"Plays thus at being Prosper" : Caliban and the colonised savage in mid-nineteenth-century Britain : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in English at Massey University

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
Representations of Caliban in Victorian Britain took the form of plays, performances, reviews, poems, paintings, cartoons, sketches, and commentaries. These representations predominantly involved an ambivalence between portrayals of Caliban as human, and as non-human. A similar ambivalence is apparent in Victorian representations of the savage. Taking Robert Browning's "Caliban upon Setebos" as an initial example, this thesis applies Homi Bhabha's model of colonial mimicry to these representations of Caliban in order to show that the ambivalence in them is continuous with the ambivalent aim of the colonial mission, which is both to suppress and to enlighten. This ambivalent colonial mission leads Caliban to be constructed within Victorian colonial discourse in an ambivalent fashion, and he is hence both contained within and subversive against that discourse. Caliban acts as a conceptual site at which colonial ideology can be both defended, by those interpretations of Caliban which are continuous with stereotypical Victorian representations of the savage, and challenged, by those representations which are subversive to the colonial ideology which is the basis of this stereotype. The challenges to colonial ideology come from interpretations of Caliban as an evolutionary figure and as a satirical figure. It is in the process of defending the colonial interpretation that the ambivalence inherent in the colonial model is made clear. Thus Caliban can be seen to be, in these interpretations, a representation of this stereotype of the colonial savage, functioning to justify the ambivalent colonial mission.
Caliban (Fictitious character), Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 -- Characters