William Shakespeare, in the numerous he has written, gives us another definitive look into the role of the characters in two of his renowned plays The Tempest and Richard III. A look and an analysis of two characters in the plays, Richard III and Caliban, can bring us a step closer in realizing how both characters are portrayed in order to arrive at and put a weight of line of emphasis on commentaries that revolve around the issues of politics.
In essence, what one can extract from Richard III is his being a symbol for the politics as well as the royalty of England. On the other hand, Caliban in The Tempest is observed as the colonial other. The crucial key that must be firmly noted is to focus on these two characters as freaks and the interpretation of the language that is attached to them that sets them a shade apart from the crudeness of the normal course of the life of man.
Moreover, the analysis of the characters in the context of the political issues calls forth an exposition as well of the political context that was observed during those times. At the onset of the analysis, it must be primarily noted that both characters share some characteristics, especially in terms of physical traits, that shed light on the callous situation which both characters are dissolved into.
Quite notable in both plays are the struggles engaged into by both Richard III and Caliban, and that both appear to dismantle the very prejudice and disgust that the society is throwing upon them as they attempt at changing their surrounding environment in favor to them.
In the play Richard III, the scene wherein King Edward the Fourth ascends to the throne as the King of England reveals to us the plight of Richard III. In the scene, what are revealed are his inner feelings of both ambition and jealousy as his brother Edward the Fourth claims the royal throne of being the supreme ruler of all of England.
Despite the weight of his desire to put himself in the shoes of the newly seated king, Richard went on to proceed with what he was more than willing to obtain for himself.
The physical description of Richard III as one can obtain from the play is one that is beyond what can be termed as “normal” at least in the context of the time wherein the aesthetics of beauty appears to be a central part of living. Richard III is described as “rudely stamp’d” as well as “deformed, unfinish’d”.
Not only is he not able to “strut before a wanton ambling nymph” as he is seen as an ugly hunchback, he is also quite considered as an outcast to the very society he is trying to fit himself into.
Taking into consideration the very descriptions that have been given, the very illustration one can create out of it is that Richard III is indeed one who is physically unpleasing.
To a certain extent, a feeling of physical destitution can be portrayed and that this provides all the more a mountain of drawbacks that sets forth further hardships and incapacities for his desire to reach the pedestal of his ambitions. More specifically, one can essentially call Richard III as, in the keen eyes of a beauty analyst, a “monster” or a “freak”.
The term itself already acquires gross implications. Being named as such labels brings forth several unwanted factors that may degrade the personality of an individual all the more.
In modern times, especially in societies where physical appearance immensely counts as a crucial contributing factor in the establishment of the social status of an individual, being a “monster” or a “freak” can be devastating not only to the individual per se but to the very image that the society can cast upon his personality as a whole.
In the context of the time when Richard III lived, blasphemous claims towards one’s unpleasant physical appearance can all the more deprive one of one’s ambitions. The achievement of one’s desires back in those days is further taken back when one’s appearance does not meet and please the eyes of the rest of the people surrounding the individual.
But such is not the case for Richard III. In spite of the fact that he is seen as one who is physically handicapped and one who is deprived of the bounty of the physical beauty in form, the very fact that he has for himself underlying ambitions that are fueled all the more by his feeling of envy towards what his brother has acquired tells us that there is more than what meets the eye.
The very definition of a “monster” or a “freak” can be roughly contested and that a wide variety or subsets of definitions can be provided, depending upon the working context especially when cultural conceptions of beauty are taken into account. For the most part, there are tribes in Africa that view fat women as those who are beautiful and pleasing to look at whereas in modern day France the slimmer the woman the more pleasant to look at and more beautiful she is.
In the course of the analysis, we can arrive at a working definition or, at the very least, an applicable understanding of the idea of freaks and monsters by taking into account the very descriptions of Richard III.
In the play, one can observe the course of the series of the scenes wherein Richard III continues with his ploy by pursuing his plans that are aimed at thwarting the kingdom. With these events, it can be analyzed that even a “monster” or a “freak” such as Richard III is yet able to induce changes within the monarchy as the supreme seat of power in the kingdom and that, even with the physical disorientations that he has, he is able to capture yet the heart of Lady Anne through his pleas.
The “monster” in Richard III can also be interpreted in terms of how he is able to turn the monarchy upside down, bent towards his favor, even with the physical derailments and the treatment that is being thrown upon him.
In a more political approach, one can see that even the strength of the monarchy can be challenged by an individual filled with ambition and jealousy, by someone who is treated like an outcast and acts in a villainous manner.
The story of Richard III tells us that physical differences cannot entirely bar down political ambitions or set a barrier between inner intentions and their actual realization. Moreover, one can observe the notion that power is not strictly confined to those who fall immediately under the position to ascend to the throne in the context of a monarchy.
