The Other in the Tempest

In order to understand the characters in a play, we have to be able to distinguish what exactly makes them different. In the case of The Tempest, Caliban, the sub-human slave is governed largely by his senses, making him the animal that he is portrayed to be and Prospero is governed by sound mind, making him human. Caliban responds to nature as his instinct is to follow it. Prospero, on the other hand, follows the art of justifiable rule. Even though it is easy to start assessing The Tempest in view of a colonialist gaze, I have chosen instead to concentrate on viewing Caliban as the monster he is portrayed to be, due to other characters that are not human, but are treated in a more humane fashion than Caliban. Before we meet Caliban, we meet Ariel, Prospero’s trusting spirit. Even though Ariel is not human either, he is treated kindly and lovingly by his master who calls him “my quaint Ariel.” Caliban, on the other hand, is called a “tortoise” and a “poisonous slave” by Prospero. As Caliban enters in Act 1 Scene 2, we realise his fury at both Prospero and Miranda. He is rude and insulting and Prospero replies with threats of torture. Prospero justifies his punishment of Caliban by his anger at the attempted rape of his daughter, something Caliban shows no remorse for. Miranda distinguishes herself from Caliban by calling him “a thing most brutish” and inadvertently, a thing that has only bad natures. She calls his speech “gabble,” but doesn’t stop to wonder whether it was she that didn’t understand him because she didn’t know how to speak his language. Surely Caliban communicated verbally with his mother for the twelve years before Prospero killed her? It seems that Prospero and Miranda expect Caliban to be grateful for the knowledge of their language, but Caliban has just learned “how to curse” and justifies his anger by claiming rights to the island. Even though they obviously detest each other, Prospero needs him, as he tells Miranda: “We cannot miss him: he does make our fire/Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices/That profit us…,” Caliban stays on because he is afraid of Prospero’s “art…of such power,” making Prospero the feared conqueror ad dictator. Prospero is the “right duke of Milan” and Caliban is the “savage and deformed slave.” They represent two different extremes on the social spectrum: that of the natural ruler, and the naturally ruled. Their positions on the social hierarchy are largely due to the fact that Caliban responds almost wholly to passions, feelings of pleasure i.e. his senses, while Prospero is ruled more by his intellect and self-discipline i.e. his mind. Although we are not given details of Caliban’s birth, it seems likely that a creature as subhuman in appearance as Caliban was not born of a human union. It has been postulated that, to quote Prospero, he was “got by the devil himself upon thy wicked dam,” from a union between Sycorax and an incubus (an extremely attractive male apparition with intention to tempt). Caliban was therefore a creature born from passion, the offspring of an unholy pleasure. Prospero was not only of noble birth; he was also born to be ruler of the city-state of Milan. Nobility, in Elizabethan times, carried with it heavy implications: it was expected that Prospero would be intellectually superior, and that he would exercise as great discipline over himself as he was expected to exercise over others, in his role of leadership. From their ancestry, Prospero is more ruled by his intellect, and Caliban by his love of pleasure. Caliban’s original love for Prospero and Miranda, and his later misdemeanour and subsequent hatred for them, illustrate his fundamental reliance on his senses. Caliban loved Prospero and Miranda because they “made much of me”; and his response to this was purely sensual in his recollections: “Thou strok’st me,…wouldst give me/Water with berries in’t.” What Caliban responded to, more than anything else, was the sensation of pleasure that being loved and petted gave him. The action that caused Caliban to be removed from this position and punished was his attempt to rape Miranda, another example of how he seeks pleasure. Prospero’s position on sexual relations is