In William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Trinculo is a minor comic character whose main ambition is to align himself with whomever is the perceived leader in any situation he finds himself in. He is an intrinsically sociable person, and he gains whatever social rank he can through positioning himself in accordance with those around him, but never seeks to be the leader. In this way, he is the perfect jester, always seeking to stand by the king's side.
The trio of Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban is formed in Act II, scene ii, when first Trinculo, and then Stephano, make their first appearances in the play. When Trinculo comes onstage in line 19, he believes he is alone on a strange island with a storm looming. In the process of looking for shelter, he stumbles upon Caliban, whom he initially does not recognize to be human, but believes to be 'a strange fish.' (II.ii.25-26) Stephano appears next and the dynamics of the trio is immediately apparent with Stephano as the leader.
Stephano's source of power comes, as much from the wine he possesses, as from his natural acceptance of being worshipped by Caliban. Contrasting Stephano's natural leadership is Trinculo, who evolves from being a person alone, utterly terrified, and seemingly grateful to be able lie next to a dead islander to bear out the storm, to a person who stands next to that not-so-dead islander's object of adoration, Stephano, and criticizes the islander for being such 'a most ridiculous monster, to make a wonder of a poor drunkard.' (II.ii.135)
By the end of Act II, scene ii, Trinculo is confident he is aligned with his new leader, Stephano, when Stephano proclaim...
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... their social status restored. But Stephano does not follow their example. He does not show remorse for his actions, but shows attitude instead. When Prospero asks Stephano, 'You'd be king o' the isle, sirrah.' (V.i.284), Stephano arrogantly responds, 'I should have been a sore one then.' (V.i.285)
So Trinculo follows a new leader, who also happens to be his old leader. We have learned that he doesn't posses the independence or leadership that Stephano dared to. But instead, Trinculo is happy following, as long as he is held in some kind of position of esteem. We can almost hear him on his way back to the ship now, telling King Alonso, 'Wilt come? I'll follow.' (III.ii.136)
Damrosch, David, ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Second Edition,
Volumn 1B: The Early Modern Period. New York: Longman Publishers, 2003.
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