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reeling ripe, share, in the disorder of their minds and bodies, in the tumult of the elements, and seem on shore to be as much at the mercy of chance as they were before at the mercy of the wind and waves. These fellows with their sea-wit are the least to our taste of any part of the play ; but they are as like drunken sailors as they can be, and are an indirect foil to Caliban, whose figure acquires a classical dignity in the comparison.
The character of Caliban is generally thought (and justly so) to be one of the author's masterpieces. It is not indeed pleasant to see this character on the stage, any more than it is to see the god Pan personated there. But in itself it is one of the wildest and most abstracted of all Shakespeare's characters, whose deformity, whether of body or mind, is redeemed by the power and truth of the imagination displayed in it. It is the essence of grossness, but there is not a particle of vulgarity in it. Shakespeare has described the brutal mind of Caliban in contact with the pure and original forms of nature; the character grows out of the soil where it is rooted, uncontrolled, uncouth, and wild, uncramped by any of the meannesses of custom. It is “ of the earth, earthy." It seems almost to have been dug out of the ground, with a soul instinctively superadded to it answering to its wants and origin. Vulgarity is not natural coarseness, but conventional coarseness, learned from others, contrary to, or without an entire conformity of natural power and disposition; as fashion is the commonplace affectation of what is elegant and refined without any feeling of the essence of it. Schlegel, the admirable German critic of Shakespeare, observes that Caliban is a poetical character, and “always speaks in blank verse.'
In conducting Stephano and Trinculo to Prospero's cell, Caliban shows the superiority of natural capacity over greater knowedge and greater folly; and in a former scene, when Ariel frightens them with his music, Caliban, to encourage them, accounts for it in the eloquent poetry of the senses :
Be not afeard ; the isle is full of noises,
cried to dream again. This is not more beautiful than it is true. The poet here shows us the savage with the simplicity of a child. Shakespeare had to paint the human animal rude and without choice in its pleasures, but not without the sense of pleasure or some germ of the affections. Master Barnardine, in Measure for Measure, the savage of civilized life, is an admirable philosophical counterpart to Caliban.
Shakespeare has, as it were by design, drawn off from Caliban the elements of whatever is ethereal and refined, to compound them in the unearthly mould of Ariel. Nothing was ever more finely conceived than this contrast between the material and the spiritual, the gross and delicate. Ariel is imaginary power, the swiftness of thought personified. When told to make good speed by Prospero, he says, “I drink the air before me.” This is something like Puck’s boast on a similar occasion, “I'll put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes.” But Ariel differs from Puck in having a fellow-feeling in the interests of those he is employed about. How requisite is the following dialogue between him and Prospero !
Your charm so strongly works them,
Dost thou think so, spirit ?
And mine shall.
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art? It has been observed that there is a peculiar charm in the songs introduced in Shakespeare, which, without conveying any distinct images, seem to recall all the feelings connected with them, like snatches of half-forgotten music heard indistinctly and at intervals. There is this effect produced by Ariel's songs, which (as we are told) seem to sound in the air, and as if the person playing them were invisible.
[From Franz Horn's "Shakespeare's Schauspiele Erläutert."*] In Prospero we have a delineation of peculiar profundity. He was once not altogether a just prince, not thoroughly a just man; but he had the disposition to be both. His soul thirsted after knowledge ; his mind, sincere in itself, after love; and his fancy, after the secrets of nature ; but he forgot, what a prince should least of all forget, that, upon this moving earth, superior acquirements, in order to stand firmly, must be exercised carefully ; that the world is full of enemies who can only be subdued by a watchful power and prudence, and that in certain situations the armour ought never to be put off. Thus it became easy for his nearest relation, his brother, with the help of a powerful neighbouring king who could not resist the offered but unjustifiable advantage, to depose him from his dukedom. But as the pure morals of the prince, although they were perhaps but lazily exercised in behalf of his subjects, had nevertheless gained him their love, and the usurper did not dare to make an attack on the lives of the fallen, Prospero saved himself, his daughter, and a part of his magical books, upon a desert island. Here he becomes, what, in its highest sense, he had not yet been, a father and prince. His knowledge extends. Nature listens to him, perhaps because he learned to know and love her more inwardly. Zephyr-like spirits, full of a tender frolicsome humour,
* Knight's translation, with a few verbal changes.
and rude earth-born gnomes, are compelled to serve him. The whole island is full of wonders, but only such as the fancy willingly receives, of sounds and songs, of merry helpers and comical tormentors; and Prospero shows his great human wisdom particularly in the manner with which he, as the spiritual centre, knows how to conduct his intercourse with friends and foes. .
In Caliban there is a curious mixture of devil, man, and beast. He desires evil, not for the sake of evil or from mere wickedness, but because it is piquant, and because he feels himself oppressed. He is convinced that gross injustice has been done him, and thus he does not rightly feel that what he desires may be wicked. He knows perfectly well how powerful Prospero is, whose art may perhaps even subdue his maternal god Setebos, and that he himself is unfortunately nothing but a slave. Nevertheless, he cannot cease to curse, and certainly with the gusto of a virtuoso in this more than liberal art. Whatever he can find most base and disgusting he surrounds almost artistically with the most inharmonious murmuring and hissing words, and then wishes them to fall upon Prospero and his lovely daughter. He knows very well that all this will help him nothing, but that at night he will havę "cramps," and "side-stitches," and be "pinched by urchins,” but still he continues to pour out new curses.
He has acquired one fixed idea--that the island belonged to his mother, and, consequently, now to himself, the crown prince. The greatest horrors are pleasant to him, for he feels them only as jests which break the monotony of his slavery. He laments that he had been prevented from completing a frightful sin, “Would it had been done,” etc.; and the thought of a murder gives him a real enjoyment, perhaps chiefly on account of the noise and confusion that it would produce.
Recognizing all this, yet our feelings towards him never rise to a thorough hatred. We find him only laughably horrible, and as a marvellous, though at bottom a feeble monster, highly interesting, for we foresee from the first that none of his threats will be fulfilled. Caliban could scarcely at any time have been made out more in detail, but we are well enabled to seize upon the idea of his inner physiognomy from the naked sketch of his external form. He is, with all his foolish rage and wickedness, not entirely vulgar; and though he allows himself to be imposed upon, even by his miserable comrades (perhaps only because they are men, and, if ugly, yet handsomer than himself), he everywhere shows more prudence, which is only checked because he considers himself more powerful than he really is. Indeed, he stands far higher than Trinculo and Stephano.
Opposed to him stands Ariel, by no means an ethereal, featureless angel, but as a real airy and frolicsome spirit, agreeable and open, but also capricious, roguish, and, with his other qualities, somewhat mischievous. He is thankful to Prospero for his release from the most confined of all confined situations, but his gratitude is not a natural virtue (we might almost add, not an airy virtue); therefore he must (like man) be sometimes reminded of his debt, and held in check. Only the promise of his freedom in two days restores him again to his amiability, and he then finds pleasure in executing the plans of his master with a delightful activity.
We noticed in passing “the featureless angel,” and it requires no further indication where to find such beings; for no one will deny that these immortal winged children (so charming in many old German pictures), with their somewhat dull immortal harps, and, if possible, their still more dull and immortal anthems, cause a not less immortal tediousness in the works of many poets. Shakespeare did not fall into this error, and it is in the highest degree attractive to observe the various and safe modes in which he manages the marvellous. In the storm he achieves. his object by the simplest means, while, as has been already indicated, he represents Nature herself, and certainly justly, as the greatest miracle. When