Caliban Upon Setebos

Topics: God, Victorian era, Theology Pages: 5 (1825 words) Published: April 10, 2006
In "Caliban Upon Setebos" by Robert Browning, the creature Caliban from William Shakespeare's The Tempest, reveals his views concerning life, religion, and human nature. In The Tempest Caliban is portrayed as a spiteful, brutish, and drunken beast who despises his powerful master Prospero and his beautiful daughter Miranda. He often appears as a coarse and thick headed character; he is overwhelmed by the wine that he is given by the butler Stephano and worships him as a god. Browning's poem shows a lighter, more eloquent and sensitive side of Caliban, offering restitution to Caliban, who may not have gotten a fair deal in his first appearance. Caliban pauses in his island labors to ponder the world and life around him. He attempts to account for the cruelties that persist on the island and justify his god's malevolent actions. Caliban's increasingly convoluted explanation demonstrates one of the difficulties the Victorian world was having with religion: theology was having to become more and more contorted to explain both the facts of the modern world and the findings of modern science. Many found it increasingly difficult to maintain traditional ideas about a just God and Caliban struggles with the same doubts.

It is Caliban's belief that Setebos is the creator of everything that exists in his world, except for the stars. The stars are believed to be created by a force or god above Setebos only know as "The Quiet". Caliban believes that Setebos created his world out of frustration and malcontent. Caliban voices his opinion when he states:

‘Thinketh He made it, with the sun to match, ...
Also this isle, what lives and grows thereon,
‘Thinketh, it came of being ill at ease:
He hated that He cannot change his cold,
Nor cure its ache. (26-33)

Setebos created Caliban's world, and the creatures who inhabit it, in an attempt to ease his frustration with being alone. The coldness of Setebos' demeanor is due to his solitary state. Even though he creates the sea, clouds, creatures, and islands he still cannot cure the "ache" of being alone. Setebos is able to control his creations and develop them as he chooses, but he is unable to interact with them. He is unable to satisfy his desire for a companion or other being he can relate to. He is only able to observe the objects and living things he has created. Caliban attests to Setebos' inability to find companionship when he states: "Made all we see, and us, in spite: how else? / He could not, Himself, make a second self / To be His mate; as well as made Himself (56-58). Setebos does not have the capability to create one equal to himself, or one to be his mate. He also does not have the ability to create himself, which also suggests a higher power than Setebos. In his state, as creator of all physical things, he is incapable of finding satisfaction. He cannot interact with what he has created and he is not able to rise to another more powerful state of deity.

Setebos is not only unable to interact with those he has created, but he is unable to reach the serene state that "The Quiet" resides in. He is stuck in the realm between his creations and his creator. Caliban explains Setebos' situation when he asserts:

Looks up, first and perceives he cannot soar
To what is quiet and hath happy life;
Next looks down here, and out of very spite
Makes this a bauble-world to ape yon real, (144-147)
Setebos realizes he cannot reach the state of "quiet" that he desires so much. The quiet feels no joy or grief, which are both emotions that "derive from weakness in some way." Setebos cannot achieve his goal of reaching another level of power, and creates Caliban's world to find comfort. A creation of little value or meaning. It is a place created for Setebos as a form of entertainment that he can view and control, but never interact with. The world brings him both joy and anger; he is able to witness his supreme power over his creations, b...
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