Stage History

17th     18th       19th      20th      21st

Caliban has undergone a transformation which has taken several stages of development since his first appearance on stage in the seventeenth century (thought to have been for the marriage ceremony of Princess Elizabeth). Reactions to the play in print, by editors and scholars are thought not to have appeared in the theatre for another thirty years Vaughan and Vaughan p.173. An examination of Caliban's stage history illustrates how the general public saw him at specific times as well.

The Seventeenth Century

The Davenant-Dryden-Shadwell version of The Tempest, The Enchanted Isle dominated this century'sperformance of the play and half of the next. Caliban becomes Trinculo's subordinate and emphasis is on the comical

1668: Pepys sees The Enchanted Isle for the eight time in two years; on May          the eleventh his diary entry describes Caliban as a 'monster', which          infers that Caliban was presented as deformed

1673: Shadwells Operatic Tempest; the play text of the Davenant-Dryden          version is cut to accomodate songs and dancing, Caliban's role is cut          dramatically

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The Eighteenth Century

Caliban had a certain lack of relevance to the theatre of this century. The prevailing ideas on humour were concerned eith artifice and folly and "Caliban's grotesque deformities were not the proper vehicle for good-natured wit" (V and V p.178)

Shadwell's Operatic Tempest is produced nearly every year between 1702-1756

1756: David Garrick produces the New Operatic Tempest in which          Shakespeare's lines are cut further to incorporate thirty two songs!          Caliban's role fades further into the background

1757: Garrick replaces more of Original lines of the play for another new          version which runs successfully until...

1787: John Kemble produces what Vaughan and Vaughan (p.178) refer to          as a 'hodgepodge' of Shakespeare's original and the additions of the          Davenant-Dryden version. Caliban speaks original lines

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The Nineteenth Century

The Kemble adaptation continued into the early part of this century

1824: Caliban's costume at a performance in Drury Lane is described as:          "Entire dress of goat's skin; long claws on the fingers; very dark flesh            legs; the hair long, wild and ragged"(V and V p.180)

1838: William Macready produced Shakespeare's original Tempest. This is          the first production that seems to support Romantic Critics more          sympathetic portrayals..."the modern Caliban, victim of oppression,          was born" (p.181)

1857: Costume sketches for Charles Kean's          production at the Princess Theatre; there is a          possible suggestion of Darwinism here as          Caliban has a human form beneath animal          skin



1890's: F.R. Benson's Caliban; in preparation             according to his wife he "spent many hours             watching monkeys and baboons in the             zoo"(VandV p.185)... The Darwinism idea             makes it on to the stage!



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The Twentieth Century


Darwinian representations of Caliban dominated the stage into the middle of our present century; one example being Beerbohm Tree's Caliban in his production of 1904:



(V and V p.188)


Representations of Caliban as the 'missing link' are superseded by examinations of humankind and eventually by colonial and post-colonial interpretations

1945: Canada Lee is the first black actor to play Caliban, he appears in          Margaret Webster's New York production but is also deformed and          covered partly in scales

1963: Caliban appears as an emblem of 'emergent humanity' in Peter           Brook's Stratford production

1968: New Peter Brook production studies the nature of human evil,          Caliban's link to witchcraft through his mother Sycorax is emphasised          and Miranda's rape actually takes place.

1970: A Washington Summer Festival Production; Caliban is played by          black actor Henry Baker and has become "a black militant, angry and          recalcitrant"(V and V p. 191)

         Johnathon Miller, influenced by Mannoni's Prospero and Caliban,          portrays the English colonial experience on stage. Miller identifies two          kinds of reaction in colonised peoples embodied in Ariel and Caliban.

Colonial interpretations continue to appear on stage throughout the 1970's. This theme is summed up in David Suchet's Caliban...

1978 RSC Production

Suchet describes at length the process by which he came to the conclusion that Caliban should be played as a representative native, he writes:

"Shakespeare wrote the character of Caliban as a mixture of different types of native, (and showed his audience the native whose land has been taken away)" (p.173)

1980-82: Caliban is the signifier for any oppressed group...

New York: Punkrocker

Augsburg: Black Slave

Conneticut: Prospero's repressed libido

Los Angeles: American Indian

For the remainder of the 1980's the colonial theme calms somewhat and theatres mark the return of bestial representations. The colonial metaphor does survive however and is still played...

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The Twenty-First Century?

And what of the future? Johnathon Bate makes an interesting suggestion for today's stage as we move into the 21st century. Assigning technological advancement and hence environmental denegration to Prospero and the natural world to Ariel he proposes that:

"We will need to imagine an island which Prospero has left, an ecosystem which man must be content to leave alone. We have gone quite a long way towards recognising the rights of Caliban, next we will need to set Ariel free"            (Bate p.162)


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