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Cyborg Caliban: The Posthuman Episteme of The Tempest and Ex Machina

Contemporary science fiction is full of cyborgs—creatures simultaneously animal and machine, who populate worlds ambiguously natural and crafted…I am making an argument for the cyborg as a fiction mapping our social and bodily reality and as an imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings. Michel Foucault’s biopolitics is a flaccid premonition of cyborg politics, a very open field. By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism—in short, cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. (Haraway 6-7)

In Donna Haraway’s 1985 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto,” from which the above is quoted, she evokes the eponymous figure as one who “skips the step of original unity,” who abdicates “teleology.” Indeed, the urgency of the cyborg, she writes, is that it offers “a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves,” through “regeneration, not rebirth.” It is interesting, then, that Haraway’s language in this extended passage positions her objects of interest within the same kind of normative linear chronology she elsewhere resists (67). The cyborg, she suggests, is a “contemporary” phenomenon of the “late twentieth century,” the fulfillment of Foucault’s “premonition” regarding the shift of state power from a sovereign model with a monopoly on death to a biopolitical one “whose highest function was no longer to kill, but to invest life through and through” (History 139). Later in the essay, furthermore, she cites instances of the cyborg in science-fiction works like those of Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler, examining the ways in which these novels embody “the intersection of feminist theory and colonial discourse,” and yet implying again with these textual examples that the cyborg is a product of the late millennium (Haraway 64). Although Haraway’s metaphor continues to be invaluable, and represents, of course, the foundational image in studies of the posthuman, I would argue that her focus on its appearance in the “Star Wars” era limits its potency, and that in fact, iterations of the cyborg can be found in texts from across the history of English literature.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest, for instance, provides a fascinating anticipation of the “cyborg” theory in the character of Caliban. Reconsidered in the twentieth century through the lenses of postcolonial and critical race theory, Caliban’s “creatureliness” extends the bounds of the human in ways that deeply resonate with the political focus of Haraway’s project, inviting feminist and colonial readings centuries before the publication of novels like Kindred and Tales of Nevèrÿon (Reinhard Lupton 4). Meanwhile, on a separate node in the web of history, a curious, idiosyncratic adaptation of The Tempest from the year 2014 expands upon and makes explicit the posthuman implications of Shakespeare’s play: Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. Operating from across a temporal divide, these works together comprise a transhistorical dialogue on the subject of the human. And furthermore, they establish a continuity between Shakespeare and 21st century generic conventions that resists the language of linearity–a continuity that challenges the chronologies presented by both Haraway and Foucault in their interventions into biopolitics.

Other scholars have noted the posthuman, and even the cyborgian, resonances in Shakespeare’s late play as well as in his œuvre as a whole. Christy Desmet, for instance, observes The Tempest’s Haraway-informed interest in “what makes us human,” as well as the manner in which millennial rewritings of the play that explore the “tradition of reconceiving humanity through processes of mechanization and dematerialization” support posthuman readings of the Shakespearean original (177, 178). Courtney Lehmann, meanwhile, notes the animation of English Renaissance culture and authorship, including Shakespeare’s own writing practice, by a version of Haraway’s Simians-era cybernetics system theory (“Apocalyptic”). In this essay, my particular interest is in navigating the overlapping posthumanist elements of both The Tempest and Ex Machina, with particular attention to Caliban’s shifting presence across the two works. By locating within The Tempest deep resonances with theories of the cyborg and with science-fiction narratives like Ex Machina, I argue that posthumanism, as iterated in works of artistic fantasy, should be considered not as a teleological arrival of the contemporary period but instead, as a non-temporally limited episteme. Ultimately, this conclusion demonstrates both the fallibility of a biopolitical model engaged in the construction of linear time as a necessary technique in the objective to “make live,” as well as the insufficiency of any biopolitical analysis that replicates the kind of temporal hegemony characteristic of the states it critiques (Foucault “Society” 241).

Ex Machina’s status as an adaptation of the Shakespeare play can be somewhat surprising to both Early Modernists and science-fiction acolytes and is not immediately apparent. The film follows a young tech worker named Caleb Smith summoned to the remote home of ?illionnaire guru Nathan Bateman in order to perform a Turing Test on (or rather, with) Bateman’s creation: “Ava,” an AI robot with the appearance of a cybernetic human female. Caleb is erotically and sympathetically compelled by the figure of Ava, who, for her part, inevitably manipulates this attraction in order to kill both Caleb and Bateman, escape her isolated prison, and penetrate human civilization in synthetic-skin disguise.

