Frank R Benson as Caliban in The Tempest - 1897

In his later performance of Caliban, Frank Benson has decided to keep the blackface of his previous performance while making Caliban more monstrous. This Caliban was made to look more wild and uncivilized. So uncivilized in fact that he doesn’t even have the capability to make fire as seen by the way he looks like he’s gonna chomp down on that raw fish. Massive amount of fur also contributes to this monstrousity.

Frank Benson as Caliban – 1897

Charles H Buchel - Caliban - 1904

In his painting, Buchel depicts a very primitive version of Caliban. While this Caliban is clothed, he still has very animalistic features. These futures include: long claws, long fangs, point ears, and a large amount of body hair to the point it could be called fur. The only evidence of civilization are the notes in the top left corner which were probably put there by someone else seeing as Caliban has no writing instrument.

Charles H Buchel – Caliban – 1904

Fyodor Paramonov as Caliban - 1905

Paramonov’s Caliban looks mostly human, but there are features he has that makes him distinctly not. His left hand is a large paw with sharp claws as well as a bone spike sticking out from just in front of the elbow. We also see this Caliban gripping a jug of alcohol as though his life depended on it. There is also a distinct lack of clothes being worn by this Caliban showing that, although he appears human, he isn’t human enough for clothes.

Fyodor Paramonov as Caliban – 1905

John Light as Caliban - 2006

In his 2006 portrayal of Caliban for the Royal Shakespeare Company, John Light is very human looking. Although, he looks rather alien with the very pale skin, white hair, and the open-eyed expression, he still maintains humanity through wearing actual clothes. The wearing of clothes is not a feature widely found among the different Calibans of history.

John Light as Caliban – 2006

Djimon Hounsou as Caliban in The Tempest - 2010

In this image we see Djimon Hounsou portraying an activity typical of other depictions of Caliban: carrying a load of wood. Compared to other images of Caliban, Hounsou’s version is much more human than others. Additionally, the use of the different skin colors could be a visual way to represent Caliban’s mixed ancestry. This representation is important to note as the survivors of colonization in the present are often of mixed descent from the colonized and the slaves brought in to work alongside them. The most monstrous characteristic of this Caliban is the broken-earth-like skin which isn’t all that bad of flaw.

Djimon Hounsou as Caliban in The Tempest – 2010

Manelich and Zach Eisenstadt as Caliban - 2014

In this more recent portrayal of Caliban, we have two people playing the role. They would be speaking the lines of Caliban in unison. The use of two people speaking the same lines at the same time would make Caliban sound alien in a way and only serves to make Caliban more of a distinctly “other” character. What this shows us is that we are still finding ways to justify colonization as the colonizers by alienating the colonized people.

Manelich Miniefee (Top) and Zach Eisenstadt (Bottom) as Caliban – 2014

Caliban through Time

As you have seen, the depictions of Caliban have grown to be more positive over time. He has grown from a clawed, misshapen character into one that has mostly human characteristics. At the very least, many of qualities are now actually possible for humans to possess. While this progress has been made, Caliban is still very clearly the other within the play. What should be taken from this?

What should be taken is that people do want some other that can be united against. For a long time that was the colonized peoples of the Americas and Africa. Since then it has been which ever group that has migrated en mass to any given country. This can be seen especially well given the political climate of 2017 and even before then with the refugee crisis brought on by the Syrian and Ukrainian Civil wars and the Arab Spring before that. It is possible, given this climate, that future depictions of Caliban could grow from a black or albino Caliban into a Caliban that exhibits more stereotypical Arab features. Even they were colonized by European powers at some point even as recently as the end of the Second World War so it would be unsurprising to see Caliban become a hero figure to Arab peoples as well as Caribbean peoples.


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