In The Tempest, what is the relationship between Caliban and Prospero?

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The nature of Caliban and Prospero's relationship looks very different according to whose perspective one adopts. From Prospero's point of view, he came to a wild island, which was until recently ruled by the foul witch, Sycorax. Prospero civilized the island and treated its inhabitants kindly, even Caliban who was

A freckled whelp hag-born—not honour'd with
A human shape.

Caliban repaid Prospero's kindness by attempting to rape Miranda, Prospero's daughter, since which time Prospero has kept Caliban as his slave.

Caliban would agree that he has been enslaved by Prospero, but apart from this, their relationship looks very different from his perspective:

This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou takest from me. When thou camest first,
Thou strokedst me and madest much of me, wouldst give me
Water with berries in't, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I loved thee
And show'd thee all the qualities o' the isle ...

According to this version of events, Caliban is the rightful ruler of the island, while Prospero is a usurper who gained his trust by trickery. Then, when he had learned all that Caliban had to teach him about the island, he betrayed and enslaved his former ally.

The latter narrative has gained favor with critics following the rise of Postcolonial theory, since Prospero has all the characteristics of an imperialist, colonizing the island and justifying his depredations by saying that he is more civilized.

None of this makes any difference to the fact that, in practical terms, Caliban is Prospero's slave, and their relationship is one of mutual hatred and distrust. The only question is whether Caliban deserves his slavery or not. Shakespeare's contemporaries, seeing Caliban as a brutal monster, might well have said he did, while a modern audience may be more inclined to the belief that no one deserves slavery.

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Caliban and Prospero have a unique relationship in The Tempest. Caliban operates as Prospero's rebellious slave. Though Caliban is afraid of Prospero and does as he is bidden when Prospero is looking, he spends most of the play trying to undermine Prospero's plans and ultimately destroy Prospero. When the two first met, their relationship was not as destructive, though still not positive. Prospero taught Caliban how to speak English, among other things. Caliban was still a servant, but not treated as harshly. In the play, the audience learns that Caliban nearly raped Miranda, Prospero's daughter. This is the reasoning behind Prospero's bad treatment of Caliban during the play, but there is also a superiority complex occurring for Prospero. He thinks he is better than Caliban because Caliban is from the island and is the son of Sycorax, an evil witch.

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The relationship between Prospero and Caliban is almost one of master and slave. Prospero is forever ordering Caliban about, telling him what to do and what not to do—or else! The former Duke of Milan regards Caliban as nothing more than an untutored savage, which is understandable given that he did try to rape Prospero's daughter, Miranda. As far as Prospero's concerned, this incident showed Caliban in his true colors.

As well as Prospero's natural revulsion at the attempted rape of his daughter, there's also a bruised ego at work here. Prospero bridles at what he perceives as Caliban's ingratitude for all the help he's given him. Even in the good old days, Prospero never fully accepted Caliban as his equal; theirs was always a master and servant relationship. One gets the impression that even had Caliban not behaved so abominably towards Miranda, Prospero would still have kept him firmly in a state of subjection, albeit rather more benign than his present condition.

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Although Prospero has traditionally been seen as a European who tried to help the "monster" Caliban become more civilized, in recent decades their relationship has been understood as that of the colonizer and the colonized. In Act I, scene 2, Caliban describes how Prospero first treated him with kindness when he was shipwrecked on the island:

"When thou cam'st first [when you first came]/Thou strok'st and madest much of me, wouldst give me/Water with berries in it ..."

In return, Caliban teaches Prospero how to survive:

"I show'd thee [you, Prospero] all the qualities o' th' isle,/The fresh springs ..." (Act I, scene 2)

However, once Prospero knows how to survive, he betrays and enslaves Caliban, mirroring what colonizers did to native peoples. Only too late does Caliban, for his point of view, learn that he has been conned.

Prospero has a different version of the story. Either he or Miranda, his daughter, depending on which version of the play you read, "pitied" Caliban and took pains to teach him "one thing or another." (Act I, scene 2). Rather than expressing gratitude for their civilizing influence, Caliban showed his "brutish" nature by trying to rape Miranda. In Prospero's eyes, this justifies enslaving him: Caliban is animalistic and cannot be trusted with freedom.

As many critics have pointed out, Prospero's actions show precisely what European explorers did to native peoples: they won their trust, learned what they needed to know from them, then turned around and betrayed them, using the rationale that the natives were savages.

Once Prospero and Caliban have their communication breakdown and Prospero enslaves Caliban, Caliban, not unnaturally, plots with Stephano to kill Prospero. 

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