The Tempest speech study: Caliban, part two

OK, so yesterday, I discussed Caliban’s first major speech in The Tempest, his accusation to and about Prospero and his usurpation of Caliban’s island. There, in the scansion, I saw some very interesting parallels between Caliban and Prospero’s characterizations. Today, let’s look at another of Caliban’s big speeches, his oft-quoted “The isle is full of noises” speech from Act Three.

In Act Three, Scene Two, Caliban leads two shipwreckees, Trinculo and Stephano, toward Prospero’s cave where he has convinced his two new masters (though that relationship is not quite master/slave, and he certainly follows Stephano much more than Trinculo) that they can kill Prospero and take over the island. Ariel, invisible to all, plays music which frightens the humans. Caliban attempts to comfort them:

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.
  • III.ii.134-42

As with the last speech, the words are straightforward enough, as he tells the humans not to be afraid, as the island is filled with noises. He describes the music in both positive (“sweet airs”) and negative (“a thousand twangling instruments”) ways and attempts to be comforting.

Interestingly, there’s not a single full line in the speech that’s perfect Iambic pentameter; two would be, save for the feminine ending (“Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices” and “Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming”). Now, there is an iambic line, but it’s the final half-line: “I cried to dream again”…a sentiment (crying) that could be easily seen as one necessitating an irregular beat or two, and yet it doesn’t.

But this isn’t what fascinates me, though.


Believe it or not, this time, it’s NOT about the scansion…

Compare this speech with a lil’ ol’ speech that comes just two scenes later:

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismayed. Be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
  • IV.i.146-58

Another speech of comfort, of what we sense (the former auditorily, the latter visually), of sleep, of dreams. And of course, the speaker this time around is Prospero.

Again, Caliban and Prospero.

There must be something there…

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