love to look on’

YOU DO: Now read Caliban’s speech below. In the speech, Caliban complains about how Prospero has treated him. When you have finished reading, answer the questions which follow.

Caliban has this to say about how Prospero has treated him:

‘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; would 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 loved thee

And showed thee all the qualities o’th’isle,

The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile –

Cursed be I that did so! All the charms

Of Sycorax – toads, beetles, bats – light on you!

For I am all the subjects that you have,

Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me

In this hard rock, wiles you do keep from me

The rest o’th’island.’

If you want some help translating this speech, click here

You can also listen to the scene if you click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page

YOU DO: Answer the questions below to show your understanding of this speech. Write down your answers on paper then click on the question to reveal the correct answer.

1. What is the name of Caliban’s mother?


2. How did Prospero treat Caliban when he first met him?

He petted him, looked after him and taught him new things.

3. What did Caliban show Prospero when they first met?

Caliban showed Prospero the island and all of its features.

4. What does Caliban want to plague Prospero with now?

Toads, beetles and bats.

5. Where does Prospero keep Caliban enslaved?

Caliban is kept inside a hard rock/ cave.

6. What is Caliban not allowed to do?

He is not allowed to leave the cave or see the rest of the island.

CHALLENGE: Imagine you are Caliban. Write a monologue describing what has happened to you and how Prospero treats you. Try to make your thoughts and feelings clear. You can write your monologue in modern English.

Well done! You should now have developed your understanding of the character of Caliban. This is the final session on ‘The Tempest’. Next session we will move on to a new play…