By William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English poet, playwright and actor. Shakespeare wrote
approximately 38 plays, including The Tempest. The Tempest is about a sorcerer named Prospero who
was stranded on an island with his daughter to keep him from becoming the Duke of Milan. Prospero
intends to restore his daughter Miranda to a position of power in Milan by using his powers. In the following
excerpt from the play, Prospero and Miranda converse with Caliban, the only non-spiritual inhabitant of the
island before Prospero and Miranda arrived. As you read, take notes on the relationships between the
Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself
Upon thy wicked dam,1
As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed
With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen2
Drop on you both! A southwest blow on ye,
And blister you all o’er!
For this be sure tonight thou shalt have cramps,
Side-stiches that shall pen thy breath up. Urchins3
Shall forth at vast of night, that they may work
All exercise on thee. Thou shalt be pinched
- archaic term for “mother”
- a swamp
- an archaic term for “goblin”
As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging
Than bees that made ‘em.
I must eat my dinner.
This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak’st from me. When thou cam’st first,
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,4
That burn by day and night; and then I loved thee,
And showed thee all the qualities o’th’isle,5
The fresh springs, brine-pits,6
place and fertile —
Cursed be I that did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you;
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king, and here you sty8
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o’th’island.
Thou most lying slave,
- Caliban is referring to the sun and the moon here.
- “of the island”
- “Brine” refers to salty water.
- Barren (adjective) unable of producing much or any vegetation
- an archaic term meaning “to pen in”
Whom stripes9 may move, not kindness! I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.
O ho, O ho! Would’t had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans.
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble11 like
A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes
With words that made them known. But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in’t which good natures
Could not abide to be with; therefore was thou
Deservedly confined into this rock,
Who hadst deserved more than a prison.
- a whip
- Abhor (verb) to regard with disgust and hatred
- to talk rapidly and unintelligibly
You taught me language, and my profit on’t
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!
Fetch us in fuel. And be quick, thou’rt best,
To answer other business. — Shrug’st thou, malice?
If thou neglect’st or dost unwillingly
What I command, I’ll rack thee with old cramps,
Fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar,
That beasts shall tremble at thy din.14
No, pray thee.
[Aside]15 I must obey. His art is of such power
It would control my dam’s god Setebos,
And make a vassal16 of him.
- an archaic insult
- leave here
- a loud continued noise
- indicating that only the audience can hear what Caliban is saying
- a slave
Directions: Brainstorm your answers to the following questions in the space provided. Be prepared to
share your original ideas in a class discussion.
- In the context of the play, how does Prospero use fear to control Caliban? Is fear an
effective way to control someone? Why or why not? Cite evidence from this text, your own
experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.
- In the context of the play, why do people do bad things? Why does Prospero treat Caliban
poorly? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or
history in your answer.
- In the context of the play, how does power corrupt? How is Prospero corrupted by his
power? How does this influence his treatment of other people and the island? Cite evidence
from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.