The logic of inequality: Caliban's baseness in the Tempest

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“Baseness” is a key term for understanding the relation between Prospero and Caliban in William Shakespeare’s Tempest. “Slave” is a frequent word in Shakespeare, but it nearly always appears as an epithet, to insult the “baseness” of an adversary. One can draw a self-consistent stereotype of the “base slave” from the Shakespearean canon, which stereotype applies perfectly to the descriptions of Caliban used by Prospero and Miranda. These judgements are justified, based on the values of the time and Caliban’s words and actions on the stage. Their judgements on Caliban reflected judgements made by English travellers on certain nationalities in the Mediterranean, the same ones that were enslavable in customary law. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the Continental link between baseness and the practice of slavery was problematic for many English people. It is for this reason that Caliban is made a monster – an enslavable man because less than a man. His baseness is used for satirical purposes late in the play, when he proves to be less base than lowerclass Europeans. At the same time, Prospero’s relation to Caliban reflects the views of King James on the proper relation of a king to his subjects. Copyright © 2003 by Cahiers Élisabéthains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-53
JournalCahiers Élisabéthains
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2003


DeCoursey, M. (2003). The logic of inequality: Caliban's baseness in the Tempest. Cahiers Élisabéthains, 64, 45-53.


  • Caliban
  • Colonialism
  • Prospero
  • Shakespeare
  • Slavery
  • The Tempest
  • Travel literature


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