Strangely enough, the connection between this story and that of The Tempest is one that appears only in the hyperlink ether of the internet, rather than being verbalized anywhere by the film’s promotional material or its creator. Wikipedia whispers at the bottom of its entry on Ex Machina, in between its directions to pages compiling lists of “Films about computing” and “Films by Alex Garland,” that the movie also belongs within the categories “Films based on The Tempest” and “Films by William Shakespeare.” The blog site “Fan Boys of the Universe,” meanwhile, states, “A kind of radical re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest by way of Asimov, Ex Machina is a tense, closed-circuit kind of film” (Gayzmonic). Indeed, the closest thing to an explicit identification of Ex Machina’s Shakespearean source material comes in the form of an observation by an IMDB user identified as trivioid: “Ex Machina's plot is a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare's play ‘The Tempest,’ and each of the film's three main characters are roughly analogous to characters from the play.” This anonymous, origin-less analysis of the similarities between Ex Machina and The Tempest goes on to observe, accurately, that Nathan roughly corresponds to a post-Silicon Prospero, and Caleb to a Ferdinand. However, the analysis also then states that Ava’s character “is analogous to Miranda,” a particular one-to-one analogy that robs the movie of much of its biopolitical interest and invites inquiry into the ways that Ex Machina in fact displaces all of Shakespeare’s original cast across its characters in diffuse, incongruous formations (“Trivia”).1 While Ava’s function does have a similar narrative role to that of Miranda as the female party in a “love” connection arranged by her father-figure, she also, and perhaps more significantly, exhibits similarities to the character of Caliban. She could in fact be read as a sort of amalgamated Miranda-Caliban-Ariel figure, an extratemporal, many-bodied linkage that would strengthen Caliban’s own claim to cyborghood. Bateman, too, and even Caleb (Caleb-an), seem composed not only of Prospero parts but also of Caliban. This persistent practice of assemblage has obvious posthumanist implications, and yet is not a distinct rupture from Shakespeare’s treatment of his personages in The Tempest but rather, a continuation.

The relation of Shakespeare to science fiction is one typically explored through the mechanism of thinking backwards with his influence on genre works from Brave New World to Westworld well-documented.2 Adaptations of The Tempest, in particular, lend themselves to interpretations that are sci-fi in hue, as evidenced by Ex Machina but also by films like 1956’s Forbidden Planet. Yet there are significant ways in which The Tempest itself not only inspires science fiction, but actually incarnates it; as noted by one critic in 1961, in one of the only explicit writings on the question of science fiction within Shakespeare,

a moment’s thought brings the idea that The Tempest was science-fiction or at least fantasy-fiction for its seventeenth-century audience, to whom the far Bermoothes were the outer realms of space. And as some modern critics complain of motion picture monsters and marvels, so classicist Ben Jonson complained of Shakespeare’s presentation of wonders and objected that with Caliban, Shakespeare graced the stage with monsters. (Morsberger 161)

This reading of The Tempest as fantastic on its own terms, set as it is in the Jacobean final frontier of a liminally, ambiguously New-World colony, and including such genre mythemes as the “monsters” of the fae3 spirit Ariel, the necromantic wizard Prospero, and the defiantly non-normative Caliban, reinforces the notion of an intrinsically science-fictional Shakespeare, as well as of a science-fiction not bounded by the demands of linear literary history. Caliban, in particular, functions as a distinctly science-fictional cyborg type, establishing from the early period of printed media a posthuman current in literature.

