What Then To Do About Caliban, Stephano?

So for other unrelated reasons I found myself reading the bit in The Tempest where Ariel starts to drive a wedge between Stephano and Trinculo by shouting “Thou liest!” and making them accuse each other. Even just reading the script, that is a funny, funny scene:


Why, what did I? I did nothing. I’ll go farther



Didst thou not say he lied?


Thou liest.


Do I so? take thou that.

Beats TRINCULOAs you like this, give me the lie another time.


I did not give the lie. Out o’ your

wits and bearing too? A pox o’ your bottle!

this can sack and drinking do. A murrain on

your monster, and the devil take your fingers!


Ha, ha, ha!


Now, forward with your tale. Prithee, stand farther



Beat him enough: after a little time

I’ll beat him too.

The way that Shakespeare actually writes in a laugh for Caliban? And how Caliban, no doubt cowering near Stephano, gets off the line about “beat him some more, and then I’ll beat him too!” They just end up looking like bumbling fools here, something out of the Three Stooges, with Stephano as Moe.
But…. earlier they were talking not just about stealing Prospero’s books, but about bashing his head in. This made me think of that particular scene in Taymor’s movie where Alfred Molina, as Stephano, and yes, Russell Brand as Trinculo did manage to give off a rather evil vibe, as if for a moment you really did think that you were looking at a couple of stone cold killers.
So I’m wondering, which is it? Are these three buffoons *ever* any threat to Prospero? Does Ariel take them seriously at all? When I tell this story to my kids I never say “Yeah they’re gonna kill Prospero”, I only ever say “they’re going to try and steal his books, because they think that’s where all the magic is.”
What do you think? Should there be a credible threat in this play, or is that story line all about comedy? I think that I’d rather play up the violence in Sebastian and Antonio, since they are the real enemy – show just how powerful Prospero is that he’s so easily manipulating these notorious bad guys.
(* I would include Trinculo in my title but I’ve been in a Jesus Christ Superstar mood lately and the line above maps nicely the “What then to do about Jesus of Nazareth?” song that’s been stuck in my head for days.)

2 thoughts on “What Then To Do About Caliban, Stephano?

  1. I had the pleasure of playing Stephano this last year and that was an issue we struggled with…and I think there can be room for both…they are the comedy, the bumbling fools, whether by lot or alcohol. But they don't see themselves as such, so while Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban screw up every plan they muster, they can still portray themselves as having a really great idea. I also don't think they're evil or should be portrayed as such because they believe they are helping this poor creature…in a dilluded way but helping none the less. The beauty of Shakespeare's writing is that he gives you the tools to make every character multi-dimentional, including to fools that believe they have found their own private kingdom.

  2. The thing is I'm not sure if the play makes it very clear what the full extent of Prospero's powers are and, by extension, how much of a threat Trinculo and Stephano really present. For example, Prospero's abilities seem rather limited when his elaborate pageant is cut short by the assasination plot.

    Also, despite Caliban's complaints, it's not entirely clear if those misfortunes he attributes to magic are actually set upon him by Prospero and not by the natural world instead.

    My recent vacation got me thinking about this very problem. If you're interested in further thoughts, check out my blog:


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