This thing of darkness
Mark but the badges of these men, my lords,
Then say if they be true. This misshapen knave—
His mother was a witch. . . .
These three have robb'd me, and this demi-devil—
For he's a bastard one—had plotted with them
To take my life. Two of these fellows you
Must know and own; this thing of darkness I
I shall be pinch'd to death.
The once and future Duke Prospero of Milan and his daughter are
stranded on an island with the native "demi-devil" Caliban, the
bastard son of a witch and a demon. Caliban is compelled into
servitude, and Prospero keeps him in line by having the local
spirits administer pinches when necessary.
In more recent days, Prospero and his spirits have shipwrecked
his treacherous brother Antonio (now the duke) and other nemeses on
the island. Toward the end of the play, after torturing them
for four acts, he gives them a direct piece of his mind. In this
scene, two drunks stumble in with Caliban, after Prospero has
foiled their inept plot to seize the island. By their "badges"
(emblems of their master), the men are identified as Antonio's
lackeys, and Prospero dryly asks his brother whether his servants
"be true" (are honest). But his contempt for them is more than
matched by his disgust at his own rebellious slave, "this thing of
darkness" which Prospero must "acknowledge mine."
Prospero's phrase recalls the way the clown Touchstone describes
his rustic fiancée in the comedy As You Like It: "A poor virgin,
sir, an ill-favor'd thing, sir, but mine own; a poor humor of mine,
sir, to take that that no man else will" (Act 5, scene 4).
Touchstone's "humanitarian" realism stands in marked contrast to
Prospero's unforgiving vilification of the often sympathetic