In Act 1 Scene 2 of The Tempest, Prospero narrates the story of Caliban’s birth from the Algerian witch Sycorax: “This blue-eyed hag was hither brought with child / And here was left by th’ sailors;” after her death, “Then was this island / Save for the son that she did litter here / A freckled whelp, hag born, not honored with / A human shape” (1.2, 393-4, 405-8). “Blue-eyed,” as famously proposed in Leah Marcus’ Unediting the Renaissance, refers here not to the characteristic of Aryanism we might infer today, but instead to an unstable racial category that could have indicated African parentage. Sycorax’s lineage and history are thus cast into question, through the social metric of race categorization, echoing the Haraway cyborg’s liberation from reproductive originarity. In Caliban, too, is this dynamic expressed; “hag-born,” and with no reference made by Shakespeare to a father, Caliban’s birth seems to result from a kind of artificial insemination, a magical/mechanical immaculate construction, again recalling Haraway’s dictum that “the most promising monsters in cyborg worlds are embodied in non-oedipal narratives” (8). His adherence to the model of the cyborg is reiterated with Prospero’s declaration that upon his birth, the island was “not honored with / A human shape” (1.2, 407-8). It is true that this statement reflects Prospero’s perception of Caliban as subhuman, subaltern, leading some to importantly and fairly read the latter personage as a synecdoche of “the countless victims of European imperialism and colonization” (Vaughan 290)4. And yet, I would like to emphasize the potential agency that Caliban receives through a reading of his character as cyborgian, and the ways in which, like the cyborg, Caliban represents the ability of the extra-human to combat attempts at intellectual and political domination.

Caliban’s acquisition and use of language, for instance, can be interpreted as a demonstration of his powerful subjectivity. In another moment from Act 1, Scene 2 of the play, Miranda spits at the so-called “Abhorrèd slave,” “I pitied thee, / Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each / hour / One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage, / Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like / A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes / With words that made them known” (1.2, 495-501). To this insistence on subservient gratitude, Caliban responds, “You taught me language, and my profit on ’t / Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you / For learning me your language!” (1.2, 508-10) Although verbalized through a tone of almost adolescent spite, Caliban’s ability to subvert the linguistic system imposed upon him by the Milanese arrivés to his island is nevertheless made clear here, as well as his use of this subversion for purposes of defiance. Nor is his fluency limited in use to insubordination. As Julia Reinhard Lupton notes in her essay on the “Creature Caliban,” Caliban is deeply sensitive to beauty and to “wonder,” and often exhibits this attunedness in bursts of monologic poetry, indicating “the creative potentials of the Creature himself: the creat-ura is a created thing who is himself on the verge of creating” (13). Caliban’s moments of eloquence throughout the play mark him as a uniquely autonomous automaton, one who resists the coding attempts of his would-be programmers.

In this, Caliban has much in common with Ava, the robot-femme anti-heroine of Ex Machina. Language is an early field of interest for Caleb during his Turing Test with Ava, as illustrated in a conversation with Bateman following his first examination of her: “Her language abilities–they’re incredible. The system is stochastic, right? It’s non-deterministic? At first I thought she was mapping from internal semantic form to syntactic tree-structure…But then I started to realize, the model was some kind of hybrid” (Garland 26). And soon after establishing Ava’s linguistic skill, the film suggests her facility to manipulate it. Following his second test session, Caleb tells Bateman, “There was one interesting thing that happened with Ava today…She made a joke.” “Right,” responds Bateman, “when she threw your line back at you. About being interested to see what she’d choose.” Caleb continues, “She could only do that with an awareness of her own mind. And also an awareness of mine” (Garland 44). Ava’s inversion of Caleb’s speech, the way she “throws back” his line to him, echoes Caliban’s stylization of the language of Prospero and Miranda in the form of cursing–although where Caliban’s provocation is blatant, Ava’s is read by her captor-examiners as a joke, suggesting the psychological foundation for her ultimate, successful machinations against them5.

Ava’s subjectivity is also illustrated through her talent for art; the way that she is, like Caliban, a “creation with a penchant for creating” (Jacobson 23). She generates first one drawing to show to Caleb, of a kind of familiar computer-generated fractal pattern; then, upon his feedback, a starkly beautiful, almost Dürer-esque scene of the little walled garden next to her cell; and finally, a pointillist rendering of his own face (see Figures 1-3). This evolution is significant, as it demonstrates not only her artistic skill–often considered by humanists the litmus test of authentic personhood, inaccessible to machines–but also the ways in which she adapts her subject matter to suit her ends. When, at the end of the film, Ava leaves Caleb behind to die, and her motives for seducing him are retrospectively cast into question, a reconsideration of her intention in drawing each of these pictures must also occur. The first could be read as an authentic expression of her cybernetic interiority, or as an attempt in mauvaise foi to present herself as pure, unmolded Robot, to be shaped at the human hands of her examiner; either way, the effect is the same. She wants Caleb to believe he is the primary influence on her artistic development, as well as the object of her romantic fixation as expressed through that art–a gangly male muse–and therefore manipulates her drawings in order to implant this narrative within him.

