Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”
The relationship between master and slave is embraced by Shakespeare in his play The Tempest. Conflicts and complexities of authority are portrayed by the characters Prospero and Caliban. As one gains power, the other loses it. In the play, Prospero rises to power, while Caliban loses it. The legitimacy of Prospero”s authority over Caliban is, however, questionable. What gives Prospero the power over Caliban? What are the reasons that Caliban should obey his masters” orders? These questions can be answered through investigating the possession of the island, the justice of punishing Caliban, and Prospero”s right to use or abuse his power.
One of the reasons for Caliban”s defiance towards Prospero is the fact that he believes the island that they are on to be his, but to have been stolen by Prospero. “This island”s mine by Sycorax my mother, Which thou tak”st from me” (1.2.331). Caliban feels as though he has been taken advantage of. When Prospero first comes to the island, he is kind to Caliban, and in return, Caliban shows him the secrets of the island.
Thou strok”st me and made much of me; wouldst give me
Water with berries in”t, and teach me how
To name the bigger light and how the less,
That burn by day and night; and then I loved thee,
And showed thee all the qualities o”th” isle,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile”
This is Prospero”s ploy to use Caliban to learn the secrets of the island. Once he knows all the qualities of the island, he no longer needs Caliban”s knowledge and thus enslaves him and uses him as free labor. Caliban despises Prospero and Miranda”s efforts to educate him and to help him. To him, they are all part of the deception. Prospero believes otherwise and feels as though Caliban owes him for his generosity.
Caliban is the first one to inhabit the island. When Prospero comes to the island he assumes possession of the island to be his. Along with the possesion of the island he assumes control of whatever and whoever inhabits the island. This trend is also seen in the numerous accounts of European settlers voyaging to the New World and capturing the natives to use them as slaves. Antonio Vieira, a Jesuit father, condemned this and believed that it was God”s will for slaves to be free and anyone who takes away one”s freedom should go to hell. He quotes, “Any man who deprives others of their freedom and being able to restore that freedom does not do so is condemned” (from “Vieira”s Sermon Condemning Indian Slavery). Prospero robs Caliban of his island and of his freedom. He has the ability to restore Caliban”s freedom and island, yet he does not.
The innocence of Caliban, however, can also be questioned. Prospero does not enslave him without reason. He demands service from Caliban on the basis that he attempts to rape his daughter. “…till though didst seek to violate The honour of my child” (1.2.344). Prospero”s argument is that he tries to educate Caliban and to help him, but in return, Caliban tries to take advantage of his daughter. Servitude is thus Prospero”s way for Caliban to pay penance. Indeed, Caliban should be punished for his wrongdoing, but whether it should be done by Prospero and how much punishment is deserved is not for Prospero to decide. In present day, when a felon is caught for attempted rape, he is punished and serves time in prison. He may have to do services and live in poor conditions. However, these sentences are decided by the government consisting of numerous people. True, in Prospero”s time and place, it may have been the business of the victim to punish the criminal; however, Prospero”s punishment for Caliban is not entirely for justice, but also for his advantage. The purpose for prison sentences is for justice and for the correction of the criminal. Prospero”s sentence was not of this purpose.
Authority is defined as one who has acquired power over another. In this play, Prospero is the one who holds all the power. This power that he holds comes not from exceptional governing abilities or brute strength, but out of his supernatural powers. He is able to control Caliban and to force him to serve him by using his magical powers. Without his supernatural powers, he would have no power over Caliban. This authority that Prospero holds over Caliban is not through love, but instead through fear. Prospero threatens Caliban if he does not obey:
“For this be sure tonight thou shalt have cramps,
Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up. Urchins
Shall, for that vast of night that they may work,
All exercise on thee. Thou shalt be pinched
As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging
Than bees that made ’em.”
These threats are harsh and cruel and makes it very hard for Caliban to disobey. These consequences are difficult for anybody to endure. The only reason Caliban obeys is because he is afraid of the things that Prospero will do to him if he disobeys. He does not obey Prospero because he loves him but because he fears him. Prospero uses his powers unjustly against a defenseless Caliban. He is able to enslave Caliban because he cannot fight back. Caliban obeys not out of choice but out of fear. Prospero usurps his power from Caliban and abuses it.
Many conflicts of authority are present when there is a master and slave relationship. The Tempest by Shakespeare illustrates a master/slave relationship between Prospero and Caliban in which power and authority is fought over. Prospero is the master and Caliban is the slave. These positions are not the results of chance but rather a result of force. Prospero robs Caliban”s island and claims it to be his own. He then robs his freedom and forces him to serve him.
His justification for doing so, is that Caliban attempts to rape his daughter and that he should pay penance for it; however, his punishment is not legitimate because it is for selfish reasons not for justice. And the only reason that Prospero has any control over Caliban is through his supernatural powers which he abuses. Prospero the master enslaves the helpless Caliban and deprives him of his freedom and according to the Jesuit Father, Anotonio Vieira, Prospero should be “condemned to hell.”