Essay on The Characters of Prospero and Caliban in The Tempest

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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...

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... Literary Studies. Vers. 5.1. May 1999. Western Michagen University.  February 2001 (

Griffiths, Trevor. "'This Island's mine': Caliban and Colonialism." Yearbook of English Studies 13 (1983): 159-80.

Hillegass, L.L.  Shakespeare's Comedies.  Carey, Gary, ed.  Lincoln:  Cliff's Notes, Inc., 1971.

Mannoni, Octavio. Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization. Trans. Pamela Powesland. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1990.

Retamar, Roberto Fernández. "Caliban: Notes Toward a Discussion of Caliban in Our America." Caliban and Other Essays.

Trans. Edward Baker. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Stephen Orgel. New York: Oxford UP, 1987.

Vaughn, Alden T., and Virginia Mason Vaughan. Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.

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