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Françoise Besson, Philippe Birgy, Roland Bouyssou, Jean-Louis Breteau, Jean-Paul Débax, Albert Poyet and Marcienne Rocard
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  • 1 In 1878, Ernest Renan published a philosophical drama entitled Caliban.

This collection of articles has been constituted with the most total freedom accorded to all those who contributed [...]. We had to choose [...] a name, a particular title. We chose CALIBAN. People will ask why..."And why not?," shall we answer. Renan's shade, we think, will not hold it against us.1 Moreover, people generally agree that the strange character from The Tempest, only partially understood and still debated, holds a certain interest precisely because of his uncertainties. Let it be the same for our "Caliban."
Translated from Victor Dupont,
Caliban n° 1, 1964

1Caliban, Shakespeare's character, and Caliban, the journal which at its inception was the journal of the "Section d'Anglais" of the "Faculté des Lettres de Toulouse," have been closely linked from the very beginning, and the choice of the name of Shakespeare's slave for a journal for which freedom was the founding principle was already a concept and an act that declared its originality. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the journal, it was not so much normal as fair to evoke the liberties taken by the character of Caliban throughout the centuries, in culture and in the arts.

2The freedom of the journal was made clear by the themes chosen for the first issue: from Christopher Marlow (J.-J. Denonain) to W.M. Thackeray (Christian Lapart), from angling seen from a literary point of view with Izaac Walton and Charles Cotton (Francisque Costa) and a "speleological poem" by Charles Cotton as well (J. Clottes), to Marcel Proust seen by Samuel Beckett (John Fletcher), from pastoral English literature to the American literature of the city with the "sketches of New-York life" by Stephen Crane (J. Cazemajou), from Shakespeare (Fernand Lagarde) to Brassens (Victor Dupont), it also created a link between the English-Speaking World and our region, Toulouse, thanks to Matthew Arnold who saw an "Eton from Toulouse" in the "Lycée de Toulouse" (Françoise Lafourcade) and the Pyrenees thanks to Ann Radcliffe who found inspiration in the "Mémoires du Comte de Comminge" (Maurice Lévy). Let us take Georges Brassens's "Testament," translated into English in that first issue of Caliban by Professor Dupont, who had just founded the journal, as a testament to the freedom of interpretation accorded to cultures and texts in English still defended by Caliban in 2014.

3Caliban was founded in 1964 by Professor Victor Dupont. Twenty-four years earlier, in 1940, a review called Français dans la Clandestinité had appeared. When the war was over, some of its founder members started another periodical called Caliban (1947). In its third issue, a journalist, Jean Bensaïd, a member of the editorial board, wrote that its chronicles aimed at "breaking conventional thinking… with or without the agreement of any Church." He signed with his pen name Jean Daniel, which he continued to use subsequently. In 1986, another Caliban was started by Lawrence R. Smith in the United States with the purpose of challenging the literary formalism that prevailed at that time. In 2010 the review was renamed Calibanonline. It highlighted not only avant-garde literary works, but also paintings, artistic videotapes and musical compositions.

4Caliban stirs rebellion: he is the slave who will not obey and who will fight for freedom. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of our own Caliban, its past and present editors wish to pay tribute to that other Caliban, born in the dark times of the Second World War to defend freedom and literature: two strands of thought join forces to designate the same character as the mouthpiece of those who refuse to submit.

5Each time Man has given birth to a Caliban that assumed the shape of a journal, it was meant to express a yearning for liberty in literature and the arts—or through them—as was the case in the war period.

6It was Maurice Lévy, whose anti-conformity had always been the leaven of his works, who chose the name for our scholarly journal, indicating the orientation he wished to give it. "What could be more subversive in our world," he inquired, "than intimating to Man that he is free?" Jean-Paul Débax's article takes a form which evokes that sense of liberty. The article is bilingual, like the journal. Its title suggests a parody of a spy novel in which Shakespeare's Caliban and the journal celebrating fifty years of existence meet. Through the text of the play and the adventures of the journal, along with an allusion to a novel by Milan Kundera, La fête de l'insignifiance, in which a Caliban from Pakistan, a failed actor, provides a parodic picture of his Shakespearean namesake, the author gives us a deep vision of humanity, which the theatre conveys, sometimes by overflowing into the life of a journal. Like Montesquieu, who suggested "doing frivolous things seriously and serious things gaily," Débax humorously tells a story through Shakespeare's play and through one of its most contemporary reappropriations, inviting our reflection on the human condition.