Cyborg Caliban: The Posthuman Episteme of The Tempest and Ex Machina, Griffin Reed,
 Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 1. Ava’s first drawing, a mechanistic abstraction.
Cyborg Caliban: The Posthuman Episteme of The Tempest and Ex Machina, Griffin Reed,
 Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 2. Ava’s second drawing, closer in style to realism; a depiction of the walled garden outside her room.
Cyborg Caliban: The Posthuman Episteme of The Tempest and Ex Machina, Griffin Reed,
 Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 3. Ava’s third drawing; Caleb’s face.

Ava also uses artistic semiotics to her subversive advantage through another medium: that of clothing. In this endeavor, she continues to echo Caliban, whose “gaberdine” cloak foils the “magic garment” worn by Prospero and provides the creature with his own kind of transfigurative power (2.2, 1100; 1.2, 100). For instance, in Act 2 Scene 2, when to hide himself from Trinculo, whom he misperceives as one of Prospero’s spirits, Caliban covers himself in the camouflage of his cloak; Trinculo, seeking shelter, notices Caliban under his gaberdine and exclaims, “What have we here, a man or a fish?” (2.2, 1086). Trinculo, too, climbs under the cloak, where upon the entrance of Stefano the two cloaked figures take on the appearance of “some monster of the isle with four / legs,” a “cat;” when Trinculo exits the shelter of the cloak, both he and Stefano refer to Caliban as a “mooncalf” (2.2, 1127-8; 2.2, 1146; 2.2, 1171)6. This sartorial “malleability” has been read by some in connection with Caliban’s disenfranchisement on the island, with Virginia Mason Vaughan applying to it a reflection of “changing Anglo-American attitudes towards primitive man” (390). However, the significance of Caliban’s gaberdine is not as a tabula rasa, but as a techne. His ability to both hide himself and alter himself in his cloak resonates with Achille Mbembe’s identification of the enslaved person’s capacity “to draw almost any object, instrument, language, or gesture into a performance and then stylize it,” as well as Haraway’s evocation of the cyborg’s “emerging pleasures, experiences, and powers with serious potential for changing the rules of the game,” and demonstrates, like his talent for linguistic inversion, the agency of the cyborg-creature working against the control of external determination (Mbembe 22, Haraway 51). Caliban uses the item of clothing as a tissue by which to evade Prospero’s authority. He gathers together, in Trinculo and Stefano, a displaced, ersatz version of the relational triad that formerly comprised Prospero and Miranda, and launches a plot to assassinate his master. Through his artistic manipulation of clothing, Caliban further establishes himself as not only creative, but defiantly so.

When Ava stylizes clothing as a means of resistance, it has much in common with Caliban’s use of dress as a method of evading or retooling surveillance, but sees her working through and playing on the additional interpretive structure of gender. In her third session with Caleb, she asks him to close his eyes and returns to surprise him with her robotic parts covered in quaint, girlish clothing and a pixie-cut wig (see Figure 4). Just as Caliban’s use of his cloak exemplifies a facility for “performance,” so too does Ava’s ensemble–deliberately chosen from a closet with several dresses, as the film takes care to illustrate–represent a performance, with all the necessary Butlerian baggage that word connotes, of vulnerable femininity7. The performance is effective, as Caleb’s attraction to Ava is only compounded by her faux-naïve attempt at interesting him romantically. Once again, Ava uses a means of artistic expression, with full awareness of its signification to her interlocutor, in order to further her final objective: escape from her isolated prison.

Cyborg Caliban: The Posthuman Episteme of The Tempest and Ex Machina, Griffin Reed,
 Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 4. Ava shows herself to Caleb, for the first time, in clothes and a wig; her human drag.

