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 quite opposite he tells Ferdinand repeatedly not to take advantage of his daughter, for the obvious reason that rape and taking advantage of someone sexually is considered wrong. This is something Caliban doesn t seem to understand and further distances himself from the human figures. 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. Caliban s purpose for 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. 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. In spite of this, 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 ruler was foolish, it is not mental reasoning that has led him to this conclusion, but the evidence of his senses and experience. Caliban had mid 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. If the senses represent something natural and the mind represents an art like knowledge or in Prospero s case, magic, then we can say that Caliban represents Nature and Prospero Art.
While the need for control over nature is asserted continually, the ending suggests that art must ultimately come to terms with nature (hence Prospero s this thing of darkness I/Acknowledge mine ); for while Caliban s limitations are apparent, his wish to improve himself is promising, and his new relationship with Prospero seems to be more stable and more reassuring than the resentment-filled and extremely uneasy jailer-prisoner/master-slave relationship shown earlier.