The Refinement of Caliban in The Tempest

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About this sample


Words: 1030 |

Pages: 2.5|

6 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 1030|Pages: 2.5|6 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,

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Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears, and sometime 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.” (Shakespeare III.ii.148–156).

Herein Shakespeare gives the rights of The Tempest’s most elegant passage to the play’s most vulgar savage. Is it only the classic, comedic Shakespearean irony or does Shakespeare allude to a more discreet facet of his play? Caliban, the ogre-ish son of a witch, slave of Prospero, drunkenly plots with his newfound master, Stephano, and accomplice, Trinculo, to murder Prospero and rule the island. The trio dance off to execute their plan whilst singing an awry tune, until Ariel, Prospero’s servant spirit, invisibly plays the tune with a sort of flute and drum. This melody “played by the picture of Nobody” halts Stephano and Trinculo who now show some fear, to which Caliban beautifully beseeches them to not fear but appreciate the magic and awe of the island he holds so dear. Previously, Caliban has been known to the audience as the spawn of an evil witch, an attempted rapist, and an unbecoming sub-human (III.ii.0–166). With these lines, Shakespeare graces the audience with a new impression of Caliban, who represents the savage native of the colonies, in order to placate the then accepted notion that the various indigene of the colonies were uneducable, monstrous, cannibals.

And who better to eloquently make a case for the savage than the savage himself? Caliban’s again proves his ability to speak intelligently, even while quite intoxicated. The honesty with which his speech is delivered allows his audience to better empathize with his plight. Additionally, Caliban is the least vulnerable of the visible characters in this moment, because he is accustomed to the “Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not,” unlike Stephano and Trinculo, who nearly cower at the unexpected noise of Ariel (III.ii.148). The transfer of power is also exhibited in the first lines of the speech when Caliban assures his new master to “Be not afeard” (III.ii.149). This revision of power could also be seen as a metaphor contributing to the metaphor of The Tempest as a representation of colonial interactions with the “New World” and its inhabitants. Shakespeare references the tension in the relationship between colonial Europeans and their native counterparts frequently in The Tempest with Caliban as his main agent.

Much irony exists in Caliban’s trusting the melody created by Ariel, because it is something to be feared. The situational irony lies in Caliban’s belief that the music is a good blessing, intended to “give delight and hurt not”, when it is actually Ariel leading the posse into Prospero’s trap (III.ii.149). In the dramatic plane of irony, the three plotters are to be led by the music into a trap, information unbeknownst to them, but known by the audience. The devices that Shakespeare uses to indicate Caliban’s trust in the music serve to emphasize the present ironies. The music is referenced repetitively as “noises,” “Sound,” and “sweet airs,” which are virtually synonymous. Shakespeare, through Caliban, goes on to hyperbolize the music as “a thousand twangling instruments” (III.ii.150). The concentration on the initial lines of the speech that connote Ariel’s treacherous music with goodness culminate in a blaring irony with Caliban at the heart. This irony is attributed to those like Caliban, whom ironically (as we will see) are his new and old captors and their parties alike.

The ability Caliban has to guide the island’s newcomers seems to be one of the only differences between him and the stranded Europeans. In the latter half of Caliban’s passage the subject transitions from the goodness of the noises to the dreams that the noises evoke. “, in dreaming,” Caliban expresses a hope (III.ii.153). This hope is indistinguishable from the hopes of the many stranded on the island- in essence, it is a hope for power. The words “in dreaming” speak literally of a dream Caliban has whilst easily sleeping just after having awoken from slumber, but the words speak indirectly of his inner desires (as dreams are commonly considered to express) (III.ii.153). In his dream, Caliban looks upon clouds expectantly for he had the strong premonition (as dreams are notorious for providing to their beholders) that “riches” would “drop upon” him (III.ii.154-55). The desire, attained or not, of the “riches” symbolizes what every character in The Tempest (save for Miranda possibly) similarly desires, power. The means by which Caliban plans to reach power is also no better than the worst of the play, Sebastian, who also wishes to murder the one whose power he wants, Alonso. The interruption of awakening that Caliban laments on toward the end of his speech foreshadows that he will not attain the full power that he yearns for.

Caliban’s analogous aspirations shown in this passage as those other characters in The Tempest equalizes him to their level from the perception of the audience. Shakespeare brings a complex image of the single dimensioned character that was brought to him by messengers from the new world. By identifying a peripherally different perspective of the savage in contrast with the colonial European as inherently quite similar, Shakespeare bridges the social aperture between two cultures that when met see each other as uncivilized in, ironically, the same differences.


Works Cited

1. Shakespeare, William, Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine. The Tempest. New York: Washington Square, 2004. Print.

Works Consulted

1. Caliban's Dream - The Tempest. Caliban's Dream - The Tempest. Poetry and Prose, 11 Sept. 2008. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.

2. Crowther, John, ed. “No Fear The Tempest.” SparkNotes LLC. 2005. Web. 2 Sept. 2014.

3. "national association of securities dealers automated quotation." Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition. Philip Lief Group 2009. 30 Sep. 2014. <Thesaurus.com association of securities dealers automated quotation>.

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4. The Tempest. Dir. Julie Taymor. Perf. Helen Mirren and Djimon Hounsou. Touchstone, 2010. Online.

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The Refinement of Caliban in the Tempest. (2018, Jun 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from
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