Master-Servant Relationships in the Tempest
ENGL 2310. 24 Master-Servant Relationships The theme of power is prevalent in The Tempest with the help of the master-servant relationship between many of the characters. The play is full of instances where the relationship is disturbed. In the play the servant shows lack of regard to the master’s authority or influences a choice that the master makes. The servants’ actions are to show that they had control over something or that they wanted to have control over something and they end up giving a new perspective to the masters. In the opening act there is a scene of upheaval brought by a storm.
During the storm the noblemen are shown by the Boatswain that they had no authority over the storm: None that I more love than myself. You are a councillor; if you can command these elements to silence, and work the peace of the present, we will not hand a rope more. Use your authority. If you cannot, give thanks you have lived so long, and make yourself ready in your cabin for the mis- chance of the hour, if it so hap. ––Cheerly, good hearts! ––Out of our way, I say! (1. 1. 20-28) Antonio and Sebastian are angry with the Boatswain for giving them orders to go into the cabin.
Sebastian curses him by calling him a, “blasphemous, incharitable dog” (1. 1. 41-42). The Boatswain, the servant, has shown that the noblemen, the masters, should respect his authority. When Gonzalo tries to remind the Boatswain of who is aboard the ship, the Boatswain responds with, “…What cares these / roarers for the name of king? To cabin! Silence! / Trouble us not” (1. 1. 16-19). The Boatswain has shown that being a servant is not all he can do. He has shown that there is some authority in his nature. In this scene the storm has disrupted the master-servant relationship.
Disturbances between the relationships continue throughout the play. Caliban was the ruler of the island until Prospero took authority over it. “This island’s mine by Sycorax, my mother, / which thou tak’st from me” (1. 2. 396-397). Caliban lost his control over the island and was made into a servant. Caliban received threats of being “striped” for disobeying. To Prospero there was no harm done. Prospero taught Caliban language so he could be a civilized person, but Caliban curses him for doing so. “… My profit on’t / Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you / For learning me your language” (1. 2. 437-439).
The master-servant relationship between Prospero and Caliban was disrupted when Caliban expressed his dislike of his treatment and it led to Caliban serving another person. Caliban told Stephano to be his god in scene 2 of Act 2. Caliban said to Stephano, “I’ll kiss thy foot. I’ll swear myself thy subject” (2. 2. 158). Stephano gave Caliban some of the liquor. Stephano’s actions toward Caliban are appealing to Caliban because there is no threat to his health. Caliban is willing to serve another person because he would be treated better. Though Caliban is serving throughout the entire play, it is noticeable that he is not a servant by nature.
He wants freedom and he knows that Prospero will not set him free. That enabled him to be a subject to someone else who probably would grant his wishes at a later time. The witch Sycorax imprisoned Ariel inside of a tree until Prospero rescued him. Prospero then enslaved Ariel by making him his servant. Ariel uses magic to do all that he is asked to do by Prospero. In Act 1 Ariel reminds Prospero that he is to be freed after his services are done: Remember I have done thee worthy service, Told thee no lies, made no mistakings, served Without grudge or grumblings. Thou did promise
To bat me a full year (1. 2. 295-298) That shows that Ariel isn’t completely a servant by nature. Although he is fulfilling the commands of Prospero throughout the play, he does not want to serve him forever. Prospero makes it known that Ariel is to serve him and even threatens Ariel by saying, “If thou more murmur’st, I will rend an oak / And peg thee in his knotty entrails till / Thou hast howled away twelve winters” (1. 2. 349-351). The master-servant relationship between Ariel and Prospero becomes disturbed on the sixth hour. Ariel reports on how Alonso and the other men are doing.
Ariel says that Gonzalo had, “tears [running] down his beard like winter’s drops / From eaves of reeds” (5. 1. 20-21). Ariel also tells Prospero that, “if you now beheld them, your affections / Would become tender” (5. 1. 23-24). Ariel shows compassions towards Alonso and the other men. This action sparks Prospero to stop controlling the men and eventually frees Ariel from service. Throughout the play there has been many instances where the master-servant relationship was altered. In the first scene of the play the Boatswain gave orders to the noblemen who were on the ship.
Caliban swore to serve Stephano even though he was already Prospero’s servant. Ariel helped Prospero find compassion and that eventually led to his freedom. The servants used their actions to let their masters know that they wanted control over something. Though not all of the servants got what they wanted, their actions still affected their masters. The noblemen got a glimpse of what it felt like to be powerless. Prospero’s treatment of Caliban led him to serve another person. Ariel triggered Prospero’s compassion and forgiveness towards Alonso and others. Each master-servant relationship had changed.