In The Tempest, what plan does Caliban suggest for killing Prospero? 

Asked on by shane09

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robertwilliam's profile pic

robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Here's the passage you're referring to: it's from Act 3, Scene 2 of "The Tempest". Caliban is addressing Stephano (and Trinculo): 

Why, as I told thee, ’tis a custom with him,
I'th’ afternoon to sleep. There thou mayst brain him,
Having first seized his books, or with a log,
Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake,
Or cut his wezand with thy knife. Remember
First to possess his books, for without them
He's but a sot, as I am, nor hath not
One spirit to command—they all do hate him
As rootedly as I. Burn but his books.

Prospero always sleeps in the afternoon - he has a nap, effectively! Caliban wants Stephano to first seize his books, and then "brain" him (batter him on the head) with a log - or, perhaps, stab him in the stomach ("paunch him") with a stake - or, perhaps, cut his windpipe ("wezand") with a knife.

Caliban knows too that the books are the key to Prospero's power, and makes sure that Stephano knows that the books have got to be seized before Prospero is killed.

Hope it helps!

rmhope's profile pic

rmhope | College Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

As Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano walk through the island drinking, Caliban proposes to Stephano that he can become king of the island if he kills Prospero. In that case, Caliban says, Trinculo "shalt be lord of it, and I'll serve thee." Stephano asks how it will be "compassed," and Caliban replies, "I'll yield him thee asleep." In other words, Caliban will present Prospero to Stephano while Prospero takes his afternoon nap. First, Caliban explains, they must take possession of all Prospero's books and burn them. Without his books, Prospero is "but a sot, as I am," and is unable to control the spirits of the island. This suggests Caliban has attempted to take Prospero's life before, unsuccessfully; he now hopes that Stephano will accomplish the deed. If not, Stephano, not Caliban, will suffer the onslaughts of the spirits. 

Caliban attempts to further motivate Stephano to make the attack by telling him that when he has killed Prospero, he will have all Prospero's "brave utensils," that is, his splendid household goods. Not only that, he will take possession of Miranda, who is "a nonpareil." Stephano likes that idea, imagining himself and Miranda as king and queen of the island.

Caliban suggests three possible ways of murdering Prospero. First, Stephano can "brain him," battering his skull with a log. This is a play on words; previously Trinculo had admitted that the three of them were fools, and that "if th' other two be brained like us, the state totters." Caliban's other suggestions are to "paunch him with a stake," that is, stab him in the belly, or to "cut his weasand with thy knife," or slice his throat (windpipe). 

The dramatic irony of the scene is that Ariel is present and listening to the plot. He states in an aside, "This will I tell my master." 

Sources:

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