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
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
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
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!
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
version. Caliban speaks original lines
The Nineteenth Century
The Kemble adaptation continued into the early part of this
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
portrayals..."the modern Caliban,
victim of oppression, was
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!
The Twentieth Century
of Caliban dominated the stage into the middle of our present
century; one example being Beerbohm Tree's Caliban in his production
(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
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
1968: New Peter Brook production studies the nature of human
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)
Miller, influenced by Mannoni's
Prospero and Caliban, portrays
the English colonial experience on stage. Miller identifies two
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)"
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...
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