The relationship between master and slave is embraced by Shakespeare in his play The Tempest. Conflicts and complexities of authority are portrayed by the characters Prospero and Caliban. As one gains power, the other loses it. In the play, Prospero rises to power, while Caliban loses it. The legitimacy of Prospero’s authority over Caliban is, however, questionable. What gives Prospero the power over Caliban? What are the reasons that Caliban should obey his masters’ orders? These questions can be answered through investigating the possession of the island, the justice of punishing Caliban, and Prospero’s right to use or abuse his power.
One of the reasons for Caliban’s defiance towards Prospero is the fact that he believes the island that they are on to be his, but to have been stolen by Prospero. “This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother, / Which thou tak’st from me” (1.2.331). Caliban feels as though he has been taken advantage of. When Prospero first comes to the island, he is kind to Caliban, and in return, Caliban shows him the secrets of the island.
“When thou cam’st first,
Thou strok’st me and made much of me; wouldst give me
Water with berries in’t, and teach me how
To name the bigger light and how the less,
That burn by day and night; and then I loved thee,
And showed thee all the qualities o’th’ isle,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile”
This is Prospero’s ploy to use Caliban to learn the secrets of the island. Once he knows all the qualities of the island, he no longer needs Caliban’s knowledge and thus enslaves him and uses him as free labor. Caliban despises Prospero and Miranda’s efforts to educate him and to help him. To him, they are all part of the deception. Prospero believes otherwise and feels as though Caliban owes him for his generosity.
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