Caliban (Todd Scofield) has a conversation with his imaginary friends in Folger Theatre's production of Shakespeare's The Tempest in 2007.
After his island becomes occupied by Prospero and his daughter Miranda, Caliban is forced into servitude. While he is referred to as a calvaluna or mooncalf, a freckled monster, he is the only human inhabitant of the island that is otherwise "not honour'd with a human shape“ (Prospero, I.2.283). In some traditions he is depicted as: a wild man, or a deformed man, or a beast man, or sometimes a mix of fish and man, stemming from the confusion of two of the characters about what he is, found lying on a deserted island. Caliban is a Cambion, the son of Sycorax by (according to Prospero) a devil. Banished from Algiers, Sycorax was left on the isle, pregnant with Caliban, and died before Prospero's arrival. Caliban, despite his inhuman nature, clearly loved and worshipped his mother, and refers to Setebos as his mother's god. Prospero explains his harsh treatment of Caliban by claiming that after initially befriending him, Caliban attempted to rape Miranda. Caliban confirms this gleefully, saying that if he had not been stopped he would have peopled the island with a race of Calibans—"Thou didst prevent me, I had peopled else this isle with Calibans" (Act I:ii). Prospero then entraps Caliban and torments him. Resentful of Prospero, Caliban takes Stephano, one of the shipwrecked servants, as a god and as his new master. Caliban learns that Stephano is neither a god nor Prospero's equal in the conclusion of the play, however, and Caliban agrees to obey Prospero again.
Despite this portrayal, Caliban also has moments in which he delivers memorable speeches, such as in Act 3, Scene 2:
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.
In the 1959 science fiction film Forbidden Planet, Caliban is re-imagined as 'the Monster from the Id', a wild and violent monster that is invisible to the naked eye. The monster later turns out to be born of the subconscious of the film's Prospero character, Dr Morbius, using the advanced technology of the Krill. Like Caliban, the monster ultimately rebels and attempts to kill its master. Captain Adams confronts Dr Morbius with the fact that he is giving form to his subconscious, and his guilty conscience, from having brought it into existence, finally ends the monster's destructive rampage.
In the Swedish 1989 film The Journey to Melonia, an animated film loosely inspired by The Tempest, there is a character named Caliban, a creature whose face consists of mainly vegetables. Unlike Caliban in The Tempest, this Caliban is kind at heart, and even becomes a hero later in the film.
In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Caliban appears as part of Prospero's Men, the first incarnation of the League, alongside his master, and Ariel.
A character called Caliban appears in various stories in Marvel Comics X-Men franchise. This version is a sewer-dwelling, simple-minded mutant who first appears along other abnormal-looking mutants called Morlocks. Caliban straddles the line between good and evil until he heroically sacrifices himself during the "X-Men: Messiah Complex" storyline.
Tad Williams' 1997 novel Caliban's Hour (US: HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-06-105413-6 and UK: Legend Books, ISBN 0-09-926361-0) takes place 20 years after the events of The Tempest. Abandoned on the island by Prospero and Miranda, Caliban manages to escape and make his way to Milan with the intention of avenging himself on Prospero, only to learn that Prospero has died. He then travels to Naples and one night gains entry to Miranda's chamber, where he forces her to listen to his story and make her understand what she and her father have done to him.
Adrian Herrero danced Caliban in the choreographic adaptation of The Tempest (La Tempestad) by the Ballet Contemporáneo of the Teatro General San Martín in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2008.
A monster from the 2007 video game Silent Hill: Origins is named after and inspired by Caliban. Also, at a certain point of the game, protagonist Travis Grady can hear Caliban's famous monologue after obtaining a certain key while exploring the theater level.
In the 1965 movie Doctor Zhivago, during the scene where Victor Komarovsky convinces Zhivago to allow him to rescue Lara by taking her to Vladivostok, Komarovsky refers to himself as a Caliban: "Do you accept the protection of this ignoble Caliban on any terms that Caliban cares to make?"
In Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros series centers around Caliban "Cal" Leandros, a half-human, half-Auphe (a nightmarish monster) hybrid who kills monsters for fun and cash in NYC with his human brother and their sleazy cohort, car-salesman Robin Goodfellow. This Cal struggles for control every day against his monster half, dealing with sarcasm and dark humor.
In the 1981 film version of "Clash of the Titans", the son of the goddess Thetis is named Calibos. He is a human changed into a monstrous-looking creature by Zeus as punishment for having killed several of Zeus's wild horses.
The 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony (directed by Danny Boyle) titled Isles of Wonder (a name inspired by The Tempest) was heavily influenced by The Tempest. The musical piece played during the torch lighting ceremony was entitled "Caliban's Dream", and Caliban's monologue from Act 3, Scene ii was quoted by Kenneth Branagh in character as Isambard Kingdom Brunel at the start of the Industrial Revolution set piece. "And I Will Kiss", the title of another specially commissioned track from the ceremony, is also a quote from The Tempest (2:2:148-149). These two songs also appeared on the ceremony's official soundtrack.
The name is an anagram of the Spanish word canibal (Carib people), the source of cannibal in English. The character may be seen as a satire on "Noble cannibal" from Montaigne's Essays (A.30, "Of Cannibals").
The character's name may also be inspired by kaliban or cauliban in the Romani language, which mean black or with blackness. As the first Romani immigrants arrived in England a century before Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, the Bard may have been influenced by their exotic looks and manners. In Shakespeare's time, the English discriminated against the Romanies. Alternatively the name may originate from the Arabic word for "wild dog".
- A. W. Ward, "A History of English Dramatic Literature". Vol. 2, p. 199
- Albert Kluyber, "Kalis and Calibon", in A. E. H. Swain (transl.), Englich studien XXI (1895): 326–28.
- John Holland, A Hystorical Survey of the Gypsies, London (printed for the author) 1816, p. 148.
- B.C. Smart and H. T. Crofton (eds.), The Dialect of the English Gypsies, 2nd ed., London 1875, p. 92.
- "Caliban appears to be derived from the Gipsy cauliban, 'blackness'", in: K. E. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, vol. 1. Oxford Clarendon Press, 1930, p.494
- Alden T. Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan (1993), Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History, Cambridge University Press, pp.33-34
- Caliban at Sunset, a poem by P. G. Wodehouse.
- "Something Rich and Strange": Caliban's Theatrical Metamorphoses
- "Caliban Upon Setebos, a poem by Robert Browning.