Caliban, “a thing most brutish” whose name is a near anagram of ‘cannibal’, is implied by Prospero to be most primitive and inferior from a “vile race”. Residing on the island of his birth he is enslaved by Prospero, the exiled duke of Milan, a powerful magician. Caliban is arguably a personification of the debate over colonialism and the conflict between cultures. As such, Caliban has been interpreted in various ways and in turn varied styles, affecting critical thoughts and the effectiveness with which Shakespeare’s narrative is expressed.
In Peter Greenaway’s unique 1991 film entitled ‘Prospero’s Books’, Caliban lives in a pit, a dank pool, which Greenway based on the hippopotamus pools in Victorian zoos. It is an unwholesome place with algae on the walls and an island-refuge with clumps of wretched grass and weeds. Caliban eventually appears out of the murky water moving rhythmically on the island suggestive of a primordial Caliban, yet one may interpret this Caliban as a higher being, his movements are like those of a spirit, reminiscent of the potentially noble creature of Sir Herbert Beerböhm Tree’s 1904 production. Greenaway, trained as a painter which influences his inventive style; he considers
The island itself is based on true events; in 1609 off the coast of Bermuda an expedition led by Sir Thomas Gates saw the ship split by a tempest and the crew presumed dead. Messina"tms version, although inferior in quality, creates a light-hearted nature with a noticeably drunk Stephano, (being less obvious in Greenaway"tms production), and a Caliban fascinated by the prospect Stephano "fell from heaven" for his "liquor is not earthly". Gates appeared in Virginia having for a year been on a "magical"tm island which provided for all his needs. Greenaway corresponds with Coleridge"tms view, presenting a more spiritual, near-naked, smooth-skinned Caliban who rhythmically dances throughout the film with fluidity, similar to the jovial Caliban drawn by Robert Cruikshank (1824). Greenaway"tms strikingly unconventional interpretation here however, results in much of the comedy being lost; the performance is basic, Caliban hides under a huge cloak as strong winds blow in his dilapidated indoor habitat and Trinculo and Stephano recognise each other very quickly due to the omitting of lines. Caliban is melodramatic, emphasising his emotions especially his resent, I "showed thee all" and "thou takest from me. In direct contrast, Messina"tms "text-faithful"tm production sees an ape-like Caliban, Warren Clarke, with a full body of hair, possibly based on F. Prospero"tms dominance is maintained in each film from beginning to end. Nonetheless, whilst Caliban realises his inferiority he insolently looks at Prospero following the harsh insults "this demi-devil" for "he"tms a bastard one". Lanier correctly recognises that, in an attempt to be original, Greenaway discards much of the textual Shakespeare, replacing it with a "visually sumptuous dumb show" lacking the narrative of Shakespeare"tms script lessening any intended impact. As Prospero is aware, by deriving his authority from his mother the claim for inheritance is invalid, providing there is truth in Prospero"tms statement Caliban is a bastard, "got by the devil himself Upon thy wicked dam"tm". However the most effective was Jarman"tms who contrasts his preceding interpretation by reuniting the Neapolitans in a brightly lit room; Trinculo enters dressed as a woman and Stephano, aptly as Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, upon their entrance the room"tms occupants ridicule them. Although Jarman"tms production is marred with a lack of lighting, obscuring facial features and details, it furthers the idea of Prospero"tms dark magic, more importantly reflects Caliban"tms dark, manipulative and cunning nature evident as he influences the drunkards into undertaking his desires; "batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake. The red plague rid you!" Messina presented these fierce emotions very literally but Jarman"tms version was more effective through better character interaction, the evident mutual detest of ProsperoMiranda and the native.