The subtitle of this article is ‘Why can’t scholars write more clearly?’ The author has pointed out some reasons already, but I should like to add a few more. a) Most people are not taught these days that it is important to write well, nor what good writing means, b) a lot of language teachers are themselves confused, and imagine that jargon, prolixity and opaqueness are actually marks of ‘good-’, meaning learned writing (the disease starts being spread in high school, I have discovered), c) a lot of people in academia secretly know that what they are writing, expressed in plain English, would be little more than blah, so they are desperate to cover it up (‘If you cannot convince, confuse’!), d) In the world outside academia, there is a kind of negative snobbery at work here, assisted by vastness of numbers – I am proud of the fact that I cannot write good English (or Hindi or Mandarin or French for that matter), since that puts me on par with my friends on Facebook, and we are the world, aren’t we? e) Most engineer-turned-MBA types understand little more by communication beyond quarrelling with spouses, haggling with shopkeepers and displaying charts, maps, tables and diagrams on Powerpoint, for which you really do not need more than elementary-school language skills anyway (most of these types find reading P.G. Wodehouse too challenging, think Richard Dawkins is an intellectual, and would break their teeth on Bertrand Russell…)
When it comes to Caliban proper, that’s another story. I have taught The Tempest, so I know a little better than the average man what this writer is talking about, and I must confess I am in two minds. Prospero did disdain Caliban from the beginning, and used him like a slave: his hatred and contempt might have intensified after Caliban tried to rape his daughter, but maybe the post colonialist scholars are right, C was just trying to pay him back in the only coin he knew. How much P really exerted himself to make C a better human being remains an open question: we have only his word for it. Besides, Shakespeare, true to his style, has put at least one passage in C’s mouth that hints at a strong stirring of a poetic soul in him, which justifies the suspicion that he is more sinned against than sinning. But the lines in question, ‘You taught me language, and my only profit on’t is/ I know how to curse’, has a peculiarly poignant ring for those of us who have been teaching language all our lives. I have known far too many Calibans myself, alas, ones unredeemed by any hint of having human souls. Truly, they have little use for language except to curse everyone they should be respectful and grateful to. I am sure I am not the only one at whom they spit upwards whenever they feel particularly unhappy with their lives. I wish Shakespeare could have met some of them, for I’d have loved to savour whatever he might have said about these monsters (this and this are links to two related posts I wrote some time ago).