Summary and Analysis
Act III: Scene 2
This scene returns to Stefano, Trinculo, and Caliban — all of whom are now very drunk. Caliban has a plan to kill Prospero and elicits help from his new friends. As Caliban explains that he is the rightful owner of the island, Ariel arrives and listens attentively. Caliban explains that they must burn Prospero's books, and after Prospero is dead, Stefano can marry Miranda, which will make her his queen of the island. Trinculo agrees to the plot.
Ariel resolves to tell Prospero of the plot against him. When the drunken men begin singing, Ariel accompanies them on a tabor and pipe. The men hear the music and are afraid, but Caliban reassures them that such sounds are frequently heard on the island. Stefano finds the idea of free music a strong promise of his success on the island, and three drunken conspirators follow the sounds of the music offstage.
Caliban represents untamed nature in conflict with civilization. He intuitively understands that Prospero's power comes from his books; thus the books are to become the first victims of his rebellion. Prospero's books represent oppression to Caliban because all that Prospero's civilization and books have to offer is slavery. Although Caliban might be considered an uneducated savage by Elizabethan accounts (and perhaps by modern accounts, as well), he existed quite happily on the island before Prospero's arrival. Civilization transformed Caliban from freedom to slavery, and he has received little benefit from Prospero's tutelage; even Caliban's use of language is limited to little more than cursing. Because civilization has failed Caliban, he quickly turns to the first possible source of help to appear: Stefano and Trinculo, the lowest forms of civilized behavior.
Caliban's island paradise is not all that different from Gonzalo's ideal natural world. Both Caliban and Gonzalo see their ideal worlds as untouched by the confinements of civilization. In both visions, nature provides whatever is needed, and mankind has little effect on the island's existence. But there is one substantial difference. Where Gonzalo would make himself king, Caliban dreams of living in peaceful isolation, with no king to abuse him. Yet, to secure his freedom from Prospero, Caliban would subordinate himself to Stefano, who would take Prospero's place as ruler.
Caliban is unable to appreciate that the crass butler, whom he has elevated to a god, would be a worse god than Prospero has been. After all, upon first finding Caliban, Stefano pulled Caliban's head back, forced open his mouth, and poured wine down his throat. His exploitation of Caliban, including the plan to exhibit him as a money-making proposition, reflects little concern for Caliban's well-being. Although Prospero's enslavement of Caliban also raises questions of propriety, his stated reasons are to restore order to the island. However, Prospero's sense of order ignores Caliban's needs. Caliban does not need civilization and its artifacts, education, and language to satisfy his needs. So desperate is Caliban to escape Prospero's oppression, that he would effectively trade one god for another: Prospero for Stefano. But Caliban appears unable or unwilling to comprehend this component of his plot. The murder of Prospero is his immediate concern, and he gives little thought to what might follow.
Caliban's plot to murder Prospero offers a parallel to Antonio's plot to murder Alonso. Caliban enlists the assistance of Stefano and Trinculo, just as Antonio enlists the support of Sebastian. Each group of conspirators ignores reason and logic. At the moment, they are all isolated on the island, with little hope or expectation of rescue. Alonso's murder will render no gain for Antonio or Sebastian, since Sebastian would be king of nothing. In a parody of Antonio's plot, Prospero's murder will provide little benefit for Caliban, except to trade one ruler for another and, perhaps, slavery for worse abuse. But both plots illustrate the potential for violence that exists in all levels of society, whether in the aristocracy of Naples or in the natural beauty of an isolated island.
Caliban, himself, is filled with contradictions. On one hand, he is brutal, instructing Stefano to "Bite him [Trinculo] to death" (32). Caliban also describes in detail his plans to murder Prospero by "knock[ing] a nail into his head" (59). Later, Caliban gives his co-conspirators many choices of ways to murder Prospero, from striking him on the head to disemboweling him to cutting his throat. Any means is acceptable, and, as a reward, Caliban casually promises them Miranda. The brutality of Caliban's plan is countered with the poetry of his descriptions of the island:
The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.
The songs that Caliban describes and the beauty of his dreams reveal a humanity that is lacking in his descriptions of the murder plot. Caliban is more than a wild beast of the island, and his personality is more complex than his brief scenes have thus far disclosed. The plot to murder Prospero is Caliban's rejection of civilization. He finds no alternative to brutality, if it will free him of the oppression of civilization. The natural beauty of the island permeates Caliban's world, but he is able to separate this beauty from the violent acts that he plans. In Caliban's world, there is no incongruity in the existence of both poetry and barbarity.
case here, prepared.
pied ninny a fool.
patch [Archaic] a court jester; any clown or fool
murrain a disease of cattle.
troll the catch to sing the round lustily or in a full, rolling voice