How does Prospero control Caliban in The Tempest?

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Prospero has control over Caliban in two ways: Caliban's animalistic nature responds to affection and attention with fondness, and Prospero's magic enables him to use his servant without being at all subject to Caliban's will. Caliban, the son of a witch and a demon, is "half-devil" by birth, but also half-human—he is the offspring of Sycorax and the "airy spirit." (1.2.25) He is described as an uncivilized monster who has no language (1.2.25), who lives naked in caves on the island with wild animals (1.2.26) that he calls his brothers (5.1.155).

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Caliban himself explains how it is that Prospero came to have control over him. We know that Caliban is at least partly animalistic, perhaps more animal than human; he is described as having been "litter'd" like a puppy, the offspring of Sycorax the witch and the Devil.

Like an animal, then, he responds to affection and empathy—in act 1, scene 2, Caliban says (speaking to Prospero) that when Prospero first arrived, "thou strok'st me and made much of me," like a man trying to gain the favour of a cat. This worked—Caliban was then happy to show Prospero all the "fruits" of the island, in return for what seems to be Prospero teaching Caliban language: "how to name the bigger light and how the less/That burned by day and night."

After this, Caliban says, he loved Prospero; before Prospero, we can infer, nobody had ever showed Caliban kindness or attention, and Caliban responded in kind, learning readily what he was taught and teaching Prospero how to survive on the island.

Of course, this state of happiness does not last, as it seems Caliban is unable to control his animalistic nature, but, with Prospero at least, Caliban's animalism drives him to respond to fondness with fondness.

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The relationship between Caliban and Prospero starts off on a reasonably positive note. Prospero shows Caliban affection, and Caliban himself speaks of feeling love for Prospero. So at first, Prospero is able to control Caliban the way anyone who is on the receiving end of an emotional attachment can control the one who loves. Prospero also goes on to try to educate Caliban and to teach him how to speak, so the power dynamic grows in Prospero's favor as he is the teacher to Caliban's pupil.

Everything changes when Caliban tries to rape Miranda, Prospero's daughter, and the tables turn for a time, when Caliban is revealed to have some power over Prospero through Caliban's potential strength and potential ability to overpower Miranda and hurt her. Then Prospero resorts to control by force and fear, punishing Caliban for his crime with intimidation, spells, and physical pain.

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Caliban is the son of Sycorax, a witch who had controlled the island before Prospero got there.  We are not exactly told how Prospero got control of the island, but since he landed there, he has been the one in control of the island.

Prospero is able to control the spirits of the island.  By using these spirits, he is able to control Caliban as well.  If you look at the parts where Caliban talks to Stephano, you can see him talking about how Prospero uses spirits to control him -- he talks about how they will hurt him if he does not obey Prospero.

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How does Prospero tame Caliban in The Tempest?

Prospero teaches Caliban basic skills and then continually threatens him. 

Caliban believes the island is his by right, not Propsero’s. Prospero has magic, though, and can make the inhabitants of the island obey his will. He is particularly cruel with Caliban because he believes Caliban tried to assault his daughter Miranda. Prospero uses Caliban as a slave and punishes him relentlessly. 

When Prospero first landed on the island, he seems to have had a better relationship with Caliban. Caliban showed him where to find food and fresh water, and Prospero and Miranda taught Caliban their language and other features of their culture, such as the Man in the Moon. Then Caliban targeted Miranda, and that was it. 


Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child. (Act 1, Scene 2) 

Caliban doesn’t deny it, he just says he wishes he was successful because he would have “peopled else/This isle with Calibans.” As a result of this conflict, Prospero calls Caliban his slave, and constantly threatens him with violence.


If thou neglect'st or dost unwillingly
What I command, I'll rack thee with old cramps,
Fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar
That beasts shall tremble at thy din.


No, pray thee.


I must obey: his art is of such power,
It would control my dam's god, Setebos,
and make a vassal of him. (Act I, Scene 2) 

Caliban knows that, as long as Prospero has magic, there is little he can do. That’s why Caliban tries to convince Trinculo and Stephano to kill Prospero. The three bumble through the rest of the play until Prospero finally forgives Caliban when he gives up his magic and leaves the island.

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