Becoming Caliban

In our January 2022 reading group we discussed Lauren Cline’s ‘Becoming Caliban: Monster Methods and Performance Theories’ from The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Embodiment: Gender, Sexuality, and Race (ed. Valerie Traub) chosen by Anouska Lester.

In Monster Theory (1996), Jeffrey Jerome Cohen defines the monster as “an embodiment of difference, a breaker of category, and a resistant Other known only through process and movement” (x). Cline uses Monster Theory to explore the various interpretative possibilities of The Tempest‘s Caliban in text and performance. She writes, “Both perfor­mance and monster studies…have an investment in exploring ways of thinking embod­iment that thrive, rather than flounder, on fragmentation, repetition, and loss. My en­gagement with performance studies accordingly involves the search for a reading strate­gy that treats the ‘footprints, bones, talismans, teeth, shadows’, and also the ‘costumes, properties, set models … photographs, and documents’ left by the performing body as traces of contingency, rather than as pieces to be definitively reconstructed” (710).

  • How do uncertainty, multiplicity, and contradictions feature in your own research? How might Monster Theory help you to interpret these?
  • In the early modern period, the word “monster” was used equally to describe imagined creatures and real people, and the word carried an ethical charge and an implicit judgement. “Monstrosity” could as easily applied to a disabled child, a person of colour, a mermaid, or a dragon. Representations of Caliban, from fishscales to blackface, embody these two (overlapping) categories of monstrosity. Can (and should) the negative and fantastical connotations of the monster be reconciled? 
  • How could you use Monster Theory in teaching to help students interpret early modern race-making?
  • Imagine you are designing or directing a production of The Tempest. How would you choose to costume, cast, and direct the character of Caliban? Can a materialised and embodied Caliban manifest the multiplicity and subjectivity discussed in Cline’s chapter?

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