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The Importance of the Comic Sub-plot in The Tempest
The comic sub-plot has various uses for the play. It brings light
relief&ndash without it, it would be a very dramatic play, if not boring.
As because Prospero controls the whole island we know that nothing can
really happen that he doesn&rsquot want to, so the play is lacking
tension and the comic sub-plot prevents it from being a very boring play.
Drunkness is amusing anyway, they fall about and say stupid things which
is entertaining for us, plus this is Caliban's first drink and we
recognise the feelings he expresses for this&lsquo celestial liquor&rsquo
and makes it all the more funny. That Caliban sees these two fools as
kings also makes it amusing&ndash&lsquo I prithee, be my God&rsquo as
Trinculo says&lsquo A most ridiculous monster, to make a wonder of a poor
drunkard!&rsquo. When he sees what they are later he is disgusted with
himself&ndash&lsquo What a thrice-double ass Was I, to take this drunkard
for a god, And worship this dull fool!&rsquo
As well as providing humour, this trust of Caliban&rsquos echoes his
former trust for Prospero. He hasn&rsquot learned from when Prospero
turned on him, his naïvety shows through his trust and adoration of the
wine. Through the&lsquo aside&rsquo comments of Trinculo and Stephano we
know they are using and teasing him. Its in this situation we feel almost
sorry for Caliban, this&lsquo abhorred slave&rsquo, this&lsquo
demi-devil&rsquo is still very trusting and doesn&rsquot he have reason
to hate Prospero? He is an animal, with animal instincts and cannot be
trained otherwise. Though Prospero is understandably angry that he
tried&lsquo to violate the honour&rsquo of Miranda, but he is overly
harsh with him. The sub-plot shows us how Caliban is trusting yet again,
and we can see how affectionate he would have been to Prospero when he
first arrived on the island, and how understandably bitter he would be
when his master turned on him.
This is an echo of the theme of usurpation, Prospero usurped from his
dukedom, Caliban usurped from his island&ndash Prospero tries to get his
dukedom back and Caliban tries to get his island back at the first
opportunity. It would seem at the end that justice has prevailed,
forgiveness over vengeance, good over evil, but really just Prospero has
prevailed, he successfully usurped and successfully got un-usurped.
Caliban is shown as the most naïve of the three, but he is the cleverest.
He knows Prospero&rsquos power is in his books, he knows that the robes
Stephano and Trinculo are duped by are&lsquo but trash&rsquo and above
all he speaks some of the most beautiful poetry of the play.
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Shakespeare has sympathy with the character and wants us to feel it also.
This is linked to the issue of colonisation, Prospero assumes he was
doing good for Caliban when he tried to educate him, but&lsquo You taught
me language; and my profit on&rsquot is, I know how to curse&rsquo.
Prospero thinks Caliban is completely ungrateful for what he did for him,
but he came and immediately took charge as he thought he was superior,
taking Caliban&rsquos island from him. The sub-plot makes us give thought
on why Caliban has reason for seeking to kill Prospero, other than just
assuming he is evil.
The comic sub-plot also echoes the theme of man&rsquos greed for power.
Sebastian and Antonio have an obvious greed for power, Stephano and
Trinculo do as well. They are just a butler and a jester, when the
possibility for power arose they took it immediately and without
conscience about using Caliban. I think the theme of class and&lsquo
natural hierarchy is there also, they are duped by the trash Prospero
sets for them, indicating that they aren&rsquot cut out for power
naturally, if they were meant to rule they would see that it was
superficial and real power is more than that. Which is presumably what
Prospero would see as he is meant to be in power.
What the sub-plot also touches on is the idea that left unattended evil
will grow. Sebastian and Antonio at the end aren&rsquot remorseful, they
stop because they are caught not because of their conscience. Evil has to
be watched constantly or else it will start to work. This applies to
Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo, it is the idea that because they are away
from their masters they all plot together to overthrow them. This
reflects the mistrust and disrespect the&lsquo noble&rsquo men of the
time had for their servants.
Overall the sub-plot is a comical undramatic version of the main events,
giving relief to the fiery vengeance of Prospero and allowing comparisons
to be drawn&ndash why do we think Prospero should have his revenge but
not Caliban his?