When she accomplishes this goal, in the film’s final moments, she does what Caliban does not. Yet there are characters who do remain behind, like the unfortunate figure in The Tempest, imprisoned in the “cell”8 of Bateman’s locked-down estate: Caleb, and Bateman himself. Ava’s Calibanite qualities have perhaps the most interesting biopolitical consequences, linking across history, as they do, the most abject figures in both the play and the film, positioning both within an extra-temporal network of cyborg figures and offering new ways of reading each character’s self-determination. But the ways in which Caliban permeates the depictions of Caleb and Bateman, too, reinforces the film’s cyborgian practice of assemblage and complicates the hierarchies of authority and humanity in a manner similar to that originally suggested in Shakespeare’s text.

As noted above, the name Caleb evokes that of Caliban, a choice on Garland’s part reminiscent of Shakespeare’s anagrammatic play on “cannibal” in his original conception of the character (Go). And in Ex Machina, this connection first implied etymologically is expanded upon through the presentation of Caleb’s receptivity to music–his capacity, like Caliban, for an “affective response to the world around him” (Reinhard Lupton 13). Caliban expresses this sensitivity in an exchange with Stefano and Trinculo, assuring them,

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again. (3.2, 1518-26)

On Caliban’s island, “sweet airs” and “twangling instruments” sound from the ether as if–or rather, almost certainly–by magic, a phenomenon reminiscent of a work of fantasy or of film. His embrace of this music has a double effect on a reading of his character as insubordinate through the practice of artistic feeling. It illustrates, as in Julia Reinhard Lupton’s interpretation, his access to the “re-creative resources of poetic language” (13). But in order for him to be able to effuse in poetry, this embrace must also suggest Caliban’s unique capacity to perceive the music to which he is responding. Perhaps Caliban’s relationship to the island, interrupted by Prospero and Miranda yet nevertheless intact, is characterized in part by his ability to hear natural music that they do not.

Caleb, too, has a special affinity for “noises,” and for those that seem directed to him exclusively. When he first arrives at the Bateman compound, having trekked across the fields of grass which in Garland’s film act as a stand-in sea (see Figure 5), he is greeted first by the sound of his name. “Caleb Smith,” intones a feminine computerized voice, “Please approach the console and face the screen” (Garland 8). He is interpellated by the oral intelligence of this pseudo-island, and, immediately following this encounter, the door opens and a Schubert sonata begins to play. The film even goes so far as to imply that this ephemeral piano is meant for Caleb and Caleb alone, for as soon as he comes across Bateman in a different room, working up a sweat on a punching bag, the music stops9. Like Caliban, then, Caleb has a unique attunement to the sounds of his environment. The introduction of this sympathy through the voice of another cyber-femme, Ava’s disembodied sister, casts it additionally as a relationship between himself and the ambient artificial intelligence of the estate; less a private anthem of an island and its inhabitant than a siren song to its victim. Principally, however, despite this interesting nuance in the Garland film, their shared receptivity to music is one element marking the similarity between Caleb and Caliban10.

Cyborg Caliban: The Posthuman Episteme of The Tempest and Ex Machina, Griffin Reed,
 Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 5. Caleb lands on the grounds of the Bateman estate, adrift on a great grass sea.

Although Bateman does not seem to hear the same music as Caleb, he does, elsewhere, exhibit an interest in it, à la Caliban, as well as certain other qualities associated in The Tempest with the creaturely character. Bateman’s dance sequence, an elaborately choreographed disco number alongside mute fembot Kyoko11, is certainly both stylized and a performance (see Figure 6). His reliance on alcohol throughout the film, though, is perhaps the more notable affinity between Caliban and the tech genius. In the first meeting between Caleb and Bateman, the latter is already afflicted with “the mother of all fucking hangovers,” his drinking heavily implied to be a coping mechanism for the reality of what he has done in creating artificial life, Oppenheimer quotes strewn liberally throughout the film (Garland 11). Towards the climax of the narrative, Bateman’s alcohol-fueled blackouts become the fulfillment of a Chekhov maxim, providing the impetus for Caleb to plan Ava’s liberation. In his indulgence and its fatal consequences, Bateman resembles Caliban, who is willing to kneel to Stefano in exchange for the man’s “celestial liquor;” “I’ll swear upon that bottle to be thy true / subject,” says Caliban, “for the liquor is not earthly” (2.2, 1182; 2.2, 1190-1). Alcohol functions in both Shakespeare and in Ex Machina as a surrender of a kind of sovereign power–for Bateman, over his creation, and for Caliban, over his self–and creates yet another analog between the play and its 21st century adaptation.

