1. Analyze Caliban’s “the isle is full of noises” speech (III.ii.130–138). What makes it such a compelling and beautiful passage? What is its relation to Caliban’s other speeches, and to his character in general? What effect does this speech have on our perception of Caliban’s character? Why does Shakespeare give these lines to Caliban rather than, say, Ariel or Miranda?
Caliban’s speech is most remarkable and compelling largely because of how different it is from anything he has said before. Caliban frequently describes the qualities of the island, but usually these descriptions relate to the torments Prospero subjects him to. Indeed, the speech in Act III, scene ii echoes one from the beginning of Act II, scene ii, in which Caliban complains of the spirits that Prospero has sent to bother him. Like the earlier speech, the speech in Act III, scene ii repeats the word “sometime” twice, and like the earlier speech it seems to discuss the workings of spirits on the island. Unlike the earlier speech, however, the speech in Act III, scene ii takes us into a hypnotic dream world, where there seems to be a magic greater than Prospero’s. The voices Caliban hears do not command him to work, but rather, if they wake him from sleep, put him back to sleep again. In Caliban’s speech, even the rain is transformed. The words “The clouds methought would open” suggests an image of rain, but what Caliban imagines is “riches / Ready to drop upon me” (II.ii.136–137). The harsh, tangible things of this island—Prospero’s voice, the pinches of spirits, the weather—become in this speech beautiful noises, possibly only dreams, that “give delight and hurt not” (II.ii.131).
Caliban is drunk when he gives this speech, and while it certainly brings the audience to rapt attention, the speech does not do much to change Caliban’s character. He continues to range drunkenly about the island with Trinculo and Stephano. What the speech does is change our perception of Caliban. It reveals a deeply tragic side of him. His life on the island is so terrible that he longs for the ethereal world of the noises that give him delight. In the mouth of Miranda, or Ariel, this speech might be just as beautiful, and would convey effectively the magic of the island. But it has more power in Caliban because it allows his curses and his drunkenness to make tragic sense: since the arrival of Prospero, the island’s beauty is no longer Caliban’s.
What is the nature of Prospero and Miranda’s relationship? Discuss moments where Miranda seems to be entirely dependent on her father and moments where she seems independent. How does Miranda’s character change over the course of the play?
At first, Miranda seems very young. When Prospero tells her of his exile from Italy, it is her passionate but also restless youth that the reader sees in her exclamations of concern (“O the heavens!” I.ii.116; “Alack, for pity!” I.ii.132). In this scene the reader sees a relationship that is tender but also astonishingly one-sided. Prospero has lived alone with his daughter for twelve years and not told her why they live alone on the island. After he has told her, he charms her to sleep so that he can set about the new plan of getting her a husband, which he has not discussed with her. When that future husband, Ferdinand, arrives, Prospero continues to dominate her by directing her gaze toward Ferdinand, but then quickly steps between the two. When Miranda begs him to have mercy upon Ferdinand, Prospero is strikingly harsh.
Prospero’s love for Miranda is most evident in his willingness to remain quiet while Miranda talks to Ferdinand in Act III, scene i. Though Prospero enters, unseen, at the same time as Miranda in this scene, he does not say a word until she and Ferdinand have left the stage. During that time, Miranda remembers that her father has given her “precepts” (III.i.58) against talking with Ferdinand—and then breaks them by trusting her desires and proposing marriage to him (III.i.77–86). By the end of the scene, Miranda seems almost to have forgotten her father entirely, and she seems much older, in control of her destiny. By leaving her alone for perhaps the first time, Prospero has allowed Miranda to leave behind her childhood. The transition is not complete, however, and may not become complete, even by the end of the play. In Act IV, scene i, Miranda speaks only two and a half lines, standing completely silent while her father and Ferdinand discuss the details of her marriage. And while Miranda speaks first, and forthrightly, when she appears in Act V, scene i, she appears only after being revealed behind a curtain by her father. Her final lines, “O brave new world / That has such people in’t” (V.i.186–187) while gloriously hopeful, are also painfully ironic. The isolation her life has forced upon her has made her mistake for “brave” a cast of characters that the audience knows only too well to be deeply flawed.
3. Discuss Ferdinand’s character. What is the nature of his love for Miranda? Is he a likable character? What is the nature of his relationship to other characters?
Ferdinand is very formal. Upon first seeing Miranda, he assumes that she is a goddess, and he addresses her as such. His language is that of courtly love, of knights who fight for fair ladies. Ferdinand idealizes both Miranda and love itself. From the moment he sees her, he is intent upon finding himself in a heaven of love.
While Ferdinand’s formality is in some ways endearing, it is also in some ways disturbingly reminiscent of Prospero. Some of Ferdinand’s long speeches, especially the speech about Miranda’s virginity in Act IV, scene i, sound quite similar to the way Prospero speaks. Ferdinand is a sympathetic character, and his love for Miranda seems most genuine when he suddenly is able to break out of his verbose formality and show a strikingly simple interest in Miranda. The reader can see this when he asks Miranda, “What is your name?” (III.i.36). The reader notices it again in Act V, scene i when he jests with her over a game of chess, and when he tells his father, who asks whether Miranda is “the goddess that hath severed us, / And brought us together,” that “she is mortal” (V.i.190–191). Ferdinand agrees to marry Miranda in a scene in which he has been, like Caliban, hauling logs for Prospero. Unlike Caliban, however, Ferdinand has been carrying wood gladly, believing that he serves Miranda. The sweet humbleness implicit in this belief seems to shine through best at the times when Ferdinand lets go of his romantic language.