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
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.