Comparing the Presentation of Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights) & Caliban (The Tempest)

A comparison between Heathcliff from Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Caliban of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, 2012.

Compare the ways the writers present Heathcliff and Caliban in Wuthering Heights and The Tempest.

In Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ the character of Heathcliff and Shakespeare’s Caliban in ‘The Tempest’ are presented as very different characters, yet the are both shown to be brutal and violent savages in either work.

Firstly Heathcliff and Caliban are presented physically different. While Heathcliff is an outsider because he is a ‘dark skinned gypsy’, he is also stated to be ‘a tall, athletic, well formed man’ suggesting he is rather handsome. Caliban however is enforced as ugly towards the reader from the start of the play as the play’s character list describes him a ‘savage and deformed slave’.

Heathcliff is also shown to be strong, an example being when he confronts Hindley to settle his debt. After Hindley aims his pistol at Heathcliff, he ‘wretched it from his grasp’ suggesting some difficulty but also pulls away Hindley’s knife by ‘main force’ showing his physical strength. Finally Heathcliff ‘kicked and trampled on him, and dashed his head repeatedly against the flags holding me (Isabella) with one hand.’ This emphasises Heathcliff’s strength as not only is he able to viciously attack Hindley, for a length of time implied by ‘repeatedly’, but was also able to subdue Isabella whilst doing so. Caliban however is shown to be weak not only physically but also lacks intelligence. It can be suggested Caliban is shown to be physically weak when Prospero threatens him with lashes stating ‘lying slave,/Whom stripes may move’. Caliban giving in to Prospero’s demands suggests he is unable to defend himself physically against Prospero. Furthermore, when Ferdinand is made to carry logs by Prospero, like Caliban is often tasked with, he does so with ease implying Caliban’s weakness and lack of strength. However he is motivated as he is trying to gain Prospero’s approval so he can be with Miranda, ‘But these sweet thoughts do even refresh my labours’.

Caliban is also shown to be unintelligent at several points in the novel such as when it is made clear that Prospero taught him to speak, ‘took pains to make thee speak’, and in Act II Scene ii when he falsely believes Trinculo and Stephano are spirits. This contrasts with Heathcliff as although Hindley stops his education after Mr. Earnshaw’s death, he is still presented as smart and particularly cunning. This is clear as in his three year absence he amasses a fortune, without a proper education, and his elaborate schemes to gain ownership of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Even as a child Heathcliff is sly as he takes abuse from Hindley and then uses it to his advantage. When his colt he is raising dies he takes a beating from Hindley as he threatens to tell his father of his mistreatment, ‘if I speak of these blows you’ll get them again with interest’ to which Hindley succumbs to his demand angrily saying ‘take my colt, gipsy, then!’

A similarity between Heathcliff and Caliban is that they are both seen in savages in each society. In Wuthering Heights Heathcliff is considered a ‘savage’ predominantly because he is a gypsy and several characters see him as wild and untamed. Animal imagery, particularly that of wolfs, is often also used when describing Heathcliff as he is said to be ‘a wolfish man’ with ‘ferocious brows’, with this considered the comparison to a wolf is fitting as it is a predatory and savage animal. Heathcliff’s violent actions such as his attack on Hindley and beating of the younger Catherine also put emphasis on his savage nature. By presenting Heathcliff this way, Bronte enforces that he is an outsider in the society of ‘WutheringHeights’. Shakespeare’s character of Caliban comes across as savage in a different sense. An important context of ‘The Tempest’ is that at the time it was written, colonization of the Americas was in progress. Caliban can be seen as a representation of the natives found there as he states ‘this island’s mine’ showing Prospero had taken the island from him like the colonizers had to the natives. Therefore Caliban is seen as a savage because he is extremely different to the play’s European characters. Trinculo also states ‘they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian’, Shakespeare’s choice of the word ‘Indian’ is an obvious reference to the colonization of the New World and attitudes towards natives Americans as some were brought to England and displayed in circuses. Michel de Montaigne’s essay ‘On Cannibals’ introduced the idea of the ‘noble savage’ suggesting the savages are superior as their society does not care for material possessions and lacks the violence of the European settlers’ societies. While Caliban is far from ‘noble’ as he tried to violate Miranda after gaining her and Prospero’s trust, the idea can be seen as relevant to Heathcliff. Although Heathcliff later attains wealth, and is frequently violent, all he truly wanted in life in was to love Catherine which opportunity was taken from him due to his class.

When comparing characters, Caliban is presented by Shakespeare as a savage that who deserves Prospero’s harsh treatment. However Bronte presents Heathcliff as a more compelling character as he is seen as a handsome, tough and charming outsider. Although he commits many acts of violence, the reader sympathises with him as he is a likeable anti hero due to his devotion to Catherine and past mistreatment.

Farran Golding, November 2012.


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