Ballads and Performance: The Multimodal Stage in Early Modern England

"The True Form and Shape of Caliban: Monstrosity and Wonder in 'The Tempest'"

Critics who consider Caliban as a monstrous birth tend to confine their reading to this one particular moment when Caliban and Trinculo seem to form a conjoined twin under the gabardine. Kahan, for example, suggests that Shakespeare may have been inspired for Stephano’s description by the images of conjoined twins in Paré (“Ambroise Paré’s On Monsters and Marvels,” 2-3). Burnett similarly interprets Stephano’s comment as “The efforts of the jester and the butler to position Caliban within familiar frames of reference” (Constructing ‘Monsters’ in Shakespearean Drama, 137). Laoutaris notes that Stephano’s description of Caliban and Trinculo under the cloak “mirrors the allegorical repertoire of monster-ballads” (Shakespearean Maternities, 127) but instead of pointing to conjoined twin ballads, she points to a ballad depicting a child born with a deformed mouth and misshapen limbs, “The fourme and shape of a monstrous child borne at Maydstone in Kent” (1568). Burnett and Laoutauris both read the moment when Stephano pulls Trinculo out from under the gabardine as a parodic enactment of a monstrous birth (Burnett, 137; Laoutaris, 129). This paper argues that the interpretation of Caliban as a monstrous birth is not limited to this one comic moment, but, rather, that it is the primary meaning of “monster” in relation to Caliban in the play.

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