William Hogarth and Book Illustration: Visualizing “Otherness” in pre-Victorian images of Shakespeare’s Caliban

Katritzky, M A (2021). William Hogarth and Book Illustration: Visualizing “Otherness” in pre-Victorian images of Shakespeare’s Caliban. In: Pietrini, Sandra ed. Shakespearean Characters Transposed: Iconography, Adaptations, Cultural Exchanges and Staging. L’immaginario teatrale, 1. Alessandria: Edizioni dell’Orso, 65-83 & 237-241.


Consideration of pre-Victorian Caliban images in the light of dramatic texts and productions requires supplementation, by strong and informed reference to longstanding visual traditions. With the major qualification that depictions of Caliban as a physically normal European or non-ethnically specific male represent a significant visual category, Jeffrey R Wilson’s classification system, based on the categories of devil, monster, humanoid, and racial other, offers a helpful starting point for making sense of Caliban’s pre-Victorian visual afterlives.
According to my overview, their physical types fall into several overlapping groups. Firstly, Caliban images representing the supernatural or pre-human “other”. Overwhelmingly referencing the iconographical traditions not of the medieval devil, but of the medieval and early modern satyr and Wild Man, most feature normal human anatomy lightly modified with the otherness of unusually long fingernails and either satyr ears or excessive body hair. This is the dominant visual tradition reflected in descriptions and depictions of pre-Victorian Caliban stage costume. Secondly, adult human males: mainly European or ethnically indeterminate, a few ethnic Africans, whose sole “otherness” consists in one or more of: non-European ethnicity, grooming or dress, unexceptional ugliness, or minor bodily deformities, congenital or otherwise, of a type normal to human beings. Thirdly and more rarely, radical or monstrous physical otherness.
Previous specialists have identified the tradition of medical illustrations based on the human mola, mooncalf or misbirth as a potentially significant influence on Shakespeare’s own indications of Caliban’s physicality. In a reflection of their artists’ efforts to rationalize or “make sense” of physical attributes previously unencountered in the human context, many medieval and early modern visual records of human misbirths highly exaggerate elements suggesting familiar bestial physical characteristics. My new suggestion here is that this tradition fundamentally underpins monstrous Caliban depictions, of the type initiated by William Hogarth and developed by artists such as Daniel Chodowiecki. As such, regardless of Shakespeare’s original intentions in alluding to Caliban with respect to tortoises, cats, dogs or fish, the extreme physical otherness of pre-Victorian monstrous Caliban images should primarily be viewed as referencing not the early modern representational traditions of such physically unexceptional beasts, but those of physically exceptional human misbirths or mooncalves.

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