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The character of Caliban is wonderfully conceived: he is a sort of creature of the earth, partaking of the qualities of the brute, and distinguished from them in two ways: 1. By having mere understanding without moral reason; 2. By not having the instincts which belong to mere animals.- Still Caliban is a noble being: a man in the sense of the imagination, all the images he utters are drawn from nature, and are all highly poetical; they fit in with the images of Ariel: Caliban gives you images from the Earth- Ariel images from the air. Caliban talks of the difficulty of finding fresh water, the situation of Morasses, and other circumstances which the brute instinct not possessing reason could comprehend. No mean image is brought forward, and no mean passion, but animal passions, and the sense of repugnance at being commanded.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from a lecture on Shakespeare, 1811
Prospero is the central figure of The Tempest; and it has often been wildly asserted that he is a portrait of the author- and embodiment of that spirit of wise benevolence which is supposed to have thrown a halo over Shakespeare's later life. But, on closer inspection, the portrait seems to be as imaginary as the original. To an irreverent eye, the ex-Duke of Milan would perhaps appear as an unpleasantly crusty personage, in whom a twelve years' monopoly of the conversation had developed an inordinate propensity for talking. These may have been the sentiments of Ariel, safe at the Bermoothes; but to state them is to risk at least ten years in the knotty entrails of an oak, and it is sufficient to point out, that if Prospero is wise, he is also self-opinionated and sour, that his gravity is often another name for pedantic severity, and that there is no character in the play to whom, during some part of it, he is not studiously disagreeable.
Lytton Strachey, "Shakespeare's Final Period," 1922; reprinted in Twentieth Century Interpretations of "The Tempest," ed. Hallett Smith, 1969
ON THE SCARCITY OF METAPHOR
...The Tempest will be found peculiarly poor in metaphor. There is the less need for it in that the play is itself metaphor. Shakespeare's favourite imagery of storm and wreck cannot powerfully recur as descriptive comparison since the whole play, as its title announces, revolves round that very conception.... Usually Shakespeare's tricks of pictorial suggestion can be felt as playing over and interpreting a story, though too rigid a distinction is dangerous; here there is no interpretation; the story is, or is supposed to be, self-explanatory; the creative act is single. It might be called Shakespeare's "purest work of art"; though whether purity, in art or in moral doctrine, itself so severe in The Tempest, is the whole of wisdom remains arguable.
G. Wilson Knight, The Crown of Life, 1947
"Good wombs," says Miranda, "have borne bad sons"- in the realm of the better nature there are "unnatural" men.... Obviously among the better natures there were those upon whom some encounter or accident might beget an evil nature; that from the seed could grow degenerate plants. Many reasons were alleged to explain this, some astrological, some theological; and ultimately noblemen do ill because, being sons of Adam, they are free to choose.... Caliban has no choice but to be vile; but in Antonio there was surely a predisposition to virtuous conduct; and it could not be easy to think of one who, in the eyes of Caliban, was a "brave spirit", as the betrayer of the fulness of his own more perfect nature, as a man so unnatural as to be impervious to the action of grace, a Macbeth of comedy. We see in Antonio the operation of sin in a world magically purified but still allowing freedom to the will; inhabitants of this world can abase themselves below those who live unaided at the level of nature. And it is as a comment upon his unnatural behaviour that we are offered a close structural parallel between Antonio's corrupt and Caliban's natural behaviour in the two plots against Alonso and Prospero.
Frank Kermode, Introduction to the Arden edition of The Tempest, 1954
ON THE YOUNGER GENERATION
Not only do Ferdinand and Miranda sustain Prospero in representing a new order of things that has evolved out of destruction; they also vouch for its continuation. At the end of the play Alonso and Prospero are old and worn men. A younger and happier generation is needed to secure the new state to which Prospero has so painfully brought himself, his friends, and all his enemies save Caliban.
E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Last Plays, 1958
The Renaissance voyagers [who wrote the Bermuda pamphlets], in their casting about for classical and Christian analogues to their experience, in their eagerness to see the miraculous at work and the special providence of God in all that happens, to see hope in disaster and lessons in trials, remind us more than a little of Gonzalo. From his comments on the breakdown of shipboard discipline during the opening storm to his wishful celebration of everyone's self-recovery near the end, Gonzalo tries, like the Renaissance voyagers behind him, to see a providential design in the experience of the play, to moralize that experience into what the Renaissance would call an "allegory." In doing so, although he does not "mistake the truth totally," as Antonio claims, he does have to bend reality ever so slightly to the desires of his mind and to that extent falsify it; not quite everyone, for example, has found himself by the end of the play as Gonzalo would like to think. His allusions to Carthage and "widow Dido" do distort Virgil in the strenuous effort to hammer out the parallel, and are representative of his efforts at perception throughout. One such effort is his benevolent vision of an island utopia [Act II, Scene I, lines 152-173].
Howard Felperin, Shakespearean Romance, 1972
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Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts