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Book Analysis

Why Does Caliban Use Both Poetry & Prose In Shakespeare's The Tempest? - Shreya Sachdev

The Tempest, written by William Shakespeare, is a play that explores many different themes and motifs. The three leading characters in the play are Prospero who is the rightful duke of Milan, Miranda, who is Prospero’s daughter, and of course Caliban who is regarded as a savage and deformed slave. In many of Shakespeare’s plays, Shakespeare makes use of both poetry and prose and typically serves poetry to the more nobles characters, and hands over prose to the underprivileged characters. As the title states above, Caliban’s character is an interesting one as William Shakespeare chooses to let Caliban use both poetry and prose. The following essay will examine and analyse the reason behind why Caliban uses both poetry and prose in his diction and what this reveals about his character.

As mentioned above, Caliban is a savage and deformed slave. When Prospero lands on the island, he captures Caliban and uses him as his slave giving him no freedom and no liberation. As Caliban is a slave and an underprivileged figure, he tends to use prose for the majority of his diction. However, there are three reasons as to why William Shakespeare changes Caliban’s diction at certain moments in the play.

The first reason as to why William Shakespeare puts poetry in Caliban’s diction is to show the impact that Miranda and Prospero have had on Caliban’s use of speech. Despite the fact that Caliban is held captive at the island as Prospero’s slave, he is still being taught English by both Prospero and Miranda. Thus, Shakespeare is perhaps trying to convey that even though Caliban’s treatment is harsh, he is still benefitting when it comes to language as he is adapting to the way that nobles on the island speak. Miranda and Prospero are teaching Caliban how to speak and this clearly shows the impact that both Miranda and Prospero have on Caliban. It would be logical for Caliban to speak the way Miranda and Prospero do as Caliban is constantly under Miranda and Prospero’s control. Another clear indication of Caliban adapting to Prospero and Miranda’s use of diction is the way that Caliban speaks in certain scenarios. When Caliban speaks to Stefano and Trinculo, he speaks in prose. This is due to the fact that Caliban has witnessed the way in which Stefano and Trinculo speak to each when they are around Miranda and Prospero, which if of course in Prose. However, Miranda and Prospero speak to each other in poetry. Typically, Miranda and Prospero do discuss the events of their daily life. Thus, there are clear passages in the play that portray Caliban speaking in prose when he is specifically talking to Stefano and Trinculo. However, when Caliban speaks of the beauty of the island, he chooses to speak in poetry as he remembers the way Miranda and Prospero speak to each other. This conveys to the audience just how easily Caliban can understand and adapt to the kind of diction that noble people speak.

The second reason as to why Shakespeare adds poetry in Caliban’s diction is to aid the audience in understanding Caliban’s character better. The mix of poetry and prose together symbolize the complex character that Caliban is. On one hand, the audience tends to feel sympathy and emphasize with Caliban when Prospero and Miranda capture him and force him to be their slave, specifically for his skin color. Yet, the audience does feel disgusted and appalled by Caliban when the audience discovers that Caliban attempted to rape Miranda. The audience feels torn between these two events and cannot decide whether or not they should feel sorry for what Caliban is being put through, or remorse for what he tried to do to Miranda. In context, the reason for Shakespeare implementing both prose and poetry in Caliban’s diction is to symbolize the mixed emotions and perplexity that runs through the audience’s mind when analysing Caliban’s character.

The third and final reason as to why Shakespeare incorporates both the use of poetry and prose in Caliban’s diction is so that Shakespeare can tell the audience that the native are not any less superior to the noble. In a period of colonisation, it could’ve been difficult for Shakespeare to directly express his opinions by stating the fact that he believed the natives and underprivileged were just as important as the noble. Thus, by implementing poetry in Shakespeare’s diction, Shakespeare wants to let the audience know that the natives are not any less inferior to Prospero and Miranda. This theme of equality would make sense as this is known to be the last play that Shakespeare ever wrote.

To conclude, I believe that the reason Shakespeare incorporates both poetry and prose in Caliban’s diction is because of the three reasons stated above. By implementing both the use of poetry and prose, the audience is able to understand the impact that Prospero and Miranda have on Caliban, the symbolism of Caliban’s complex character, as well as Shakespeare’s opinion as to how the natives are not any less important than the nobles.

Shreya Sachdev