Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Enchanted island

Enchanted island. Remote home of the rightful duke of Milan, Prospero, as well as his daughter Miranda and his slave Caliban. Presumably the almost deserted island is in the Mediterranean Sea, but it resembles the tropical islands of even more remote seas around the world that European navigators were beginning to discover during William Shakespeare’s time. Europeans were coming to expect far-off islands to be home to strange creatures and peoples, such as Prospero’s islander slave, Caliban. To the Europeans, remote tropical islands also seemed like earthly paradises, recalling myths of an original Golden Age or a new Utopia.

Such earthly paradises—or any new lands, for that matter—were starting to be occupied by Europeans without much regard for their original inhabitants. A microcosm of this developing colonial mentality exists in The Tempest, whose island originally belonged to Caliban, who is described as a “savage” and “monster.” After becoming stranded on the island with his young daughter, Prospero at first coexists peacefully with Caliban. However, when Caliban tries to mate with Miranda, Prospero takes over the island and enslaves Caliban.

What enables Prospero to enslave Caliban so easily is his knowledge gained from books (much superior to the black magic of Caliban’s mother, a witch). Through this knowledge, Prospero is able to torture Caliban’s joints and give him nightmares. Prospero uses the same knowledge to draw his European enemies to the island, stir up a storm that shipwrecks them, and harass them until they beg forgiveness. Prospero is an archetypal figure of the scientist, and his abilities to play music in the air, control the weather, and call on spirits to do his bidding make the island a science and technology museum.