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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT II, SCENE 2
On a desolate part of the island, Caliban toils under the burden of wood he is carrying. He can think of nothing but his savage hatred for Prospero, his master. He resents his servitude and the fact that the island was his until Prospero came along. When a stranger approaches him, Caliban falls on his face in fear. The stranger is Trinculo, the King's jester, who is worried about the approaching storm and looking for shelter. He is fascinated by the grotesque Caliban, sprawled at his feet, and wishes he could take him to England for a freak show.
As the storm breaks forth, Trinculo crawls under Caliban's cloak, for "misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows." Soon Stephano, the King's butler, arrives. Drunk and singing, Stephano stumbles against Caliban and the concealed Trinculo; he is sure he has found a strange monster with four legs. Soon he discovers the hidden jester. The two men then offer Caliban alcohol, and the monster is soon under the influence of "celestial liquor." Caliban thinks that Stephano is a god and imagines he has found a wonderful new master who can free him from Prospero. He sings a song glorifying his newly won freedom.
The serious nature of the main plot temporarily yields to some light-hearted comedy and entertainment, provided by Trinculo and Stephano and Caliban's reaction to them. Caliban has been seen so far as a natural being, uncultivated and uncivilized. In this scene, he is brought into direct contact with civilized society in the persons of Stephano and Trinculo; however, as representatives of society, Trinculo and Stephano are hardly dignified. One is a butler, the other is a jester, and both are buffoons that cause laughter in the audience. In Shakespeare's plays, the fools invariably add to the theme of the drama in a comic way. In this case, civilized society (Trinculo and Stephano) serve to further corrupt a naïve, natural being ( Caliban); the results are disastrous, but humorous.
This scene presents one of the most ludicrous situations in the whole body of Shakespeare's works. When Caliban spies Trinculo, he thinks that another torment from Prospero has begun. At the same time, Trinculo thinks he has found a creature that could be in a freak show and make him rich. Trinculo, fearful of the storm, hides under Caliban's cloak, and the drunken Stephan enters and believes he has found a four-legged monster.
He later exploits Caliban's simplicity, making the creature think he is a god. Stephano's alcoholic beverage wins from Caliban the ready allegiance which Prospero's nobler gifts, like language and companionship, have failed to obtain. Yet the "very shallow monster", with his perverted instinct for adoration and his rude poetic sense, is felt to be superior to the drunken butler and jester. Caliban represents nature at its worst, and Stephano and Trinculo embody nurture at its worst. Caliban's soliloquy in the beginning of the scene and his conversation with the court duo in verse (although it is at an animal level), and Trinculo and Stephano's response in prose, clearly show that Shakespeare judges Caliban to be superior. The slave's language may be guttural and instinctive, but, like the island, it has a certain enchantment to it.