In William Shakespeare's play The Tempest, Miranda's speech in lines 351-362 is hers in the original text, but many critics think that this is a printing error and that the speech should be spoken by Prospero. Which speaker seems more appropriate to deliver this particular speech, and what is the effect of having Miranda speak these words?
Whether Shakespeare experienced a change of heart in deciding who among his protagonists, Prospero or his daughter Miranda, should deliver the scathing rebuke of their bitter native servant Caliban will remain a mystery for the ages. The Tempest, which tells of the banished and overthrown Duke of Milan and his efforts at avenging the injustices to which he has been subjected, has been interpreted numerous times over the years by literary critics seeking meaning in the play’s dialogue and images. The speech in question, attributed in different versions to both Prospero and Miranda, is directed against Caliban following the servant’s attempted rape of Miranda. Caliban had originally stood in Prospero’s good graces, but the relationship turned exceedingly bitter after the servant sought to use Miranda as a vehicle for populating the island with likenesses of himself (“I had peopled else This isle with Calibans”). In an important exchange between either Miranda or Prospero on one side and Caliban on the other, one of the former rebuts the slave by declaring:
“Abhorred 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 hour 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 race, Though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou Deservedly confined into this rock, Who hadst deserved more than a prison.”
Prospero, convinced of the essential goodness of his efforts at “civilizing” the native Caliban, has instead aroused in the servant resentment at having been enslaved and having had an alien language and culture forced upon himself. Consequently, Caliban’s insult following Prospero/Miranda’s statement (“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!”) That Caliban would resent Prospero’s arrogant effort at a magnanimous gesture is unsurprising to those familiar with the history of colonialsm. That versions of the play would attribute that particular quote to Miranda, however, defies easy explanation. The lines flow more naturally from the mouth of Prospero than from Miranda, and it has been speculated that they were spoken by Miranda in some versions simply as a means of giving her character something to say or do during a protracted sequence. Having said that, Caliban’s possessiveness towards Miranda and his physical assault of her provides ample motive for the play’s sole female character to assert herself by strenuously objecting to her and her father’s attempts at helping Caliban being met with a violent act of betrayal. It seems to this “educator,” however, that the stronger case exists for Prospero being the more appropriate character to make the statement in question.