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Real Name


First Mentioned

The Tempest (1610)

Created by

William Shakespeare


Sycorax is an unseen character in William Shakespeare's play The Tempest. She is a powerful witch and the mother of Caliban, one of the few native inhabitants of the island on which Prospero, the hero of the play, is stranded. According to the backstory provided by the play, Sycorax, while pregnant with Caliban, was banished from her home in Algiers to the island on which the play takes place. Memories of Sycorax, who dies several years before the main action of the play begins, define several of the relationships in the play. Relying on his filial connection to Sycorax, Caliban claims ownership of the island. Prospero constantly reminds Ariel of Sycorax's cruel treatment in order to maintain the sprite's service.

Scholars generally agree that Sycorax, a foil for Prospero, is closely related to the Medea of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Postcolonialist writers and critics see Sycorax as giving voice to peoples, particularly women, recovering from the effects of colonization.

In The Tempest, Prospero describes Sycorax as a foul witch from Algiers, banished to the island for practicing sorcery "so strong / That [she] could control the Moon". Prospero further relates that many years earlier, sailors had brought her to the island, while she was pregnant with her son, Caliban. She proceeded to enslave the spirits there, chief among them Ariel, whom she eventually imprisoned in a pine tree for disobedience. Sycorax taught Caliban to worship the god Setebos. She dies before the arrival of Prospero and his daughter, Miranda. Caliban grows to hate Prospero's presence and power on the island, claiming that the land belongs to him since it was his mother's before Prospero appeared.

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