|Species||Unknown (possibly a cambion)|
|Place of origin||"Propero's island"|
|Behind the Scenes|
|Created by||William Shakespeare|
|“|| This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,|
Which thou takest from me. When thou camest first,
Thou strokedst me and madest much of me, wouldst 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 show'd thee all the qualities o' the 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, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o' the island.
— Caliban, The Tempest, Act I, Scene II
Caliban is a creature - described by most as a monster - born in an uncharted island. He's the son of the evil Algerian witch Sycorax, who was exiled to the island when she got pregnant and died at some point after giving birth to him. He later became a servant to the wizard Prospero and his daughter Miranda, who taught Caliban to speak and treated him with respect and kindness until the day he tried to rape her. After that, Caliban was treated as scum by his masters and became hateful towards them.
Artists and stage productions over the centuries have provided many different interpretations of Caliban, some presenting him as a reptilian, piscian or bestial humanoid and others as a merely deformed but otherwise normal human being.
Caliban's mother was a depraved witch sentenced to capital punishment in Algiers. It was only because she was pregnant that her life was spared and she was instead exiled to the island. At young age, Caliban was raised by his mother. When she died he became alone until the arrival of Prospero and Miranda. His relationship with them was good at first, and they even shared shelter, until the day he attempted to rape her. Prospero stopped him from doing so and banished him from the cave, sentencing him to live on a rocky shoreline. Caliban grew to resent Prospero and would often curse him.
Many years later, Prospero ordered Ariel to create the tempest that would sink the ship carrying the king of Naples, Alonso, and his party, temporarily stranding them in the island. Caliban met with Trinculo, the king's jester, and was initially scared of him, mistaking Trinculo for one of Prospero's spirits sent to torment him for being too slow with carrying the wood Prospero ordered him to fetch. The two are soon joined by the drunken butler Stephano, who gives Caliban wine and is revered as a divine figure by him. Caliban is so impressed by the beverage that he swears loyalty to Stephano as his new master and asks him to kill Prospero, promising Stephano that if he does so he can have Miranda to himself and rule the island with her as his queen and Caliban and Trinculo as his viceroys.
Ariel, who had been secretly hearing the conversation, warns Propero of the danger and uses his magical tricks to create discord among Caliban's party. He later causes them to sink in a pond, ruining their clothes and losing their wine bottle, which angers them greatly. When the trio finally gets to Prospero's cave, he easily distracts them with stylish clothes which the vain Stephano and Trinculo become enchanted with, much to the despair of Caliban who insists that they should hurry before Prospero finds about them and punishes them with his magic. His warnings are useless and sure enough, Ariel and Prospero release the dogs out to pursue them.
At the end, Caliban is forgiven, as are all of Prospero's enemies since he claims that mercy is a nobler attitude than revenge. Caliban comes to realize how foolish it was to worship a drunk such as Stephano.
It's not known whether he accompanied Prospero and the others back to the continent or remained alone in the island after their departure, although the latter seems far more likely.
Physical appearance and origins
Caliban's appearance has not been described in detail and has been subject to lots of speculation over the centuries. He's definitely a grotesque being, as every character who meets him describes him as having a monstrous or at least unordinary appearance. Prospero claims that Caliban's body is as degenerate as his spirit, and that each year that passes he gets more grotesque. It's implied in dialogue that he has features of a fish and/or a tortoise. Both Trinculo and Antonio wonder if he should be considered a man or a fish when they first see him; although it's possible that they're referring at least in part to his awful fish smell.
Tied in with that is the question of what exactly is Caliban, since his mother was a witch and his father is never mentioned. Prospero does at one point refer to Caliban as the bastard son of a demon, and knowing that Sycorax was an evil witch who worshiped the entity known as Setebos, it's conceivable that he meant it literally. In that case, Caliban would be considered a cambion. However, Caliban too talks about Setebos and makes no mention of being his son.
- The Tempest, by William Shakespeare (1610) (First appearance)