The Tempest | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Tempest | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

As this scene opens Caliban is cursing his master, Prospero, whom he believes has cursed him by sending spirits to provoke him. Hearing noises, Caliban lies down under his cloak to hide. Trinculo, Alonso's jester, enters. Seeing Caliban and mistaking him for dead, Trinculo wonders whether Caliban is a fish or a human. He suggests that if he dressed Caliban up and took him to England, he could make a lot of money off the strange, dead creature. Fearing he will be caught in another storm, he lies down next to Caliban, beneath the monster's cloak.

A drunken Stephano, Alonso's butler, now enters and sees what he believes is a four-legged monster beneath the cloak. Caliban's unusual speech leads Stephano to think the monster is sick with a fever and having a fit. He considers taking the monster back to Naples to make money and gives Caliban some wine to help with his fever. Trinculo recognizes Stephano's voice, but Stephano believes the monster is a devil and Trinculo's voice is a trick. When the confusion is cleared up, the two men determine that they are the only two survivors of the shipwreck. Stephano has escaped by holding onto a barrel of wine, so there is plenty yet to drink!

Caliban is enchanted by Stephano and the "celestial liquor" he believes the wine to be. Thinking Stephano is a god or the man in the moon, Caliban swears to be his loyal subject. The two drunken friends make fun of Caliban even as he continues to swear allegiance: "'Ban, 'ban, Ca-caliban/Has a new master. Get a new man./Freedom, high-day!" By the end of the scene, all three men are drunk, and they set off for a tour of the island with Caliban.

Analysis

The slapstick comedy and misunderstandings in this scene are amusing in contrast to the murderous plot of Antonio and Sebastian in the preceding scene. Shakespeare often creates this effect in his plays to give the audience a break from story lines that will eventually weave themselves back together. Notably the more serious scenes nearly always feature aristocrats; more comical scenes involve lower-ranking people like servants.

Caliban believes all the natural problems he encounters are a part of Prospero's magic, so he is wary of noises, animals, and insects. His misery about his current master prompts him to quickly swear his allegiance to the drunk Stephano, who he naively believes has "dropped from heaven." Although he was once his own master on the island, Caliban looks to anything new that he thinks can nullify the magical power of Prospero, whom he fears. It helps that Stephano gets him drunk. Yet Trinculo and Stephano have already spoken of ways that they might exploit him. Although the more "primitive" Caliban thinks he is finding an escape, there is no guarantee that these other foreign men will treat him any better than Prospero. Caliban's gentleness will cause the audience to wonder how much of a monster he really is.

Shakespeare includes some social criticism of England when Trinculo suggests taking Caliban there to make money: "When they will not give a doit to/relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a/dead Indian." He means that the English will pay to see a "freak show" but won't spend money to help the helpless and destitute among them.

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