7Shakespeare's Tempest has many implications; one of them is presented by Irina Kantarbaeva-Bill who asks whether the play may be seen as the metaphor of an Anglo-Ottoman association. If it is true that the play is often seen as a "metaphor of colonization either of the New World or of Ireland," the situation of the play on an island allows other displacements. Can we see "the feminized Ottoman Empire in the image of 'the foul witch Sycorax'" (Kantarbaeva-Bill)? The author analyses the displacements of the Ottoman Empire in a reading of the Mediterranean island that may evoke Shakespeare's classical culture as well as suggest a political sign. Caliban thus becomes a creature whose thirst for power reminds spectators of the Ottoman Empire as English people saw it. This interpretation, which links Shakespeare's play to contemporary Anglo-Ottoman relations, adds a new facet to this protean play and to its richly symbolic cast of characters.

8The political implications of the play are also revealed by the choices made in various productions of it. Robert Lepage's choices draw the spectator into total theatre. Through his productions of The Tempest, he leads us into the heart of the First Nations, as demonstrated by Françoise Besson's article. His production in Wendake, the village of the Wendat nation in Quebec, in a natural forest, with several actors from the First Nations, clearly shows the producer's intention to read "the exploitation practised by the settlers" into this "Caliban freed from his chains" who " seizes an axe from the hands of the man who has felled the tree on his island." (Besson) It also shows the First Nations' determination to free themselves, a determination that appears in the text and in Caliban's gestures. Another production mingles theatre, music and dance: the island is no longer a natural space but the man-made space of the Scala of Milan in Thomas Adès's opera. And when Propsero frees his slaves at the end, the opera speaks about reconciliation while revisiting Shakespeare's play. The political dimension of the play is underlined by these creative productions which evoke the First Nations whose presence is suggested by costumes and tattoos (Caliban's and Prospero's) figuring the political dimension of Shakespeare's text.

  • 2 That picture can also be found in Cyril Camus's article.

9The visual arts are very important in representations of Caliban and The Tempest. The four illustrations on the front cover are only a small sample of the various forms taken by the character from The Tempest. As far as painting is concerned, a picture by Edmond Dulac, illustrating a translation of Shakespeare's play, unites a specific setting with the universal. Dulac (Toulouse, 1882-Londres, 1953) was a painter from Toulouse who spent the greatest part of his career in England where he is better known than in France. His poetic vision of Caliban on the top of a cliff observing Prospero's first footstep on his island is very different from Percy MacKaye's Caliban by the Yellow Sands, the Art nouveau Caliban, half-threatening, half-timid, half-man, half-woman, half-human being, half-animal, which was chosen for the Shakespeare Tercentenary Celebration in 1916. Theatre itself could not be absent from this virtual door opening into Caliban's universe. It is a Caliban dressed with an animal skin, whose apparent wildness is counterbalanced by despair, who appears in Nicola-Frank Vachon's photograph in which the chiaroscuro seems to reflect Caliban's double identification with darkness and light. The tenor Frédéric Antoun sings the role of Shakespeare's character, reuniting the theatre and music in Thomas Adès's opera which was produced at the Grand Théâtre in Québec in a production by Robert Lepage. And because Caliban also found his way into the universe of comics and fantasy, we can find him in a work by Alan Moore illustrated by Kevin O Neill:2 Prospero the magician appears in the middle of the picture, surrounded by the two characters serving as foils to him: a discreet Ariel in the shadow and a gigantic Caliban with a grinning, aggressive face, holding a broken skull in his hand; that Caliban thus becomes Hamlet's distorted reflection. Edouard Lekston evokes his own vision of The Tempest, drawing the play into the universe of comics. The island retains all its symbolic value in this version:

  • 3 Edouard Lekston (2010). "Une Île pleine de bruits, ou l'invention du territoire d'un magicien". Sha (...)