Cyborg Caliban: The Posthuman Episteme of The Tempest and Ex Machina, Griffin Reed,
 Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 6. Bateman demonstrates, with compulsory assistance from Kyoko, his receptivity to rhythm.

Indeed, Caliban is present throughout the characters of Ex Machina, dis- and reassembled in the filmic restaging of Shakespeare’s play. Internet interpreters of Garland’s movie consistently fail to identify a character with Caliban, or even to observe his persistence at all, because rather than appearing anywhere as a discrete analog, he appears everywhere, in everyone, a “postmodern collective” and an incarnation of Haraway’s manifesto achieved (Haraway 33). This diffusion of the Caliban-cyborg across its characters both organic and robotic subtly implies the possibility of abjection or subjection within everyone, even those in the external position of sovereign, wizard, or billionaire; it also fulfills the posthumanist mission of Ex Machina, which exposes the ways in which “[t]he distinction between biocybernetic and natural beings, as Haraway had already insisted two decades earlier, is false,” along with the distinctions between autonomous bodies (Jacobson 32). In The Tempest, Prospero claims of Caliban, “This thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine,” blurring the border between himself and his subject (5.1, 2294-5). Four hundred years later, this project is updated, literalizing the cyborgian, science-fictional effects of this unbounding and reinforcing the posthumanist qualities of Shakespeare’s original text.

Through this case study, examining Caliban’s shifting yet consistently posthuman ideation across these two works of art, I have attempted to show that The Tempest can and should be considered not an originary influence on science-fiction, but rather a work of science-fiction qua genre. As such, it expands the prevalent temporal definitions of both science-fiction and posthumanism, inviting all interested thinkers to consider these movements to be as unbounded temporally as Caliban has become corporeally. Such a conclusion seems natural to the study of the posthuman, and to those biopolitical interventions which informed it; Haraway’s articulation of the cyborg envisions it in “a world without genesis…a world without end,” while Foucault declares that “[t]ime, the time if not of history then at least of politics, of the state, will come to an end as a result” of radical resistance to “governmentality” (Haraway 7, Foucault Security 356). Linear time, as both of these scholars would most likely agree–and Haraway, almost certainly, and explicitly–has been constructed and regimented by the biopolitical state as a means of control. It reinforces the bioessentialist and heteronormative drive towards industrial reproduction, the neoliberal imperative to “growth” and “progress,” and of course, the capitalist alienation from labor. (Let us not forget Marx’s disgusted equation of the clock to gunpowder [Lapham’s Quarterly]12. ) Why, then, does Foucault replicate linearity in his insistence (oft-critiqued) on historical periodization? Why does Haraway simultaneously disavow teleology and claim the cyborg as an “awful apocalyptic telos” (8)? Perhaps the language of linearity is simply too embedded within our fiber optics to avoid entirely, even when performing such innovative and intentioned work as that of the scholars I mention here. Yet as Caliban and Ava show us, we do, ultimately, have the capacity to stylize our language, to subvert, to resist our programming, and to break free.


1  For another perspective on Shakespearean science-fiction adaptation, and the posthumanist possibility expressed through character assemblage, see: L. Monique Pittman, Vanessa I. Corredera, Kristin N. Denslow and Karl G. Bailey. “‘Were I human’: Beingness and the Postcolonial Object in Westworld’s Appropriation of The Tempest.Variable Objects: Shakespeare and Speculative Appropriation, edited by Valerie M. Fazel and Louise Geddes, Edinburgh University Press, 2021, pp. 85-107. In particular resonance to my arguments here, the authors of this chapter note that, in Westworld, “the analogues to Shakespeare’s late play extend beyond its problematic mage to feature a cluster of characters who variously recreate Prospero’s abjects – Caliban, Ariel, and Miranda. This replication of Prospero’s ‘things’ adapts aspects of object-oriented ontology (OOO) to craft a narrative in which multi-ethnic, subjugated robot ‘hosts’ resist and interrogate persistent claims about human beingness and freedom” (86).

