Master and Servant: What Really Determines Your Status?
The strangest, yet most intriguing relationship in Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, seems to be the one that is shared between Prospero and Caliban. Through their constant interactions, the audience is able to explore the important motif of master-servant relationships, which is one of the major themes that the entire play seems to be built upon. In The Tempest, although it seem as if one’s status and background plays a big part in affecting one’s position on the social hierarchy system, it is ultimately the power of knowledge that does so.
The exchange between Prospero and Caliban in Act I Scene II is one scene that illuminates this clearly. From the way that both individuals are introduced to the audience, with Prospero being described as the “Duke of Milan and a prince of power” and Caliban as a “freckled whelp hag-born” who was “not honoured with a human shape”, it becomes distinct that the two characters hail from vastly different backgrounds. This, in turn, affects their social statuses, as it seems to place both of them on opposing ends of the social spectrum: with Prospero as the master, and Caliban as the lowly servant.
From the extract, however, the audience learns that Caliban does not wish to succumb to these social standards. As soon as Prospero enters the scene, Caliban immediately greets both Miranda and his master with a curse: “As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen Drop on you both! a south-west blow on ye And blister you all o’er!” (Act I Scene II, 321) This plainly shows just how much respect Caliban has for his master, Prospero. What is really keeping Caliban from escaping the wrath of his master, if he resents him so much?
Prospero then threatens Caliban with unending torture and pain, should he dare to disobey. He says, “What I command, I’ll rack thee with old...
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