On a wild island, any new society (or any ideal society) remains to be built, as Gonzalo puts it so well in the play. He thus also expresses the mise en abyme of the work of the author who runs aground on a "mental" virgin island.3

10From the theatre to music and from painting to comics, Caliban multiplies himself from one art form to another on that "mental" island. Pictorial representations of him bring us to the visual arts. In order to understand Caliban, one must evoke the sea; one must evoke its wildness and beauty as Turner saw them. Caliban is necessarily linked to the water by his very isolation on an island. It is by analysing the relationship between Turner's painting and the sea that Malcolm Andrews conjures up Shakespeare's slave. He associates Turner's vision of the sea with the sea poetry in Swinburne's and Gerard Manley Hopkins's works. Finding in the painter a mixture of Prospero and Caliban, he sees, in his extreme sensitivity to the wildness and beauty of the sea, an instinctive reaction to the music of nature, recalling that of Caliban. And the vision of the sea that Malcolm Andrews reveals in the painter's work, throws light on Shakespeare's character who then seems to figure the tormented sea that Turner was to paint two centuries after the character's creation.

11We are also familiar with the famous work of Odilon Redon who painted "Caliban's Sleep." More recently, in his "Merry Theatre" (watercolour, 2009), Jean-Marc Brugeilles has created a new vision of The Tempest, in which Caliban has the body of a man and the head of a hare-eared iguana. Caliban opens the doors to a free poetic imagination.

12Caliban has also appeared in films in numerous adaptations of Shakespeare's The Tempest and of some works of fantasy. Raphaelle Costa de Beauregard studies Peter Greenaway's film adaptation in The Tempest: Prospero’s Books. Not only is Greenaway's work a silent film, but it is chiefly an experimental one using the "special effects" of the conjurer, as if to counterbalance Prospero's magic. Greenaway transforms Shakespeare's narrative speech through the technique of silent films in which stress is laid chiefly on the body and on gestures, which may be acrobatic. The director uses choreography with the dancer Michael Clark, accompanied by Michael Nyman's music. The perpetual movement presented by the dancer makes this Caliban a metaphor of life itself and thus a genuine inhabitant of the island. Besides, by imbuing the screen image of Caliban with mystery, he transforms Shakespeare's character into a sort of anti-hero whose malaise and inadequacy in relation to the modern world reflect the troubles inherent in post-colonialism.

13A possible double of Caliban can be found in a Japanese manga, Zetsuen No Tempest, or The Civilization Blaster, in which the character of Samon may conjure up Caliban while the magician Hakaze, locked up in a barrel on an island, seems to be a mixture of Ariel, the imprisoned spirit, and Prospero, the magician who frees him. As is shown on the front cover of this issue, Caliban is also present in comics: Neil Gaiman tells the story of the writing of The Tempest in Sandman where Caliban appears in an embedded narrative analysed by Cyril Camus who also studies works by Tad Williams and Nigel A. Sellars in which Caliban is "the narrator of rewritings of The Tempest."

14Shakespeare's character also appears in works of science-fiction by Roger MacBride Allen (Le Robot Caliban) and Dan Simmons (Ilium and Olympus), where the characters of The Tempest meet those of The Iliad. Founding his study on several of those works, Camus shows how "from a pre-existing tradition of contradictory interpretations of Caliban, a conflictual aesthetic and ideological dialogue is carried on in fantastic and marvellous fiction " (Camus). It is in Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings that Jean-Louis Breteau judiciously finds some kinship between the character of Gollum and Shakespeare's Caliban. In his analysis, Breteau analyses the relationship that exists between these two characters, linked by the water and by the monstrosity with which their creators endowed them, and which leads the reader into a comfortable acceptance of the "imaginary kinship with Caliban or Gollum" (Breteau). Also situated in a fantastic register, Suzanne Voogd's article examines the adaptations of The Tempest meant for young readers. She distinguishes two age groups: children and teenagers. What emerges from this kind of children's literature is that Caliban becomes a symbol of the child's status, the monster who rebels because he can never satisfy the demands of adults and must follow the rules that they impose on him. Yet, whereas in the original play, Caliban plays an ambiguous role, for the speech that condemns him comes from only one character, contemporary monsters are redeemed and encourage young readers to free themselves from the prejudices transmitted by their families and by society.

