The Tempest | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Tempest | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary



The drunken trio of Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo returns. Caliban's complaints against Prospero are ongoing, and he promises his loyalty to Stephano instead. However, Caliban has no loyalty to Trinculo, and the two have constant conflict. When Ariel, invisible, enters the scene their conflict increases. Using Trinculo's voice several times, Ariel accuses Caliban of lying. This enrages Caliban, who asks Stephano to deal harshly with Trinculo. Stephano repeatedly asks Trinculo to stop being a nuisance, which only frustrates Trinculo more because he is not actually speaking. In the confusion Stephano ends up beating Trinculo.

Caliban describes how Prospero cheated him out of his island through sorcery and urges Stephano to destroy Prospero and take what belongs to him, including his daughter Miranda. Caliban explains that he can take Stephano to exactly the right place at the right time. He even gives him a specific strategy: first take away his books, which will make him powerless, and then "brain him" or "batter his skull" or "paunch him with a stake,/Or cut his weasand [windpipe] with thy knife."

When Caliban asks the other men to sing, invisible Ariel again intervenes and plays a more beautiful song. The men are afraid, but Caliban tells them not to fear. He explains the beautiful and dreamlike natural music of the island in one of the most well–known speeches of The Tempest:

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 sometime 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.

At the end of the scene Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban eagerly leave the stage following Ariel's song.


Although Prospero is again physically absent from this scene, he is very much in control of what is happening among the three men. Thanks to Ariel's intervention, their actions are undermined and false conflict develops between Trinculo and Caliban as well as between Trinculo and Stephano. In his annoyance and desire to gain power over the island through Caliban's help, Stephano actually beats his friend Trinculo. Ariel's actions in this scene also have a humorous effect because the audience can see that it is Ariel rather than Trinculo speaking, but the characters do not.

The treatment of Caliban by Stephano and Trinculo develops the theme of power and exploitation. Caliban, a "native inhabitant" of the island, wants to be ruled by Stephano rather than by Prospero. This raises the question: Why can't Caliban rule himself? The false idea that "primitive" natives needed to be ruled by wiser, more sophisticated people was very appealing to Europeans who wanted to build colonies, so Caliban's desire to be ruled may be an attempt to represent that idea in action.

The audience witnesses the growing greed and lust of Stephano, who is quick to join Caliban's scheme in the hopes of becoming king and taking Miranda to his bed as queen. Unlike Gonzalo's dreams of ruling the island as an idealistic utopia, Stephano's dreams pursue his own comfort and power. In some ways Stephano seems to take care of Caliban's needs now that he has some authority over him. He tells Trinculo to stop accusing Caliban: "The poor monster's my subject, and he shall not suffer indignity." At the same time he is only supporting Caliban because he enjoys the position of control and knows that he can gain much by using Caliban. He promises to destroy Prospero but tells Caliban to "Kneel and repeat it. I will stand, and so will Trinculo," a gesture that keeps Caliban in a subservient position.

Perhaps Caliban is trickier than it seems on the surface. His plan for revenge against Prospero is fully unveiled in this scene. He is clever enough to entice Stephano into doing his dirty work. To Stephano he says, "If thy Greatness will,/Revenge it on him, for I know thou dar'st." Caliban also promises that if he kills Prospero "Thou shalt be lord of it, and I'll serve thee." By mentioning the beauty of Miranda, Caliban further ensnares Stephano into doing his bidding. The audience wonders: Is Caliban going to move from one master to another, or is Caliban, like Prospero, controlling people toward his own ends? Might Caliban have a plan to eventually take control of his own island again?

The symbol of the magic books reappears in this scene. Caliban explains their importance to Stephano as part of the plot to destroy Prospero. To neutralize his power, they must first "possess his books, for with them/He's but a sot, as I am, nor hath not/One spirit to command."

For the second time the audience hears beautiful and positive language coming from the monster, who otherwise seems full of hatred and anger. What explains this language and his use of the symbols of sleeping and dreaming? Perhaps Caliban, a true native of the island, is the most fit to truly understand its nature and beauty. Perhaps the human intervention of Prospero and his magic have brought trouble to an island not meant for habitation by "civilized" people. Whatever the case this speech gives the audience a glimpse into a more human side of Caliban.

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