Sycorax, a witch, was abandoned on the island and gave birth to a son, Caliban. When she died, he was left alone on the island with only the invisible spirits for company. When Prospero and Miranda arrive on the island, Caliban lives with them as part of the family but when Prospero catches him about to sexually assault Miranda, he throws Caliban out and treats him as a slave. Caliban wants revenge on Prospero but is afraid of his magical powers. When he meets Stephano, Caliban believes the drunken butler can kill Prospero and become a better master to him. He tries to lead Stephano to kill Prospero but Ariel and Prospero defeat his plans.
Facts we learn about Caliban at the start of the play:
- The son of a witch, he was born on the island and lived there alone for a long time.
- He helped Prospero and Miranda to survive on the island.
- He hates Prospero for treating him like a slave.
- He has never tasted alcohol before and thinks Stephano must be a god for owning it.
Things they say:
‘This island's mine by Sycorax my mother / Which thou tak’st from me’ (Caliban, 1:2)
Caliban should have ruled the island but Prospero took it from him.
‘I’ll be wise hereafter / And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass / Was I to take this drunkard for a god’ (Caliban, 5:1)
Caliban is quite gullible and believes Stephano is a god. He asks forgiveness for this at the end of the play.
Things others say about them:
‘Abhorred slave / Which any print of goodness wilt not take / being capable of all ill’ (Miranda, 1:2)
Caliban is hated by Miranda and Prospero.
‘A most ridiculous monster to make a wonder of a poor drunkard’ (Trinculo, 2:2)
Caliban does not look human, but like a ‘monster’.
‘A devil, a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick, on whom my pains / Humanely taken, all, all lost quite lost / And as with age his body uglier grows / So his mind cankers’ (Prospero, 4:1)
Caliban is seen as naturally bad by Prospero who thinks he grows worse as he gets older.