15The reappropriation of the Shakespearian character raises a number of questions, as Charlotte Bruner rightly points out:

  • 4 Charlotte H. Bruner, "The Meaning of Caliban in Black Literature Today," Comparative Studies, vol. (...)

Several recent critics of African literature have described the African writer as a Caliban; yet these critics are not only sympathetic but also appreciative of the very writers they so label. Even more strangely, some of these writers themselves have accepted the label. Is this act of acceptance a mark of shame, of defiance, of brutish depravity? Is it perhaps acceptance of others’ rejection so that subsequent regeneration can occur?" 4

  • 5 "As today's black writers have taken the appellation Caliban for their own, this image has changed (...)

Or is it only a way of turning the "Carib Indian native cannibal" into a "colonized black African slave" in order eventually to make out of him the "triumphant Third World Revolutionary?"5

16African novelists have borrowed the character of Caliban to evoke colonized peoples' dispossession. Marie-Jeanne Gauffre studies three short stories and her most recent novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It is in the light of Shakespeare's Prospero and Caliban that the article tackles Black/ White relationships, slavery, colonization and neo-colonialism in Nigerian author Adichie's works. Caliban's female avatars in the text of this Black woman have a double function: they highlight not only the resistance to colonial domination and its metamorphoses today, but also the prevailing role of language in colonization and in mental decolonization. Adichie's text also examines the after-effects of colonial speech; its narratives indeed invalidate the binary mode of thought and recommend another kind of dialectics of human relationships than that of master/slave, in which Prospero and Caliban confront each other. The relations that African and Afro-American characters have with the rest of the world, but also the hostility opposing Africans and Afro-Americans are highlighted, for example, by Adichie's personal experience of migration—which is one of the themes of her recent novel, Americanah.

17Wendy Harding brings us a Native American mutation of Caliban. The Caliban Codex is a work by the Cherokee artist Jimmie Durham, who calls into question the cultural representations in which the character of Caliban is trapped. Appearing as a "trickster" wholly in keeping with the Indian tradition, Durham inverts the roles by presenting the novice Caliban trying to undermine the lessons of his master Prospero. Through writing, drawing and sculpture, Caliban dismantles the very system of representation inscribed in the books of the magician Prospero, thus mocking the mechanisms of colonialist oppression to reveal its flaws and its violence. For example, he tries to draw Prospero's nose correctly and eventually only shapes a humble mask of mud. That mask, like the rest of the Codex, suggests that the colonized subject has internalized his master's lessons, but with double-edged irony which, while revealing the ambivalence of colonial speech, perverts its authority.

18Nature literature sometimes also uses characters evoking Caliban. Thus Céline Rolland compares Shakespeare's character and a character in Jim Harrison's eponymous novel, Brown Dog. The symbolism of the island, a protected wilderness area, constitutes a first element bringing the two characters together. Both of them appear as "primitive figures" and "instinctual characters obeying predatory instincts" (Rolland). In revolt against the invaders who have come to enslave Native people, both are also united by the poetry of their voices. Shakespeare and Harrison have created two characters who are half-way between the human and the animal and who "reconfigure the opposition between the wild man and the civilized man."