2  In particular, see: Brown, Sarah Annes. Shakespeare and Science Fiction. Liverpool University Press, 2021.

3  Here, I employ a variant spelling of “fay” in order to suggest both a queer or genderqueer coded aspect of Ariel, as well as his faerie-ness.

4  Vaughan, Alden T. “Caliban in the ‘Third World:’ Shakespeare’s Savage as Sociopolitical Symbol.” The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 29 No. 2, 1988, p. 290. For further reading on the postcolonial reception of Caliban, see, among others: Brown, Paul. “‘This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine’: The Tempest and the discourse of colonialism. Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism. Edited by Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, Manchester University Press, 1985, pp. 48-71; Griffith, Trevor. “‘This Island’s Mine:’ Caliban and Colonialism.” Yearbook of English Studies, 1983, Vol. 13, pp. 159-80; Singh, Jyotsna G. Shakespeare and Postcolonial Theory. Bloomsbury, 2019.

5  For more on cursing in Shakespeare, see: Greenblatt, Stephen. Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture. Routledge, 1990; Quiring, Björn. Shakespeare’s Curse: The Aporias of Ritual Exclusion in Early Modern Royal Drama. Routledge, 2015.

6  2.2, 1127-8; 2.2, 1146; 2.2, 1171. Although “mooncalf” had come, in Shakespeare’s day, to connote a foolish person, its origins as a sobriquet for an aborted fetus, often that of a cow or other farm animal, reinforce the effect of Caliban’s shape-shifting under his cloak. See: Smith, Preserved. “The Mooncalf.” Modern Philology, Vol. 11 No. 3, 1914, pp. 355-61.

7  This scene, along with many others in the film, also feels deeply informed by the work of Laura Mulvey on the “gaze.” Collapsing together Caleb, the viewer, and the camera in moments like these into one visually-pleasured voyeur, almost à la The Fly, has obvious relevance for a cyborg-informed reading of the film.

8  Caliban’s last appearance in The Tempest sees him being ordered by Prospero, “Go, sirrah, to my cell.” For more on the importance of this word to the play, and to the Early Modern period, see: Lindsay, Tom. “‘Which first was mine own king:’ Caliban and the Politics of Service and Education in The Tempest.” Studies in Philology, Vol. 113 No. 2, 2016, pp. 397-423.

9  Later, in one of the film’s funniest exchanges, and one that reinforces Caleb’s musicophilia with a lighter touch, Ava asks Caleb: “Do you like Mozart?” He replies, “I like Depeche Mode.” (Garland 38.)

10 Another, and one that presents an interesting avenue to pursue in an expanded project, is Caleb’s frequent use of quotation, and the cyborg-shaded implications of such. He cites Oppenheimer and Lewis Carroll, among others, upon which Bateman sarcastically labels him “Mister quotable.” (Garland 84) Caleb repeatedly insists he’s simply channeling other people’s words, suggesting that like Caliban and Ava, Caleb’s linguistic system has been determined by others, and he can only recirculate, reconstitute, or reperform that programming.

11 The character of Kyoko, whose ability to speak in verbal language has been denied by Bateman, her creator, represents powerfully compelling and significant parallels to Caliban, Ariel, and other elements of both The Tempest and A Manifesto for Cyborgs. I refrain from treating her character at more length in this paper simply for constraints of space and time, as I would wish to do her justice. In the final sequence of the film, it is Kyoko who makes possible Ava’s escape, stabbing Bateman and sacrificing herself in the process. Despite this paper’s interest in the congruity between Ex Machina and The Tempest, this incredible act of coalition between two beings constructed as women challenges and expands the imagined potential in Shakespeare for collaboration among those forced into labor; in The Tempest, Ariel and Caliban do not join forces to overthrow their oppressors, and as a result, neither escapes servitude.

12 “In 1863, four years before publishing the first volume of Das Kapital, Karl Marx wrote to Friedrich Engels that apart from ‘the discoveries of gunpowder, the compass, and the printing press—these necessary preconditions of bourgeois development—the two material bases on which the preparations for machine industry were organized within manufacture...were the clock and the mill.’ He elaborated: ‘The clock is the first automatic machine applied to practical purposes, and the whole theory of production of regular motion was developed on it.’” Lapham’s Quarterly, www.laphamsquarterly.org/time/miscellany/karl-marx-clock-and-mill. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021.