On the other hand, it brings us to the interesting observation that within the fences of the monarchy, political ambitions can sometimes be guised under the skins of those who have deep-seated aspirations.
Further, these aspirations can be driven all the more by the thirst for power and the influence of envy towards those who are able to acquire it. For the most part of the story of Richard III in the play and in the series of events that shape not only his drive for power but also the entire image of the monarchy, it is interesting to observe that sometimes the feeling of pity towards the self brought about by the degrading effects of physical defects can be motivating forces for one’s climb towards the top of the social hierarchy. The means in achieving such a political end can sometimes nevertheless be obtained through ways that brings harm to the power itself.
In The Tempest, Caliban is aptly illustrated as a “savage and deformed slave”. The perception of the people surrounding him is further taken negatively as he is known to be the son of an evil witch who once had great hold over the rest of the territory of the island.
With Prospero now taking the seat of authority over their region, Caliban is forced by the ruler to bring himself in servitude as Prospero considered Caliban as a “beast” as well as a “poisonous slave, got by the devil himself”.
Quite on the other hand, Caliban sees himself as not any of the things that the ruler is accusing him of. Rather, he considers himself as one who is forced to overwork and one who is not treated properly, at least as a human being.
In the plot of the story, Caliban also puts the blame on Prospero as he sees him as one who grabbed the advantage by befriending him thereby getting a hold of his gratitude which consequently led to Prospero robbing him off of the island that Caliban perfectly understood as his birthright.
In the context of The Tempest, one can strain the understanding that Caliban served as an illustration to the notions that revolved around the social hierarchy in the period of the Renaissance.
This very conception of an existing social stratification among the people back in those times did not only construe a level of importance in the society but also placed a stronger emphasis on such a social distinction among the individuals.
The social ladder back in those days was composed of God on the topmost level followed by the king, man, woman, and beast at the lowest level.
This social hierarchy is one which is essentially rigid and very political, dominated next to God by the monarch as the ruler of the domain inhabited by the constituents of the kingdom who are treated as subjects of the king himself.
In analyzing the situation of Caliban in the society through the use of this social stratification, one can note that Caliban belongs to the lowest level in his kingdom for the reason that the merit of the existence of Caliban in the society is placed under very little human recognition.
That is, he is taken as one who contributes very little to the society and, as such, the treatment he receives is only fitting as a just “compensation” for his very minimal social worth.
Apparently, Caliban’s physical appearance is conceived as that of a “monster” for obvious reasons. His physical deformities have sanctioned him with the callousness of humanity and that, conversely, he is taken to represent the disadvantaged entities in the Elizabethan society. Furthermore, if we are to consider the scene wherein Caliban attempted to rape Miranda, one will arrive at a better understanding as to why Caliban is seen as one who is less than human.
Sexual or reproductive urges are by far considered as natural functions that belong to the domain of animals. Although human beings have the same function, the rationality of man and the existing social proscriptions on such a function serve as its modifiers. Because Caliban understands that what he did was only natural of him, it brought the reason why he is then treated as less than human in the context of The Tempest. Or more to that, it is part of the reason why Caliban is taken as a “monster”—or a “freak”.
Further, the uncontrolled sexual behavior manifested by Caliban can be seen as evidence to his being a “freak”, of the “monster” within him. If Caliban understands that his behavior is merely natural and is beyond what one may immediately categorize as not human, the “civilized” man may indeed call him a “freak” for the reason that Caliban’s actuation is not typical to that of a cultured man in the society. Part of the reason behind this is that there are laws that proscribe and sanctions such an act.
On another note, Caliban’s slavery is, as far as the play suggests, a reminder on the concept of colonialism. During the time when Shakespeare existed, many parts of the world are yet being “discovered” by wandering travelers that aim at seeking new lands. In the context of the play, the character of Caliban and the events that revolve around his life can be analyzed as one that represents colonialism.
With Caliban being the innocent individual that he is who acts in accordance to what is natural to him, several factors are eventually thrown upon his way that attempted to force him to redirect his perception towards the world. The uncontrolled sexual behavior of Caliban is seen as something that is analogous to tribes that are yet untouched by foreigners or by external forces that claim to bear the marks of a “civilized” and orderly world.
The very instance wherein the rest of the people condemned his deed indicates the analogous situation wherein the “colonizer” attempts at restricting several actions of the inhabitants of the region in accordance to what the “colonizer” claims as right and fitting aligned with the very idea of “civilization”.
In summary, what one can understand from the plight of Caliban as a “monster” or a “freak” is that his character portrays that which is beyond the normal perception of the “civilized” world and of the rest of humanity.
Comparison and contrast on Richard III and Caliban
The apparent similarity between Richard III and Caliban is that both have physical deformities and that their appearances have resulted to several twists in their lives. For the most part, both resemble the struggles of a physically “handicapped” individual in the face of the external forces that seek to shape the course of the life of the “monster” or the “freak” in them.