19Caliban can be found in poetry all around the world, from Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath's England and America to the West Indies, Africa and the Caribbean Islands, as is shown by the series of articles and translations with which the issue ends. Catherine Lanone reveals the omnipresent role of Caliban who, in some modern creations, unites poetry and sport. She starts with the opening of the 2012 London Olympic Games and the pageant created by Danny Boyle who, among all of Shakespeare's plays, chose Caliban's speech in The Tempest for the opening show. She invites us on a poetic journey, the starting points of which are Caliban's island and Shakespeare's text. From T.S. Eliot's poetry to that of Tom McCarthy, experimental poetry which imitates a radio system, Lanone suggests that "Caliban’s famous speech about the island being full of noises offers a paradigm for intertextuality which strangely foreshadows our modern world" (Lanone). She invites us to travel through the modern rewritings of Caliban in a radio play by Angela Carter, Come Unto These Yellow Sands leading us from Shakespeare's play to Richard Dadd's paintings. We travel from The Tempest as a "degraded alibi for the Industrial Revolution" to "Orientalism [...] born from the wealthy, emergent middle-class’s taste for escapism." Then through "contemporary intertextual metamorphoses," C. Lanone leads us to a reading of The Tempest by Ted Hughes who "explore[s] trauma and a variation on Œdipal attachment" (Lanone). The poet finds in Shakespeare's play classical mythology and Dido's story, which opens onto his study of Sylvia Plath's use of myths. The poetic reappropriation of The Tempest thus makes us hear poets answering one another in echoes, giving the island and its sounds a continually reinvented meaning.

20From Shakespeare's The Tempest to its modern poetic rewritings and to Aimé Césaire's play, Une tempête, Caliban lives and transforms himself in the world's literatures. One may find him in African literature, as a symbol of man oppressed by colonization: "First seen as a figure of dispossession among the colonized, Shakespeare’s Caliban has evolved into a constant and complex, if not controversial, metaphor in the discourse of African languages and literatures," Christiane Fioupou writes.

  • 6 John Pepper Clark, "The Legacy of Caliban," The Example of Shakespeare (London: Longman, 1970) 1-38
  • 7 Niyi Osundare, "Caliban’s Curse: the English Language and Nigeria’s Underdevelopment," Ufahamu xi.2 (...)
  • 8 Ayi Kwei Armah, "The Caliban Complex," West Africa (18 March 1985): 521-522 and West Africa (25 Mar (...)
  • 9 Christiane Fioupou, Editorial, "Seuils/Thresholds," Anglophonia/Caliban n° 7, (Toulouse: Presses Un (...)

Indeed African and Caribbean writers have endeavoured to go beyond the threshold of their political and linguistic situations, appropriating "The Legacy of Caliban"6—the legacy of language—, "Caliban’s Curse" and "Caliban’s Gamble"7 or disparaging "The Caliban Complex,"8 to name but a few titles using Caliban as a colonial or "post-colonial" icon.9

21In this issue, two poems illustrate the reappropriation of Caliban: a poem by Aimé Césaire who, in his play Une tempête, re-examined the image of Caliban making him the poet and the voice of oppressed people, has been translated into British English by John Fletcher, who contributed to the first issue of Caliban in 1964. This poem, "Stèle obsidienne pour Aloune Diop," is a tribute to Aloune Diop, who founded Présence Africaine. Christiane Fioupou has translated a poem by the writer from Sierra-Leone Syl Cheney-Cooker, entitled "Caliban." It is the strength of this poem to present a Caliban who stands for the Creole-Krio society from Sierra-Leone, as the poet explains. He shows us a Caliban who, far from being the monstrous creature he is in Shakespeare's The Tempest, is an "'in-between' character," trying to "create his own language and identity " (Syl Cheney-Cooker, in C. Fioupou). As for Eric Doumerc, he invites us to discover another rewriting of The Tempest with the poem "Caliban" by the Caribbean author Edward Kamau Brathwaite. That Caliban plays the steelpan and limbo dances; through him the poet "questions the very nature of Caribbean culture" and shows "Caliban's itinerary from Africa to the Caribbean Islands." (Eric Doumerc).

  • 10 Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia [1977], Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun., 2003.
  • 11 Thomas Wharton, Les Champs de glace, traduit de l’anglais par Anne Damour (Paris: Rivages, 2000), 2 (...)
  • 12 Jane Goodall and Dale Peterson, Visions of Caliban: On Chimpanzees and People (University of Georgi (...)

