The Characters Of Prospero And Caliban In The Tempest

1591 words - 6 pages

The Conflict between Passion and Intellect in The Tempest

     During the time of Shakespeare, society had a hierarchical structure. In Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, the characters of Prospero and Caliban, represent two different extremes on the social spectrum: the ruler, and the 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 practiced 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 to control other spirits for him. In the Arts, both Prospero and Sycorax reflect the world of the mind, but Prospero operates higher up in the natural hierarchy using white magic as compared to Sycorax's black magic.

 

            However, in the use of his Art, Prospero reveals himself as not wholly disciplined. 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 a discipline over himself as he was expected to exercise over others, in his leadership role. 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...

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