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5 of Crowns - Caliban

Dramatis Personae: Caliban; Trinculo; Stephano.

Text & Context: The Tempest is a forced dialogue between nature and art, civilization and the pastoral, Utopia and Arcadia, the political and the ideal. Caliban is caught somewhere in between. Prospero's pet, Caliban's tutoring is abruptly stopped when he expresses natural sexual desire for Miranda. Sex is an aspect and function of life on earth, highly regulated and hypocritically addressed in civilized society. In this, with his patient relocation of wood, the almost comically limp Ferdinand is Caliban's antithesis. 

 The buffoonery of Trinculo and Stephano and the business about the 4-legged monster strike modern viewers as decidedly unfunny, but the comedic poverty here is intended. The drunken butler-come-pretender and the dim-witted clown and would-be impresario are no nurse of Juliet's nor doorman of Macbeth's, they represent the poverty of society, the underbelly of social order. It is the earthy Caliban who elevates these scoundrels to god and lord and who conspires to murder Prospero and set Stephano up as king. But as we see, when the time comes, Stephano and Trinculo are easily duped by the glistering trappings of civilization; their gulling but the acting out of their vain and base innards. In this they are lower-key versions of their upper-class kinsmen, Sebastian and Antonio. Caliban, for his part, keeps his eye on the greater political picture, but it's in his original pursuit of a kinder master that his part-education and part-intuition fail him.


 At the end of The Tempest, Caliban's fate remains unclear. Does he return with the others to civilized Milan or re-inherit his island?  Can his betterment mean anything other than detriment? And if he stays, alone, like a domesticated animal reintroduced into the wild, what might his liberation mean?

Subtext: As Ariel represents the Poetic muse as seen in The World card, and Prospero signifies the author as shown on The Magican, Caliban is symbolic of the apprentice hack work de Vere did with fellow writers at Fisher's Folly, for the Queen her Queen's Men, and the often highly abridged plays performed on public stage - "clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar" as T&C has it. Many of the plays written for the national theater troupe The Queen's Men were revised, elaborated, and brought to maturity by Oxford over years; these include King Leir, The Famous Histories of Henry the Fifth, The Troublesome Reign of King John, and Richard III. At Fisher's Folly, Oxford collaborated with Lyly, Munday, Lodge, Greene, and others, which Trinculo tauntingly alludes to: "he smells like a fish; a very ancient and fish- like smell; a kind of not of the newest." With his dreams of making "pieces of silver" [a la Judas Iscariot] back in England from public showings of CalibanTrinculo himself is a satire on theater impresarios such as Henslowe and Evans. This is why he and Stephano are waylaid by a simple wardrobe of costumes.

 "This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine" Prospero admits of Caliban. In his mother Sycorax then, who locked away the muse Ariel in a pine, can be seen the Queen of The Queen's Men. Like Queen Dido, also from Tunisia, originally Queen Elissa from Tyre, whose husband - murdered by her brother Pygmalion - was named Sychaeus, and who mapped out her empire with an ox hide and in founding her capital excavated an ox-head. Sycorax, it will be recalled, worshiped the god Setabos - bos, Latin for "ox" - and Caliban is called a moon-calf five times. 


 In the end, Caliban will stay on the island, as will The Tempest's other characters. For this island, part New World Patagonia, part Caribbean Bermoothes, part Mediterranean island Vulcano, is all Old World England. Caliban, as the grunt work, will stay, while Caliban and  the rest of the cast will canvas the world. 

Intertext: The Magician I Prospero; The World XXI The Globe.

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