The Tempest 2: Greed, Wrath and Lust

Why does Caliban in The Tempest choose forgiveness and mercy over revenge? James Garnon explains his choice, as well as when children can start seeing Shakespeare plays.


What is The Tempest really about?

Well the plot of The Tempest on the face of it is quite simple. A group of people have been stranded on an island by a magician. But he’s basically debating whether or not to take revenge on them and instead is learning that he needs to forgive and show mercy. But that’s true of the other characters. Caliban feels wronged by Prospero. He wants to have Prospero killed. He wants to take the island back but he too needs to learn that actually forgiveness and mercy is the better road. We also get an opportunity to see Prospero as a parent, because for the Elizabethans of course a king was a kind of parent. So Prospero’s daughter Miranda is important. But also too Caliban, who is in a way Prospero’s son. We get to see how a bad parent produces a bad son. And we get to see that dynamic play out. So there’s lots of different forms of interest, lots of different things that we can see.

Playing Caliban in The Tempest

Caliban is a very interesting part in that he’s described by all the other characters in the play in so many different ways: he’s a monster, he’s a demi-devil, he’s a fish, he’s a moon-calf, he’s deformed. A lot of these things are contradictory. How can he be a devil and a fish and a moon-calf and a deformed human? I think for an Elizabethan mind Caliban would have struck them as being a devil. As I say, he has all the vices: greed, wrath, lust. All the really bad things that people think drive them, Caliban has. But he’s also kept human by Shakespeare. He doesn’t have any magic. He clearly is in love with Miranda, desperately in love, but has been rejected by her and by Prospero. So his fury is coming from a place of love too. So that’s how I started, was not wanting to rule anything out but try and keep everything in. So then you find a design that suits that and then you try also to do a realistic, naturalistic thing which is to imagine what it’s like to be someone who was deserted on an island as a baby, his mother dies before Prospero finds him, and he’s been left as a small child on an island surrounded by wild animals. There’s a lot of complicated, interesting things you can do psychologically, you know, from research and through design.

What is the best age to start seeing Shakespeare’s plays?

I have a ten-year-old son – in fact I have two sons, a ten- and a seven-year-old – and my ten-year-old has been coming and seeing Shakespeare since he was five. He saw All’s Well That Ends Well when he was about five and a half and he’s never been frightened of it, and he has now seen eight or so different Shakespeare plays, but because he was never told to worry about it he’s always understood it. I find it extraordinary. He on his own learnt ‘To be or not to be’ one afternoon just because he wanted to. And that’s thrilling. I have another son who’s seven. He likes doing. He likes playing. He’s not interested in sitting still and watching. And when he’s come to the theatre he’s been bored rigid. And I completely understand both attitudes. I hate being in the theatre and watching. I love being in the theatre and playing. But I’m delighted that one of my sons can listen to the language and not be frightened by it. So, you know, Shakespeare is not something that anyone should feel they have to like, or have to sit and watch. It’s something you can come and go from. 

Task 1

Task 2

Task 3

We use the past simple to talk about a finished time in the past:

     I went to the theatre a lot when I was at university.

We use the present perfect ('have/has' + past participle) to talk about a time which started in the past and continues now:

     I have been to the theatre six times this year.

     I have never been to the theatre in my life.


Task 4


Language level

Average: 2.5 (2 votes)

Submitted by Evgeny N on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 13:21

Dear teachers, I have one question about Task 2. In the second question, in this task, the main point to understand in which age oldest Jame's son saw his first Shakespeare's play. I chose 5 years old: I have a ten-year-old son – in fact I have two sons, a ten- and a seven-year-old – and my ten-year-old has been coming and seeing Shakespeare since he was five. But correct answer is 5 1/2 years old: He saw All’s Well That Ends Well when he was about five and a half. Please explain to me where I made a mistake because in my opinion he has been seeing Shakespeare since he was five. In the the age of 5 1/2 years he saw just this play and there isn't a question about seeing that particular play ("All’s Well That Ends Well" ) Best regards, Evgeny

Hello Evgeny N,

When we say someone is a certain age, it covers 12 months of life. In other words, if we say a person is 5 then they could in fact be anything from 5 years and 1 minute to 5 years, 11 months, 30 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes old. It's quite an imprecise measure.

In the interview, the context is quite clear. James is providing more detail of when his son saw his first play, not just commenting randomly on one of the plays he has seen.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter M, Thank you very much indeed for this explanation! Evgeny

Submitted by ignacio perez on Sun, 05/05/2019 - 07:37

First time I saw a play it was at four or five years old. It was a children adapted play. It was a puppet play. Theatre has always fascinated me.

Submitted by Néstor Serrano on Fri, 20/07/2018 - 17:15

Hi! When I was a child in the 70's there's no many oportunities here in Nicaragua to see an excelent Shakespeare play, I was remembering that in those years the Rubén Darío Theatre was opening and functioning but It was a little few plays to see. However, I saw by the TV some interesting movies about it. My childrens didn't have to visit the theatre, but I hope that one day, we can do it. They have been seen some plays by the internet and I tell them some ideas about the history of the life of the actors.