How does the audience react to Shakespeare's portrayal of Caliban in The Tempest?

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Initially, the audience is startled and disturbed by Caliban's grotesque appearance and perceives him as a callous monster, who is undoubtedly the offspring of an evil witch. However, Caliban is articulate and his moving speeches about the magical island are aesthetically pleasing and rather surprising coming from such a bizarre...

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Initially, the audience is startled and disturbed by Caliban's grotesque appearance and perceives him as a callous monster, who is undoubtedly the offspring of an evil witch. However, Caliban is articulate and his moving speeches about the magical island are aesthetically pleasing and rather surprising coming from such a bizarre monster. The audience also sympathizes with Caliban's difficult situation when he blames Prospero for usurping power and stealing his island. Ironically, Caliban's situation is similar to Prospero's, whose brother usurped his dukedom. Despite Caliban's eloquent speech and sympathetic situation, the audience views him as a wicked antagonist after discovering that he unapologetically attempted to rape Miranda.

As the play progresses, the audience witnesses Caliban's naive, ignorant personality when he praises Stephano and promises to show him the entire island like he did when Prospero first arrived. Tragically, Caliban is a parody of himself and his repeated mistakes result in his treatment as a slave after his plan is foiled. Caliban's vengeful, malevolent personality is also displayed by his plot to kill Prospero and rape Miranda. However, his ridiculous actions and drunken stupor are depicted as humorous. Audiences can also interpret Caliban's character to represent suppressed native inhabitants, who became victims of imperialist European nations. Overall, Caliban is perceived as an extremely complex character, who is both despicable and sympathetic.

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The first element of the audience reaction is to his physical presence. He is usually portrayed as awkward, uncouth, and savage. Thus he is not a sympathetic character. His admission that he tried to rape Miranda and his getting drunk are also less than admirable.

On the other hand, one can also see him as innocent and victimized, too readily trusting of outsiders to the island. There is also the issue that he is the rightful ruler of the island whose place has been usurped by Prospero, a point he makes in the lines:

This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me....

...I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king...

In many ways we can sympathize with him as we do with other indigenous peoples displaced and oppressed by colonial powers.

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