Whilst studying ‘The Tempest’ in college I have noticed a potent parallel between the enslaved Caliban and Satan. This post will be an exploration of these connections.
- Both characters are depicted as being inherently evil, yet we are still able to feel sympathy for their suffering.
Caliban and Satan are both characters who commit explicitly evil acts towards others, yet most readers are able to detect an undercurrent of sympathy due to their experience of suffering which provides a reason for revenge. In The Tempest, Caliban’s unattractive appearance and attempted rape towards Miranda immediately portrays his savage and brutish nature, however the audience seems to see a vulnerable and gentle side to his by his enslaved on his own land by Prospero. This explains his evil deeds as he strives to retrieve what he believes to be rightfully his. Similarly, in Paradise Lost, Satan’s unwavering evil nature can be justified as he is only reciprocating what was done to him by God. Therefore, both characters seem to have a rationale for their revengeful and heinous acts as they both hope to gain back what was once theirs.
2. Both Satan and Caliban have something unjustly taken from them.
In The Tempest, Caliban insists that ‘this Island’s mine, by; Sycorax my mother / which thou takest from me’ (I.II.337-338) as a display of Prospero’s colonisation. Caliban’s main desire throughout the play is to regain his native land as only he can appreciate the island’s beauty. This provokes pathos for an audience as we realise that Caliban simply uses evil to gain what he has lost. In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan’s greatest fault is his pride. He is thrown from Heaven by God and reacts by immediately planning his revenge. Satan attempts to make the best of the situation and boosts moral upon the other archangels, insisting it is ‘better to reign in hell, than serve in heav’n’. Perversion of God’s work is Satan’s vengeful strategy and he evidently believes this to be a means of . regaining the position that he was overthrown from.
3. They are both betrayed.
Caliban is betrayed by Prospero and Satan by God, asserting a position of omnipotence upon God and Prospero, yet a weakness and vulnerability on Caliban and Satan. In The Tempest, Prospero is initially a fatherly figure to Caliban as he reflects ‘when thou cam’st first, thou strok’st me and madest much of me’. Despite this kindness, Caliban not only has his land taken from him but his identity too. Prospero teaches him a new language and Caliban reveals resentment by saying that ‘my profit on’t / Is I know how to curse’. Caliban must now not only gain back his land, but also his native tongue. Although he can be seen as evil, we can sympathise with Caliban because he acts with the hope that his previous identity will be returned, and he will rid himself of the new identity given to him through assimilation and enslavement. In Book I of Paradise Lost, Milton seems to praise Satan as he uses words likes “ambitious”and “proud” to describe his rebellion against God. Satan’s extreme confidence and pride can be interpreted as both his greatest asset and his greatest weakness. When thrown out of Heaven, his uses the rhetorical device chiasmus as a persuasive power to influence not only the actions of the fallen angels, but of himself. He is determined to ‘make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n’. This inverted parallelism displays the twisted and seductive ways in which his mind works, and we can understand that his acts are performed purely because evil is in his nature.
Overall, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the inherently evil characters, Caliban and Satan, are similar in the way that they provoke a feeling of sympathy and pathos amongst a reader or audience for their experiences of betrayal and injustice. It can be understood that their heinous acts are simply a result of their suffering and are an attempt of rightfully regaining what has been taken from them.
Thanks for reading! Please let me know your opinions in the comments below.