Shakespeare presents the tensions between Civilisation and Nature through the way in which the settlers interact with one another, through the relationship between the natives of the Island and the settlers, through the way in which Shakespeare presents characteristics in both Prospero and Caliban which oppose the generalisations of civilised society and through the play’s historical link to the Colonisation of America. The generalisations of Civilised society were that the “savages” of the ‘new world’ were brutal and needlessly violent, viewed as inferior by the standards set by a ‘civilised’ moral bound society.
However, through the use of the characters Prospero and Caliban, Shakespeare upturns these generalisations by revealing traits of each character that contrast surprisingly to their stereotypes. Caliban is presented by Prospero and Miranda to be a foul beast “not honoured with a human shape” of which “any print of goodness will not take” and the audience immediately accepts their description of him because they are disgusted by his attempted rape of Miranda and especially by his lack of guilt, “o ho would’t have been done!
“. By this Shakespeare is presenting how Caliban is so emotionally uneducated he is by presenting him as wild and immoral in a world where there is no social code. Caliban feels strongly for Miranda, her being the only female on the Island besides Sycorax and registers her beauty, “she as far surpasseth Sycorax” however does not have the language or understanding to express this in any form other than by animal instinct.
However as the play progresses, the audience is persuaded to sympathise with the harsh way in which Caliban has been treated and to doubt Prospero and Miranda’s description of him. This is emphasized by the way Ariel interacts with Prospero and it also highlights their differences. When Prospero is degrading Caliban by calling him a “freckled whelp, hag born”, Ariel interrupts him, “yes Caliban, her son” and Prospero openly resents the interruption “dull thing, I say so”.
The impartiality of Ariel’s speech puts emphasis on Prospero’s harsh and biased words and again leads to doubts about Prospero’s description. When Caliban is approached by Trinculo, he is so frightened of the torture that he believes is impending that he hides upon the ground beneath his cloak, “to torment me for bringing wood in slowly”. Shakespeare’s use of intra-dialogic instructions illustrates the desperation of Caliban’s situation and the terror that Prospero’s power has imposed upon him.
The way in which Caliban lies so close to the ground shows his lack of self-esteem, resulting from the way in which Prospero constantly dehumanizes Caliban. In this way we can see the ‘uncivilised’ barbarity of Prospero’s nature which is reinforced by his crude dialogue, “Hag-seed hence”. Shakespeare’s use of alliteration and sibilance emphasizes the excessive resentment in Prospero’s tone of voice and leads us to question as to whether or not Caliban is being treated with a cruelty disproportionate to his crime.
This is supported by Caliban’s poignant monologues which reveal that the cruel life he is forced to lead is entirely due to Prospero, even the spirits of the Island will not torment him unless Prospero commands them to “nor pinch, fright me… unless he bid ’em”. The obsessive way in which Caliban is tormented implies that another reason is behind Prospero’s abhorrence… Caliban also opposes the general stereotype when he lovingly recognises the sounds of the island and appears as quite poetic, “sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not”.
Shakespeare uses this (touching display of emotion to show Caliban’s spiritual connection to the island) which illustrates Caliban’s true character under the influence of drink. “I cried to dream again”, shows the despondency of Caliban’s enslavement and an emotional aspect of Caliban that hadn’t previously been revealed, this surprising side to Caliban is short lived as his next words are, “when Prospero is destroyed” reverting once more to the ‘monster’ that the audience has come to recognize.