22Caliban travels, and he is present in travel books, one of which probably inspired The Tempest. Bruce Chatwin evokes that source in his book In Patagonia,10 where he suggests that the action of The Tempest is founded on a South American travel book (chapitre 49). Lawrence Durrell's narrative relating the writer's stay in Corfu is entitled Prospero's Cell. Fictions based on voyages of discovery also echo Shakespeare's play as in Thomas Wharton's Canadian novel, Icefields,11 "the rhythms of Caliban's monologue in The Tempest, […] are mingled with the creaking schist" under an explorer's footsteps. Caliban helps us to preserve the planet: to speak about the necessity of animal preservation and the threats to chimpanzees' habitats, famous primatologist Jane Goodall and Dale Peterson chose the metaphor of Caliban in their book Visions of Caliban: On Chimpanzees and People12 (University of Georgia Press, 2000), in which they show our link and interactions with those animals.

23Thus, Caliban's words can be heard in works ranging from poetry to novels and committed books defending human as well as animal rights. They can also be heard in literature of exploration imaginatively transformed and in the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games where a song from Underworld, "Caliban’s Dream," reminded the spectator's of Caliban's presence. And the list de his metamorphoses is not over: he is also present at the Printemps de Bourges where a sculpture by Alexandre Calder called "Caliban" has been welcoming the visitor in the hall of the Maison de la Culture since 1964 (the same year as "our" Caliban was born), when the venue was officially inaugurated by André Malraux. And the list of his metamorphoses does not end there…

24A creature of journals, world literature, painting, cinema, comics and music: Caliban, the slave, keeps on breaking his chains so that his voice may be heard—the voice that some try to muffle or simply the voice that we would like to share.

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1 In 1878, Ernest Renan published a philosophical drama entitled Caliban.

2 That picture can also be found in Cyril Camus's article.

3 Edouard Lekston (2010). "Une Île pleine de bruits, ou l'invention du territoire d'un magicien". Shakespeare en devenir - Les Cahiers de La Licorne - N°2 - Saison 2009-2010 | L'Oeil du Spectateur | Espace Libre : autour de La Tempête.

[online] Published online on July 26, 2010.


Consulté le 6/09/2014 (Our translation).

4 Charlotte H. Bruner, "The Meaning of Caliban in Black Literature Today," Comparative Studies, vol. 13, 2003, Septembre 1976, 240.

5 "As today's black writers have taken the appellation Caliban for their own, this image has changed from native-Indian-Caribbean-cannibal—to Black African colonized slave—to triumphant Third-World revolutionary." (Bruner 240)

6 John Pepper Clark, "The Legacy of Caliban," The Example of Shakespeare (London: Longman, 1970) 1-38.

7 Niyi Osundare, "Caliban’s Curse: the English Language and Nigeria’s Underdevelopment," Ufahamu xi.2 (1982): 96-107; "Caliban’s Gamble." The Stylistic Repercussions of Writing African Literature in English," Language in Nigeria, ed. Kola Owolabi (Ibadan: Grop Publishers, 1995) 340-363.

8 Ayi Kwei Armah, "The Caliban Complex," West Africa (18 March 1985): 521-522 and West Africa (25 March 1985): 570-571.

9 Christiane Fioupou, Editorial, "Seuils/Thresholds," Anglophonia/Caliban n° 7, (Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2000), 3.

10 Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia [1977], Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun., 2003.

11 Thomas Wharton, Les Champs de glace, traduit de l’anglais par Anne Damour (Paris: Rivages, 2000), 27. Icefields (Edmonton: NeWest Publishing, 1995).

12 Jane Goodall and Dale Peterson, Visions of Caliban: On Chimpanzees and People (University of Georgia Press, 2000). The editors thank Scott Slovic who made them discover this powerful book.

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Bibliographical reference

Françoise Besson, Philippe Birgy, Roland Bouyssou, Jean-Louis Breteau, Jean-Paul Débax, Albert Poyet and Marcienne Rocard, « Introduction », Caliban, 52 | 2014, 26-34.

Electronic reference

Françoise Besson, Philippe Birgy, Roland Bouyssou, Jean-Louis Breteau, Jean-Paul Débax, Albert Poyet and Marcienne Rocard, « Introduction », Caliban [Online], 52 | 2014, Online since 22 April 2015, connection on 09 December 2019. URL :

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About the authors

Françoise Besson

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Philippe Birgy

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Roland Bouyssou

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Jean-Louis Breteau

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Jean-Paul Débax

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Albert Poyet

Marcienne Rocard

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Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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