In order for one to be able to have a better grasp of the situation or the context of the society wherein both have lived, it must be noted that the political orientation back in the days when Richard III and The Tempest were conceived is one that is stringent in terms of its consideration on the social hierarchy.
The significance of this social ladder can be reflected on the very structure of the politics in the Elizabethan society. That is, the degree of the importance of an individual in the kingdom is the crucial factor in the determination not only of the role of the individual in the society but also of the very treatment that one is to receive from the rest of the citizenry.
To a certain extent, both Richard III and Caliban have experienced a sense of being treated as an “outcast” or, at the very least, a perception of being one who is seen as less than being human on the part of Caliban and Richard III.
Quite on the contrary, one major difference can be observed between the two: the former is seen as the innocent being acting merely in accordance to the natural urges one feels whereas the latter acts according to the political ambition and the feeling of jealousy towards the acquisition of political power.
While Richard III is dissolved in his conquest for the acquisition of political power through his evil plots, Caliban is dissolved in the fulfillment of his natural inclinations. But there lies an interesting question: can it be the case that Richard III’s political ambition is also something that is natural in him and, as such, the fulfillment of it through his efforts is nothing sort of unfamiliar to him and that is considered as a natural inclination? This brings us into a closer look as to what counts as strictly naturally occurring for the individuals who are seen as “monsters” and “freaks”.
Yet there can be a standing argument that can be thrown upon the context of “monsters” and “freaks”. It can be claimed that these two concepts can be mere social constructs and that, in reality, nothing sort of it exists in the world for the reason that these concepts merely dwell in and are construed by the mind. If we are to grant on such a possibility, then it must be the case that nobody in the society is actually a “freak” or a “monster” and that what is exists are mere attitudes towards individuals with physical deformities.
Such an attitude, further, can serve as the basis for the modification of the position of the individual in the social hierarchy. In a similar way, “monsters” and “freaks” may be difficult to envision as those who are to occupy the central seat of power in the kingdom or even those who are to be given with much of the credentials and social significance.
Quite on the contrary, what happens is that these “monsters” and “freaks” are oftentimes placed under the lowest positions in the hierarchy. Or in the case of Richard III, his position in the kingdom is one that is given with the least significance at least in the context of the royal lineage.
Beyond the physical appearance, what can be said all the more with regards to their being considered as “freaks” or “monsters” is that both do not go with the stream of the commonly accepted behavior in the society. That is, if one is not to follow the precepts set forth and established by the society, either one is less than human or is beyond the scope of being human. Either way, one is not, strictly speaking, human in the sense accepted by the “civilized” humanity.
For example, Richard III is seen as the deformed individual with the ambition to assume the throne. This he attempts at doing through means that are beyond what is prescribed by the edicts of the kingdom, measures that are sinister and acts that are performed by criminals.
On the other hand, Caliban is seen to be one who treats his acts as nothing but naturally occurring and that the fulfillment of these natural inclinations should not be given other interpretation. Nevertheless, it is the scope of the presumed civility of humanity that gives the shade of being inhumane to Caliban’s acts thereby giving him the identity as the being who acts similar to that of the animals. On the contrary, Caliban’s perception of such “civility” is empty and that, more interestingly, he does not seem to have any idea of it thereby giving those people around him the perception that Caliban indeed is a “monster” amplified all the more by his very physical appearance.
In essence, both Richard III and Caliban are treated as “monsters” in the respective plays in which they appear. Part of the reason to this is the defects in their physique, another reason rests somewhere on a deeper analysis of their central role in the plot of the story with the inclusion of the changes that are being enforced upon them by external elements and events.
The political issues that go around the characters of Richard III in the play Richard III and Caliban in The Tempest are clearly manifested in their role in the shaping of the image one can throw upon the social hierarchy that existed during their times. Their physical deformities have brought to them to unfavorable circumstances as they are seen as beings that are not quite human in several ways, thereby labeling them with the idea of “monsters” and “freaks”.
Their detachment from the commonalities being put forward by human civilization is one key element in analyzing the role of their being termed as “monsters” in shedding light to the political commentaries that one can arrive at upon looking into their character portrayals.
Lowers, James K. “Summaries and Commentaries.” Shakespeare’s Richard Iii. Reissue ed. New York: Cliffs Notes, 1966. 30.
Nostbakken, Faith. “Magic: Religion, Art, and Science.” Understanding the Tempest: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004. 53.
Shakespeare, William. “‘as It Were Stage Plays’.” The Tragedy of King Richard Iii Ed. John Jowett. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. 20.
—. Richard III. New York: Washington Square Press, 2004.
—. The Tempest. Adamant Media Corporation, 2001.
Vaughan, Alden T., and Virginia Mason Vaughan. “Historical Contexts.” Shakespeare’s Caliban: A Cultural History. New Ed ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 52.