Miranda as Caliban’s teacher? and, carefully taught herself… (1.2.352-363) #StormTossed

MIRANDA                              Abhorred slave,

Which any print of goodness wilt not take,

Being capable of all ill; I pitied thee,

Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour

One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage,

Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like

A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes

With words that made them known. But thy vile race

(Though thou didst learn) had that in’t which good natures

Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou

Deservedly confined into this rock,

Who hadst deserved more than a prison. (1.2.352-363)


Miranda sounds like her father at first, calling Caliban abhorred slave, and condemning him as uneducable, incapable of reform, of learning anything, either intellectually or morally. The metaphor – which any print of goodness wilt not take – is an ancient one, of wax, used for a seal or for a writing tablet (still ubiquitous in early modern England) – hence the idea of making an impression, or of being impressionable. Caliban is too hard already; he is hard earth, rock, he cannot be significantly shaped or changed. Intellectual and moral education are inseparable here, as they were more generally in the humanist educational tradition. But the description that Miranda gives is in some ways a touching one, and much depends on how Caliban’s age, relative to hers, is imagined. Was he already an adult, an adolescent, when Prospero and Miranda came to the island? How old was he when his mother died? Are we to imagine a younger child trying to teach an older one to speak, a shared childhood, therefore? Or a child teaching an adult? Either is potentially poignant. And Miranda’s details are sharp: I interpreted for you. When you made no sense, but wouldst gabble like a thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes with words that made them known. When you couldn’t make yourself understood, when you didn’t know what you meant yourself (really?) I helped. Or: I put words into your mouth. Miranda’s past actions can have had the best intentions, have been motivated by kindness, and still have been a form of control, powerplay, and yes, imperialism. Caliban learned – evidently – because he certainly has language, can make himself understood, with eloquence, precision, and passionate force. But – and is this Prospero speaking again? Miranda has been carefully taught herself: she now thinks her trying to teach Caliban was pointless, because thy vile race had that in’t which good natures could not abide to be with. Nasty, especially to modern ears, and it’s little help, really, to be able to point out that race in early modern usage doesn’t easily map on to shifting ideas about ethnicity, identity, and ‘race’ as a category, political, ideological, or legal. As Miranda uses race here (parroting her father?), it could suggest the qualities Caliban has inherited from his wicked mother and apparently demonic father. But, whatever, Caliban is unregenerate in the eyes of Miranda as much as Prospero, and deserving of his punishment. (Is the suggestion that his attack on Miranda happened quite recently?) And a final kick: you’re lucky you’ve just been confined, shut up in a rock, a cell. Because you deserved worse than prison. (Death, presumably.) Miranda’s own virtue here is further affirmed here by her not going into any further details about Caliban’s attack; she is modest and discreet. This is a key moment for the choices being made by a production as to Caliban’s appearance and characterisation and casting. But it’s potentially a sharp intake of breath moment, even more so because this is Miranda speaking.

View 2 comments on “Miranda as Caliban’s teacher? and, carefully taught herself… (1.2.352-363) #StormTossed

  1. You probably already knew that Rowe followed the Folios and kept the speech assigned to Miranda, as did Pope. Theobald thought it unbecoming and changed sp to Prospero, albeit with extended explanation. Rowe knew from angry women in his own plays, so Miranda’s feelings not a shocker.

    1. Thank you! I have deliberately not got into textual things here (and C18/C19 editorial tradition a long way out of my expertise), but that’s a neat addition to have. I like Miranda – her straightforwardness is one of her most appealing qualities! (Prospero has quite enough to say, too…)

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