In what ways can Caliban in The Tempest be characterized as a ‘noble savage’? 


The Tempest

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Rousseau's conception of a noble savage is a highly idealised and romanticised version of the indigenous person who is innately good and morally pure, untainted by the evil and corruption of civilisation. On the one hand, Caliban says that he lived quite happily by himself until Prospero and Miranda arrived, at one with his environment, which suggests, to this extent, that he can be considered to be a noble savage. However, his behaviour when Prospero and Miranda arrived indicates that there is something inherently violent and brutal about him that does not match up with Rousseau's ideal of the noble savage. According to Prospero, Caliban tried to rape Miranda after Prospero worked hard to show him kindness, as he explains in Act I scene 2:

I have used thee,

Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee

In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate

The honour of my child.

Yet even this opens up Caliban's true nature to more questions. Did Caliban only make this attempt to rape Miranda as a response to the way that he himself was treated? For Caliban to be suddenly subject to "human care" and kept in a human's cell would have been akin to imprisonment. It is perhaps, no wonder that he responded in the way that he did. However, Prospero and Miranda are clear that there is something irredeemably brutish about Caliban's "race" that makes him evil and Prospero, later on in the play, is quick to describe him as a "devil." The extent to which Caliban can be described as a noble savage is therefore rather ambiguous in this play.


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