The Tempest: GCSE Model Essay 2 for Y11s

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“I’ll bear him no more sticks but follow thee, Thou wondrous man.”  Photo by ME at the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, 2012.

If this is the first time you’ve read an essay here, please take a look at this post before proceeding.

MY CLASS WILL BE TAKING THEIR GCSE PAPER ON THE TEMPEST THIS MONDAY.       I WISH THEM THE VERY BEST OF LUCK!

It is this lack of intelligence, or of understanding, that propels him towards making the same offers to Stephano as he did to Prospero twelve years earlier – a move which led to his enslavement.  Sections of the audience would approve of the ways in which Caliban is easily taken advantage of.  John Hawkins started the slave trade with his first voyage in 1562, just two years before Shakespeare was born.  For many Europeans, blacks were simply slaves.

GCSE MODEL Essay based on AQA specimen question paper, and marked as follows:

AO1 (12)  response to question and whole text, in a suitable writing style;  choice and use of references to the text to illustrate argument

AO2 (12)  analysis of form, structure and language, using subject terminology; discussion of effect on reader/audience

AO3 (6)  detailed understanding of the relationship between the text and contextual factors

AO4 (4)  writing with clarity, purpose and accuracy

STARTING WITH THIS MOMENT IN THE PLAY, EXPLORE HOW SHAKESPEARE PRESENTS THE CHARACTER OF CALIBAN (30 marks:  45 minutes).

EXTRACT

Caliban. Hast thou not dropp’d from heaven?

Stephano. Out o’ the moon, I do assure thee: I was the man i’the moon when time was.

Caliban. I have seen thee in her and I do adore thee!

My mistress show’d me thee and thy dog and thy bush.

Stephano. Come, swear to that; kiss the book: I will furnish it anon with new contents. Swear!

Trinculo. By this good light, this is a very shallow monster!   I afeard of  him!  A very weak monster! The man i’the moon! A most poor credulous monster! Well drawn, monster, in good sooth.

Caliban. I’ll show thee every fertile inch o’ th’ island; 

And I will kiss thy foot: I prithee, be my god.

Trinculo. By this light, a most perfidious and drunken monster; when’s god’s asleep, he’ll rob his bottle.

Caliban. I’ll kiss thy foot; I’ll swear myself thy subject.

Stephano. Come on then; down, and swear.

Stephano. Come, kiss.

Trinculo. But that the poor monster’s in drink: an abominable monster!

Caliban. I’ll show thee the best springs; I’ll pluck thee berries;

I’ll fish for thee and get thee wood enough.

A plague upon the tyrant that I serve!

I’ll bear him no more sticks, but follow thee, 

Thou wondrous man.

Trinculo. A most ridiculous monster, to make a wonder of a poor drunkard!

Caliban. I prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow 

And I with my long nails will dig thee pignuts,

Show thee a jay’s nest, and instruct thee how

To snare the nimble marmoset. I’ll bring thee

To clustering filberts and sometimes I’ll get thee

Young scamels from the rock. Wilt thou go with me?

– – –

At the time that The Tempest was written, the ordinary Englishman’s exposure to other races would have been limited.  As England traded and explored its way across the world, Shakespeare and his contemporaries would have received regular and fantastic reports about the native peoples being encountered.  In Caliban, Shakespeare seems to have blended what he knew and what he had heard into a mostly sympathetic character who is superstitious, kindly, but unintelligent, as this extract demonstrates.

