Study Guide

The Tempest Freedom and Confinement

By William Shakespeare

Freedom and Confinement

Act 1, Scene 2

[to Ferdinand] Follow me.
[To Miranda.] Speak not you for him. He's a traitor.
    [To Ferdinand.] Come,
I'll manacle thy neck and feet together.
Sea-water shalt thou drink; thy food shall be
The fresh-brook muscles, withered roots, and husks 
Wherein the acorn cradled. Follow. (1.2.555-561)

Prospero does have a knack for thinking up really nasty enslavements. When he enslaves Ferdinand, one wonders if he was always like this, or if this can be attributed to his getting comfortable as "king of the sandcastle" over the last twelve years.

This blue-eyed hag was hither brought with child 
And here was left by the sailors. Thou, my slave,
As thou report'st thyself, was then her servant,
And, for thou wast a spirit too delicate
To act her earthy and abhorred commands,
Refusing her grand hests, she did confine thee. (1.2.322-327)

Ariel was initially in the witch's service, but refused to do her awful commands, which landed the sprite in a pine tree prison.


I prithee,
Remember I have done thee worthy service,
Told thee no lies, made thee no mistakings, served
Without or grudge or grumblings. Thou didst promise 
To bate me a full year.
Dost thou forget
From what a torment I did free thee? (1.2.294-300)

Servitude in Prospero's vision is a necessary gratitude for the kindness he has done. Does Prospero do anything in the play without expecting something in return?


No, pray thee.
[Aside.] I must obey. His art is of such power
It would control my dam's god, Setebos, 
and make a vassal of him.  (1.2.447-450)

Caliban doesn't think he deserves to be in servitude for his attempt to rape Miranda, nor does he have any remorse. His servitude is simply the result of power politics—Prospero's magic makes it impossible for Caliban to be free.

You taught me language, and my profit on 't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language! (1.2.437-439)

There's a lot to dislike about Caliban but his provocative retort to the above passage is pretty admirable.  Here, he talks back and insists that one good thing came from learning his master's language—the ability to curse.  

Prince Ferdinand

Might I but through my prison once a day
Behold this maid. All corners else o' th' earth
Let liberty make use of. Space enough
Have I in such a prison. (1.2.597-600)

Although Prospero has made a big show of bullying Ferdinand, the prince insists that as long as he can see Miranda, he's free enough.  That's kind of sweet but also a little scary, don't you think?


Abhorrèd slave,
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each
One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endow'd thy purposes
With words that made them known. But thy vile
Though thou didst learn, had that in 't which good
Could not abide to be with. Therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock,
Who hadst deserved more than a prison. (1.2.422-436)

Some editions of the play attribute this rant against Caliban to Prospero. Others assign the speech to Miranda. Either way, the point is pretty clear. Here, the speaker suggests that because Caliban had no language of his own when Prospero and Miranda arrived on the island, he somehow deserves to be a slave "confined into this rock."  Scholars often point out that this is the same kind of rationale European colonizers used to enslave new world inhabitants.   

Act 2, Scene 2

I'll show thee every fertile inch o' th' island, 
And I will kiss thy foot. I prithee, be my god. (2.2.154-155)

What compels Caliban to go from servitude to servitude? Why does he offer to be Stefano's slave, though Stefano does not ask it of him?

I'll swear upon that bottle to be thy true
subject, or the liquor is not earthly. (2.2.129-130)

Caliban, thinking that Stefano must be a god, misjudges Stefano's power. As Caliban is stuck in Prospero's service, because he knows no one more powerful, Caliban sees Stefano as an advocate and something of a savior. This isn't Caliban being malicious; rather he is naïve and hopeful about freedom.

CALIBAN [sings]
No more dams I'll make for fish,
    Nor fetch in firing
    At requiring,
Nor scrape trencher, nor wash dish .
    'Ban, 'ban, Ca-caliban
    Has a new master. Get a new man.
Freedom, high-day! High-day, freedom! Freedom,
high-day, freedom! (2.2.186-193)

Caliban has been a slave for so long that freedom to him is simply defined as being free from Prospero's tyranny. 

Act 3, Scene 2

Flout 'em and cout 'em
And scout 'em and flout 'em! 
     Thought is free.

This is a clever song to sing at this point of plotting treachery. To "flout" is to deride, and "scout" is to jeer. Stefano and Trinculo know they are fools who can have free thoughts against their betters, jeering and taunting, so long as their thoughts don't become <em>action.</em> This is the crucial bit that Caliban misses about his co-conspirators.

Act 4, Scene 1

Before you can say 'come' and 'go,'
And breathe twice and cry 'so, so,'
Each one, tripping on his toe,
Will be here with mop and mow.
Do you love me, master? No?
Dearly, my delicate Ariel. (4.1.48-53)

Ariel's relationship with Prospero is greater than master and servant—Ariel takes care of the details that would otherwise worry Prospero. In turn, Ariel is sensitive enough that he cherishes the loving affection the sorcerer gives him in return. They have a Pat Sajack and Vanna White kind of relationship, without all the sequins and vowels.


Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have 's mine own, 
Which is most faint. Now, 'tis true
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon'd the deceiver, dwell 
In this bare island by your spell,
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails, 
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults 
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
    As you from crimes would pardoned be,
    Let your indulgence set me free. (Epilogue.1-20)

This passage is pretty awesome. It asks us to think about the playwright not as a famous actor or author, but simply as an artist whose only pay for his craft is the clapping of our own hands. The play is both put on for us, and requires our affection—kind of like that servant/master relationship. Who's really in charge here?  Talk about tricksy.