Student Question

What does Prospero mean by "This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine" in Act 5, Scene 1 of The Tempest, and how does it relate to his relationship with Caliban?

"This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine" (act 5, scene 1).

Quick answer:

In Act 5, Scene 1 of The Tempest, Prospero's phrase "This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine" refers to Caliban and his state of servitude. Prospero dehumanizes Caliban by calling him a "thing" and views him as property rather than a person. This reflects their complex relationship, where Caliban resents Prospero's control and sees himself as the rightful ruler of the island.

Expert Answers

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When he speaks of acknowledging the “thing of darkness” in act 5, scene 1, of The Tempest, Prospero is referring to Caliban and his state of servitude. Calling a person a thing dehumanizes them and conveys Prospero’s belief in Caliban’s inferiority. “Darkness” can refer literally to the color of Caliban’s skin, as Prospero has referred to his “vile race.” Figuratively, the use of darkness can imply Caliban’s bad intentions and behavior—especially his participation in the treacherous plans to depose Prospero—as well as both his association with harmful kinds of magic.

The degree of truth in the statement can be interpreted differently according to the characters’ perspectives. Both the dehumanizing terminology and Prospero’s claim that Caliban is “mine” reinforce the idea that Prospero views Caliban as his property, meaning he is a slave rather than a servant. In act 1, scene 2, Prospero addresses Caliban as a slave: “Thou most lying slave” and “Abhorred slave.”

Caliban has expressed his resentment of Prospero’s attitudes and his view that the magician’s claim of rulership is illegitimate, and privately notes that he must obey Prospero’s powerful magic. In the same scene, Caliban states that he is the actual owner or ruler, even the “king,” of the island.

This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,

Which thou takest from me.

He also accuses Prospero of treating him like an animal, a pig, by comparing his confinement to living in a “sty.”

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