It is perhaps ironic that Caliban is portrayed as superstitious, given that the Jacobean audience simultaneously believed so strongly in Christ and in witches. The extract opens with Caliban enquiring, incredulously: “Hast thou not dropped from heaven?”  Amusingly, his first reaction is that Stephano is some kind of deity.  We can infer from the lack of capitalisation of the abstract noun, ‘heaven’, that he does not mean the Christian version, but some other supernatural realm.  Although under other circumstances we might see Caliban’s address, ‘thou’, as disrespectful, we also need to remember that ‘thou’ was used to speak to God (as in the Lord’s Prayer), confirming our ideas, as readers, of Caliban’s awe and worship.  The verb ‘dropped’ clearly connotes height, and this is open to alternative interpretations.  Whilst we generally associate height, and heaven, with good, it is also worth noting that the Devil is a ‘fallen angel’, who has similarly dropped.  So, whilst there is some comedic value for the audience: that Caliban would worship a character as lowly as Stephano, it also reminds us that Shakespeare’s contemporaries associated non-Christian gods with paganism and devil-worship.  We see a glimpse of this in Act 1, when Caliban actually names his dam’s god, ‘Setebos’, reassuringly telling the audience that Prospero is too powerful even for that deity.

Although superstitious, we do see a kindly side to Caliban which mimics the welcome often given to explorers by indigenous peoples in that era, as reported by people like Sir Walter Raleigh.  Shakespeare would also have been aware of the broadly sympathetic portrayal of natives in Michel de Montaigne’s essay, ‘on Cannibals’ (1603), which described native societies not too different from the utopian vision of life on the island given by Gonzalo earlier in the play.  In this section we see Caliban showing concern for Stephano and his wants.  At the end of the extract, Caliban gives a litany of services that he offers to provide.  Shakespeare’s use of enjambment, and a number of lines which disrupt his rhythmic iambic pentameter with 11 syllables, give this list an uneven pace and suggests that he is anxious, maybe over-anxious to please.   An example of Caliban’s offering is: ‘And I with my long nails will dig thee pignuts.’  Shakespeare’s audience would recognise the noun ‘pignut’ as a crop which could not be accessed without laborious digging, which Caliban is offering to do.  This is an eleven-syllable line, and we might also conjecture that Caliban is over-aware, perhaps ashamed of the ‘long nails’ which he possesses but Stephano does not, leading to the lack of emotional and rhythmic control.  This presents a more attractive and reassuring picture of Caliban to the audience, which is echoed later in the play when Caliban seeks to calm the frightened Europeans in one of his most famous speeches:  ‘Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises.’  Thus, our empathy for the character increases, because he demonstrates a caring side.

But although kind, welcoming and reassuring, Caliban is not particularly intelligent.  At the beginning of the play, when Miranda is angry at his ingratitude, Caliban retorts:  “You taught me language, and my profit on’t is I know how to curse.”  This holds true in this extract.  Shakespeare purposefully has Caliban converse in Blank Verse (even if the iambic pentameter is occasionally disrupted), and to the Jacobean audience this metre would have been a recognisable indicator of culture and refinement.  On the other hand, we see Stephano using Prose throughout.  This clearly signifies his low-class status and lack of education.  It is interesting that Caliban is unable to spot this – if he were, then perhaps he would reconsider his worship of Stephano.  His behaviour perhaps justifies Trinculo’s pejorative epithet ‘credulous’, with it’s connotations of stupidity and gullibility. It is this lack of intelligence, or of understanding, that propels him towards making the same offers to Stephano as he did to Prospero twelve years earlier – a move which led to his enslavement.  Sections of the audience would approve of the ways in which Caliban is easily taken advantage of.  John Hawkins started the slave trade with his first voyage in 1562, just two years before Shakespeare was born.  For many Europeans, blacks were simply slaves.

Yet, in this extract and throughout the play, Shakespeare does not produce a completely negative image of Caliban, despite the fact that we can never quite forget that he sought to ‘violate’ Miranda, with the emotive connotations of that verb, then and now.  Perhaps, overall he is, to quote another play (King Lear), ‘more sinned against than sinning’, and an interesting metaphor for how native races and Europeans interacted with each other in the 17th century.  Not everyone believed the pejorative ‘monsters’ that Trinculo repeatedly employs, with it’s accompanying dehumanisation and connotations of evil.  One final factor may have encouraged Shakespeare to paint a more balanced picture: in 1601, A Moorish ambassador visited London and stayed for almost a year.  Unlike ordinary citizens, as part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare almost certainly would have encountered this man.  Perhaps this influenced his views, writing a character that we can still respond to sympathetically today.

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