Has Caliban gained freedom at the end of The Tempest?

It is unclear whether Caliban has gained freedom at the end of The Tempest. Caliban either sails with Prospero to Milan as his servant or gains his freedom and remains on the island in his rightful role as ruler of the island, which Prospero took from him and ruled as his own.

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At the beginning of act 5 of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero sends Ariel to “fetch [him] the hat and rapier in [his] cell” and says to him, “Quickly, spirit! / Thou shalt ere long be free” (5.1.91, 93–94). Prospero repeatedly promises Ariel his freedom throughout the play, but he always seems to find one more task for Ariel to undertake before he truly sets him free.

At least Ariel has the promise of freedom at some time in the future, but Caliban is given no such promise, and he's held in servitude by Prospero throughout the play.

Prospero tells Ariel, “I shall miss thee, / But yet thou shalt have freedom” (5.1.103–104), but, as usual, Prospero finds another task for Ariel to accomplish before he finally sets him free. Prospero sends Ariel to release the ship’s master and boatswain from sleep in the hidden ship and to “enforce [bring] them to this place” (5.1.108). Ariel hurries away with yet another promise of freedom ringing in his ears.

Ariel returns with the ship’s master and boatswain. Prospero commends him on his diligence, and again promises, “Thou shalt be free” (5.1.280–281). Then Prospero sends Ariel off on yet another task, this time to release Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo from Prospero’s spell and bring them before him.

Within seconds, Ariel returns with Caliban and his companions. Caliban sees Prospero dressed in his attire as Duke of Milan and is fearful of him and what he might do.

CALIBAN. How fine my master is! I am afraid

He will chastise me. … I shall be pinched to death. (5.1.305–306, 321)

Caliban escapes being pinched to death, but Prospero says nothing at all to Caliban about setting him free. Prospero tells Caliban only how to procure his pardon for conspiring with Stephano and Trinculo to kill him.

PROSPERO. Go, sirrah, to my cell.

Take with you your companions. As you look

To have my pardon, trim it handsomely. (5.1.338–340)

Caliban agrees to do as he’s told and “seek for grace” from Prospero (5.1.342); then, Caliban exits with Stephano and Trinculo and is not seen again in the play.

Prospero intends to spend one more night on the island, then set sail to Milan in the morning with his daughter, Miranda, and everyone who was supposedly shipwrecked on the island by the tempest Prospero caused at the beginning of the play.

The question arises as to whether Caliban will go with Prospero on the ship to Milan and continue to serve him or if Caliban will be left on the island.

Caliban will have no freedom if he goes with Prospero to Milan. If Caliban is left on the island, he’ll enjoy the freedom of the island in his role as the rightful ruler of the island, a role that Prospero usurped from Caliban in the same way that Prospero’s brother, Antonio, usurped Prospero’s role as the rightful Duke of Milan.

There’s no mention in the play as to which fate awaits Caliban the next day.

As for Ariel, Prospero finally, finally grants him his freedom, but only after Ariel insures “calm seas, auspicious gales / And sail so expeditious” (5.1.365–366) that the ship will quickly reunite with King Alonso’s royal fleet, from which his ship was separated in the tempest.

PROSPERO. [to Ariel] That is thy charge. Then to the elements

Be free, and fare thou well! (5.1.368–369)

Of course, Prospero has all night to think about more tasks for Ariel to undertake before the ship sails away in the morning.

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The ending of the play is unclear in terms of what happens to Caliban. The last we see of him is in Act V scene 1, when he is ushered on stage along with Stefano and Trinculo dressed in the clothes they have stolen from Prospero. They are all suitably chagrined to have been caught red-handed, and Caliban in particular is embarrassed and ashamed to have taken the two men for gods and is concerned about what Prospero will do to him. Note his last words when Prospero forgives him and tells him to go to his rooms:

Ay, that I will; and I'll be wise hereafter,

And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass

Was I to take this drunkard for a god,

And worship this dull fool!

The audience can only assume that when Prospero leaves the island, as he says he will do at the end of this play, he will leave Caliban on the island to live on his own island untroubled by Prospero any longer. It would be hard to imagine that Prospero would take such a figure with him to the mainland as he assumes his position in court. His precise fate is, however, not specified.

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It is not entirely clear just what happens to Caliban in the end - what exactly his future will be. Prospero offers to pardon him for his drunken plotting with Stephano and Trinculo, but is still ordering him about. Caliban it's true does appear repentant but this might be only because he's scared of what would happen to him otherwise. Unlike Ariel, Prospero does not actually say that he will release him from servitude. It might be, of course, that he will be left behind on the island after Prospero and the others return to Italy, but this is not made clear either. There is a sinister hint that he might be taken back to Italy to be exhibited at fairs as a fish-like monster, as Antonio describes him.

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