Despite Shakespeare’s tendency to characterize virtue through outward beauty, in The Tempest he deftly shows us nobility is not always inherent and the beast in all has hope of being tamed. There is danger in a lack of balance between nobility and in-bred, base nature. On the surface, Caliban is the ultimate representation of vile nature, brutal, selfish and untamed, and Prospero represents nobility.
Gonzalo unwittingly echoes the moral lesson of the play and hints at the two characters most likely to be party to the lesson’s exposition when he says “(For certes these are people of the island) who, though they are of monstrous shape, yet note, their manners are more gentle, kind, than of our human generation you shall find many – nay, almost any” (III.3.30-4). His allusion is to Caliban, a person “of the island,” and Prospero is counterpoint to Caliban. Though Caliban’s manners cannot be considered gentle and kind now and he certainly has a beastly side, he was not always the scoundrel we primarily see. Prospero is one of the “human generation” known to Gonzalo; the two were very close before Prospero was exiled. When Prospero reveals himself to all, Gonzalo calls him a noble friend “whose honor cannot be measured or confined” (V.1.121-3).
The idea that high-born people are not always of lofty character is ironically accentuated by Prospero when he says in an aside, “some of you there present are worse than devils” (III.3.35-6). Though Caliban is often called a devil, Prospero is not referring to him here but to the human conspirators, nobility who were shipwrecked. Ironically, he is saying high-born people can be or become more reprobate than low-born creatures.
Caliban is the offspring of a witch and an incubus demon. Prospero tells Ariel, "Then was this island (save for the son that she did litter here, a freckled whelp, hag-born) not honored with a human shape" (I.2.281-4). He is saying Caliban is human, though possibly is blemished or disfigured....
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