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The Tempest character
Created byWilliam Shakespeare
In-universe information
FamilySycorax (Mother)

Caliban (/ˈkælɪbæn/ KAL-i-ban), son of the witch Sycorax, is an important character in William Shakespeare's play The Tempest.

His character is one of the few Shakespearean figures to take on a life of its own "outside" Shakespeare's own work:[1] as Russell Hoban put it, "Caliban is one of the hungry ideas, he's always looking for someone to word him into being ... Caliban is a necessary idea".[2]


Caliban is half human, half monster. After his island becomes occupied by Prospero and his daughter Miranda, Caliban is forced into slavery.[3] 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).[4] 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, a dwarf or even a tortoise.[5]

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, referring to Setebos as his mother's god, and appealing to her powers against Prospero.[6] 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[7] – "Thou didst prevent me, I had peopled else this isle with Calibans" (Act I:ii). Prospero then entraps Caliban and torments him with harmful magic if Caliban does not obey his orders. 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.

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 me thought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.


Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo dancing

There is a long history of enthusiastic speculation on the name's origin or derivation.

One of the most prominent suggestions concerns Caliban being an anagram of the Spanish word caníbal (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").[8]

Also popular has been comparison to kaliban or cauliban in the Romani language, which mean black or with blackness.[9][10][11][12] The first Romanichal had arrived in England a century before Shakespeare's time.[13]

Since 1889, it has been suggested that Shakespeare may have named Caliban after the Tunisian city Calibia (now called Kelibia) that is seen on maps of the Mediterranean dating to 1529.[14]

Many other, though less notable, suggestions have been made, primarily in the 19th century, including an Arabic word for "vile dog", a Hindu Kalee-ban "satyr of Kalee, the Hindu Proserpine", German Kabeljau ("codfish"), etc.[15]

Notable stage portrayals[edit]

Fyodor Paramonov [ru] as Caliban in The Tempest, Maly Theatre, 1905

References and adaptations[edit]


  • 1775 – Etching of Caliban by John Hamilton Mortimer with the caption "Do not torment me prithee / I'll bring my wood home faster"[16]


  • 1878 – Ernest Renan, Caliban, suite de "La Tempête", Drame philosophique, (Paris: Calmann Lévy).[17]
  • 1891 – The preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde includes two sentences referring to Caliban: "The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his face in a glass. / The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his face in a glass."
  • 1994 – Caliban's Hour by Tad Williams features Caliban, presented as a more noble character than the original.
  • 2003 – Dan Simmons publishes the first book of his Ilium/Olympos duology, in which Caliban is an antagonist.
  • 2003 – In Ilium, Caliban is a destructive, powerful humanlike entity who vacillates who he serves; at one point he served Prospero (the noosphere's personification), later works only for himself, but also sometimes aligned with the malevolent destroyer of worlds Setebos.
  • 2004 – The title of Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici references The Tempest.
  • 2006 – The first book of the Cal Leandros series by Rob Thurman is published. It centres around Caliban "Cal" Leandros, a half-human, half-monster hybrid who kills monsters.
  • 2012 – The title of the second book of The Expanse space opera series by James S. A. Corey, Caliban's War, is a reference to the inhuman (or unhuman) characteristics of some of the protagonists; the name itself is not mentioned in the story, however.
  • 2017 – The novel Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey is a backstory to and retelling of the events of The Tempest from the perspectives of the two titular characters.


Film and television[edit]

Other references and adaptations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hulme, P., ed. (2000). The Tempest and its Travels. London. p. xiii.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. ^ Quoted in Hulme, P., ed. (2000). The Tempest and its Travels. London. p. xii.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. ^ A Vaughan, Shakespeare's Caliban (Cambridge 1991) p. 9
  4. ^ A Vaughan, Shakespeare's Caliban (Cambridge 1991) p. 10
  5. ^ A Vaughan, Shakespeare's Caliban (Cambridge 1991) p. 13-14
  6. ^ Hulme, P., ed. (2000). The Tempest and its Travels. London. p. 100.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ Hulme, P., ed. (2000). The Tempest and its Travels. London. pp. 231–232.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  8. ^ Ward, Adolphus William (1 January 1997). A History of English Dramatic Literature. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. ISBN 9788171566860.
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ Albert Kluyber, "Kalis and Calibon", in A. E. H. Swain (transl.), Englich studien XXI (1895): 326–28.
  11. ^ John Holland, A Hystorical Survey of the Gypsies, London (printed for the author) 1816, p. 148.
  12. ^ For the Romani word, see B.C. Smart and H. T. Crofton (eds.), The Dialect of the English Gypsies, 2nd ed., London 1875, p. 92.
  13. ^ Alden T. Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan (1993), Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History, Cambridge University Press, pp.33–34
  14. ^ Vaughan, Alden T.; Vaughan, Virginia Mason (1993). Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 31–32.
  15. ^ 32f Alden T. Vaughan, Virginia Mason Vaughan, Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History, Cambridge University Press, 1993
  16. ^ "Etched and published by John Hamilton Mortimer | Caliban (from "Twelve Characters from Shakespeare")". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  17. ^ Renan, Ernest (1878). Caliban, suite de "La Tempête", Drame philosophique (in French). Paris: Calmann Lévy.
  18. ^ Retamar, Roberto Fernández (1974). "Caliban: Notes towards a Discussion of Culture in Our America". The Massachusetts Review. 15 (1): 7–72. JSTOR 25088398.
  19. ^ Guthrie, Norie. "Wheatfield Biography". Houston Folk Music Archive.
  20. ^ Shelton, Suzanne (August 1976). ""Caliban": James Clouser's "Tempest" in Houston". Dance Magazine.
  21. ^ Caliban: Marvel comics

External links[edit]