Written by Ng E-Ching, 2A01B, 12 May 1996.
"Prospero represents the world of the mind, Caliban that of the senses." How adequately does this comment describe the roles of these two characters in The Tempest?
In The Tempest, it would seem that no two characters could be further apart than Prospero, the "right duke of Milan", and Caliban, the "salvage 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 -- his senses, while Prospero is ruled more by his intellect and self-discipline -- his mind. However, the fight that Prospero has against his own natural tendency to ignore the discipline of his intellect, and give in to pleasures such as vanity and self-indulgence, cannot be ignored.
Caliban was born of a witch; Prospero is a magician. However, the types of magic practised by Sycorax and Prospero differ greatly: Sycorax, in many respects a traditional witch, worked within Nature and as a part of it. She worked with devils and the lowest orders of spirits. Prospero, on the other hand, exercises his magic by means of strict discipline and study, rising above the natural order by means of his greater knowledge, and actually coercing spirits of a fairly high rank, such as Ariel, to do his bidding and control other spirits for him. In the Arts which both represent, Prospero certainly reflects the world of the mind. [And Sycorax does not?]
However, in the use of his Art, Prospero reveals himself as not wholly disciplined. [okay] Prospero enjoys using the power of his Art, as he tells us in his monologue just before his forgiveness of the court party -- "graves at my command ... op'd ... By my so potent Art." He has also shown that he enjoys using it to show off, as he did during the masque he provided for Ferdinand and Miranda, which he indulged in even when Caliban's plot and the court party both urgently required his attention.
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 the 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 likely to be more ruled by his intellect, and Caliban by his love of pleasure.
In the history of each character before the opening of The Tempest, there is a further contrast. 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 Caliban seeks pleasure. (Prospero's position on sexual relations is quite opposite -- he tells Ferdinand repeatedly not to take advantage of his daughter, and hammers the message home with the masque.) [True but why? Make the full contrast clear.]
Prospero, on the other hand, enjoyed his original position as duke of Milan largely because he was able to study to his heart's content. This seems to indicate a particular reliance on the powers of the mind -- quite opposite to Caliban's fault -- but in actual fact, Prospero's neglect of his duties and self-indulgence in pushing the matters of the state all to Antonio must be censured, and laid at the door of his lack of self-discipline. Prospero did these things because he enjoyed them so much -- and like Caliban, he was punished. [Which is to say he did not fulfill his responsibilities. Be more direct.] However, it must be noted that Prospero was able to learn from his mistake, disciplining himself into the study of magic only so far as it would restore himself, and Milan, to a state of rightful leadership. The decision to give up his magic at the end of the play can be attributed only to intellectual discipline; Prospero's understanding that for the good of his people and himself, he must give up that which gives him pleasure. [It is not quite so one dimensional.]
During The Tempest itself, Prospero and Caliban have two very different purposes. Prospero intends to resolve the injury that was done to Miranda and himself, bloodlessly, by the use of his Art. Caliban's dearest wish is to depose Prospero by killing him and, rather than resuming rule of the island himself, submit to the rule of Stephano.
Prospero's purpose does indeed include passion -- he wishes to take revenge on his "false" brother, and wants the dukedom returned to himself and Miranda. However, Prospero clearly manages to conquer his personal vendetta against Antonio, as evidenced by his forgiveness of him at the end, and his decision not to ruin Antonio by giving away his plot to kill Alonso. Besides, his personal desire to have his dukedom back is acceptable, because part of this desire is a wish to see the dukedom back in the hands of a ruler who cares for the people, not given to a ruler like Antonio, whose main interest is always himself. Prospero may be thinking in terms of self, but as long as he also keeps this lofty purpose in mind, we may say that the world of the mind has more power over him. [good]
Caliban's purpose in attaching himself to Stephano and plotting to kill Prospero is almost wholly passionate. The reason that Caliban believes Stephano to be a worthy ruler, indeed, a god, is that Stephano is the custodian of liquor, a substance that appeals to his senses. His favourable response to Stephano is like his previous response to Prospero -- that someone who makes him feel good must be good. Likewise, his attempt at achieving revenge on Prospero is largely in retribution for the punishment Prospero has visited upon his senses. [well said]
However, though Caliban's desire for revenge is certainly not cerebral, his passions in it are not entirely sensual either. The crafty manner in which he persuades Stephano to aid him in his plan, by mentioning Prospero's riches and Miranda's beauty, shows the presence of some mental ability; as does his attempted tact in trying to keep Stephano's mind upon "bloody thoughts". Furthermore, one of his grievances against Prospero is that he stole the island that was, by birthright, Caliban's, and imprisoned Caliban upon it. This is part of the little evidence we have that Caliban operates using more than his senses and passions. However, Caliban's mind is subject to his senses, much as Prospero's passions are subject to his mind. Caliban's underlying motives are still passionate. His indignation at having his inheritance usurped loses its weight when we realise that, of his own free will, he will let Stephano rule -- showing himself to be naturally ruled, not ruler. At the end of the play, when he recognises that his choice of Stephano as a ruler was foolish, it is not mental reasoning that has led him to this conclusion, but the evidence of his senses and experience. Caliban has mind enough to function as part of society, but training him to become part of that society cannot be abstract, like Prospero's failed attempt at educating him with Miranda -- Caliban's education must be practical and hammered home with his own senses.
Neither Prospero nor Caliban cannot be said to be wholly mind or sensual passion, but Caliban does rely largely on his senses, and by the end of the play, Prospero's mind has achieved a great extent of control over his passions.
Art vs. Nature (E-Ching's),
Art vs. Nature (Rouh Phin's),
Prospero as Ruler, Prospero vs. Caliban,
The Tempest as Masque, Apparitions and Stage Spectacle,
Ideas vs. Dramatic Principle, Island of Echoes & Suggestions,
Comic Resolution, Prospero Context
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