Batter His Skull, or Paunch Him With a Stake

The delight that Caliban seems to achieve from visualizing Prospero’s death is apparent in his enthusiastic instructions to Stephano, “Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake”. Shakespeare uses this incredibly violent imagery to highlight Caliban’s barbarity but to also inspire the audience to wonder why he hasn’t killed Prospero before now. Shakespeare may be doing this to highlight that although Caliban is aggressive and barbaric, he is essentially of good character, certainly better than the ‘civilised’ duo, Trinculo and Stephano who plan to kill a man they have no reason to hate.

Caliban, however seems justified in his hatred towards Prospero and Miranda and the reason stems from Caliban’s regret in willingly showing them everything he had learnt on the island, “fresh springs, brine-pits… cursed be that I did so”, for Prospero used this knowledge to take over the Island and enslave Caliban for minor jobs, “serves in offices that profit us”. The enslavement however would seem justified to an Elizabethan audience who would look upon Caliban, because he is a witch’s son, as unworthy of anything than to serve Prospero.

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However, in Caliban’s evident desire to usurp Prospero and in his constant rebellion, Shakespeare undermines the idea and presents an opinion contrary to the general attitude of the time as Caliban responds, “This Island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother”. Possession by way of inheritance although sensible in the “natural” order of things differs greatly to that of the arrogant claims upon discovery which the early settlers such as Prospero practiced.

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Prospero enslaved not only Caliban but all the spirits of the Island too are shown to be at his command.

Prospero is illustrated as almost God-like in his demonstration of power. Caliban “must obey, his art is of such power… control Setebos”. Again a direct link to the natives of the ‘new world’ as Setebos is a god of the south American Indians, the Patagonians. Prospero’s comparison to God is also highlighted when Ferdinand speaks of Ariel, “it waits upon some God o’ th’ island” and at the end of the play when Gonzalo thanks the gods for they “have chalked forth the way which brought us hither”. However he is actually describing what Prospero has done.

Shakespeare may be using these comparisons to please a sixteenth century monarchy which was supposedly chosen by God, or to simply emphasize the amount of power Prospero has obtained under his pitiless command. In this way, Shakespeare is showing that he disagrees with the colonisation of America by presenting the way in which Caliban has been exploited by every “civilised” being who meets him. The injustice that Caliban is subjected to implies that Shakespeare sees the early settlers as cruel and mercenary, indeed at one point he shows the whole of “civilised” English society to be just this.

When Trinculo happens upon Caliban, he thinks of the money to be gained by exhibiting the “strange fish” in England. He goes on to say that the English “will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar… lay out ten to see a dead Indian”. Here Shakespeare portrays the fascination of the newly “discovered” world in the 16th century and how it’s “exhibitions” were mistreated to the point of death. The relationship between the advanced and the primitive can be assessed through their similarities and differences in their style of language and of their innate characters.

Caliban we already know to be violent in his choice of words “batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake” but what of the other characters? In plotting to kill his own brother Sebastian is shown to be just as malicious, so too Antonio even if their speech contains some wit, “and look how well my garments sit upon me”. By this, Antonio is not referring to the clothes he is wearing but to his situation in life, here saying that he Is naturally suited to the role of Duke. Shakespeare uses this figurative imagery show Antonio’s blasphemous character that he would dare to assume a role that is not his.

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Batter His Skull, or Paunch Him With a Stake. (2017, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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