Ariel and Caliban

Question: Compare and contrast Ariel and Caliban in The Tempest in as many ways as you can.


Both Ariel and Caliban play a significant role in The Tempest composed by William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Both of them are non-human creatures. While Ariel is the pure spirit of air and fire, Caliban is associated with earth and ugliness. These two creatures have different propensities and attitudes regarding their occupation, freedom, and their relation to their master Prospero. Ariel is light-hearted and joyous with a natural gift for music. In contrast, Caliban is morose, cheerless, and ever complaining against his master.

The role of the servants

Both Ariel and Caliban are servants to Prospero. Ariel is a supernatural spirit and an obedient servant of Prospero. His ranges of activities are wide. As he says to Prospero that he can do anything: “be’t to fly, / To swim to dive into the fire, to ride /On the curled clouds”. In the past, Ariel visited the ocean floor, the freezing north wind, and the underground river. It is Ariel who caused terror on Alonso’s ship, inducing the inmates to jump into the water. He arranges the accident in such a way that the passengers are scattered on the island without facing any injury. While Ariel is a fiery spirit, Prospero terms Caliban as “Thou Caliban is described as “A freckled whelp, hag-born-not honoured with / A human shape”. When Trinculo and Stephano see him first, they tend to think of him like a fish and think of the possibility of showing him to make his fortune in England. Stephano considers him first as some monster of the isle and then as a devil.

Freedom seeker

Like Ariel, Caliban does many works for Prospero. Prospero says “He does make our fire, Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices That profit us”. However, unlike Ariel Caliban always works for Prospero reluctantly and only under threat. Caliban is rebellious from the very beginning. Caliban curses Prospero and also complains that Prospero torments him for the slightest offence. Like Caliban, Ariel also seeks liberty from Prospero’s yoke but he does not have the revolutionary zeal like Caliban. When Prospero reminds that he saved Ariel from the confinement of the witch named Sycorax, Prospero easily tames Ariel into submission by threatening him with a further twelve years’ imprisonment. When Prospero says that he will set Ariel free but before that he must obey his command, we find that Ariel always complies with Prospero’s wish.

The exemplified colonial ideology

The relationship between Prospero and Caliban exemplifies the catastrophic issue which is certainly an ideology raised by the colonialists. For example, when Caliban says, “This island mine, by Sycorax, my mother. / which thou tak’st from me “, we see Prospero as the usurper on the island, who came to the island, making Caliban his slave. Caliban’s experience is a typical example of what happens to any race subjugated to colonization. Again, when Prospero says that Caliban is “A devil, a born devil, on whose nature / Nature can never stick”, we find that he is asserting the white man’s burden as a civilizer of the world. However, we also find that his view of nature is a limited one. He has trained Caliban as a slave, he does not give him a real education as he gives it to Miranda. It is true that Caliban is vulnerable to lust and treachery, but these are fundamental aspects of raw nature and are parts of humanity.

On the other hand, the relation between Prospero and Ariel does not entail any such tension. Ariel has a prospect of the smooth transition from servitude to freedom. As Prospero says:

My Ariel, chick

That is thy charge; then to the elements

Be free, and fare thou well! (Act 5, Sc. 1).

In contrast, to Caliban liberty means shifting obedience from one master to another. On his first meeting with Stephano and Trinculo, he becomes a willing servant, as he says:

I’ll show thee the best springs: I will pluck thee berries:

I’ll fish for thee, and get thee wood enough. (Act 2, Sc. 2).

Thus, Shakespeare seeds the seeds of colonization through the reversed nature of Ariel and Caliban.

Conspiratorial and intelligent servants

Caliban also proposes a plan to kill Prospero and Stephano agrees to him. In contrast, Ariel still works an obedient spirit. He hears their conspiracy and plays a mischievous role to cause quarrel among the three conspirators. He then reports to Prospero about the plot. He then assumes the shape of a Harpy and reprimands Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio, the three men of sin “for the mistreatment they showed to Prospero twelve years before. In this way, he arouses their conscience. Finally, he lures Caliban and his fellow conspirators into Prospero’s cell. Thus he perfectly performs his duty as Prospero’s servant. Except in only one event at the beginning of the play, when he demands his liberty. Ariel remains on good terms with his master. He also shows his passionate and compassionate nature. He comes as a benevolent spirit to Alonso and Gonzalo, waking them from sleep before they are about to be killed by Sebastian and Antonio. He induces Prospero to forgive Alonso, Gonzalo and others, saying that their lives are really miserable and they deserve pity. Prompted by Ariel Prospero initiates reconciliation with his former enemies.


Thus a study of the two characters, namely Ariel and Caliban, shows that they stand poles apart in their attitudes and behavior. While Caliban represents raw nature, Ariel represents finer feelings. In this sense, they can be regarded as two opposite impulses existing within the same man, Prospero. Ariel has the gift of music, while Caliban often shows his poetic sense in describing the beauty of the island. One of them is obedient, while another is rebellious. Ariel’s behavior reveals healthy master-servant relationships. In contrast, Caliban exemplifies that fact what happens if someone who has a desire for freedom is forced into slavery.

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SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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