The four-legged Monster

Act 2 Scene 2 – Key Scene

In this scene Caliban hides under his gabardine because he thinks Prospero has sent spirits to torment him for being too slow. Trinculo thinks a storm is brewing again and is looking for shelter. He decides he has no choice but to crawl under the gabardine despite the horrible smell. Stephano comes along, very drunk, and thinks Caliban and Trinculo are a strange monster with four legs and two mouths.

You can take a look at an extract from this scene and watch it in performance here. Using these steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look
    Take a look at these two extracts from the scene. How do the characters speak? Are they using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.
    Here comes a spirit of his, and to torment me
    For bringing wood in slowly. I’ll fall flat:
    Perchance he will not mind me.

    Why does Caliban try to fall down and hide, scared of the spirits?

    Here’s neither bush nor shrub to bear off any weather at all, and another storm brewing: I hear it sing i’th’wind: yond same black cloud, yond huge one, looks like a foul bombard that would shed his liquor. If it should thunder as it did before, I know not where to hide my head: yond same cloud cannot choose but fall by pailfuls. What have we here? A man or a fish? Dead or alive? A fish, he smells like a fish: a very ancient and fishlike smell: a kind of not-of-the-newest poor-John. A strange fish! Were I in England now — as once I was — and had but this fish painted, not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver: there would this monster make a man: any strange beast there makes a man: when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian. Leged like a man and his fins like arms! Warm, o’my troth! I do now let loose my opinion, hold it no longer: this is no fish, but an islander that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt. Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gaberdine: there is no other shelter hereabout. Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows: I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.

    That big black cloud over there looks like a canon or some old smelly wine jug about to burst and make me all wet with its contents.

    If I were in England now, as I once was, and I had a picture of this strange fish-man, any of the working people on their day off would pay me to see it. Then a monster would make a man rich because, although people will give a little money to help a disabled person begging, they will pay a lot to see someone who looks foreign and exotic.

    Been struck by lightning.

    A cloak made of tough tightly woven material that would help to keep out the wind and rain.

    Enter STEPHANO singing.
    I shall no more to sea, to sea:
    Here shall I die ashore—
    This is a very scurvy tune to sing at a man’s funeral: well, here’s my comfort.
    (Sings) The master, the swabber, the boatswain and I,
    The gunner and his mate,
    Loved Mall and Meg and Margery, B
    ut none of us cared for Kate.
    For she had a tongue with a tang,
    Would cry to a sailor, ‘Go hang!’
    She loved not the savour of tar nor of pitch,
    Yet a tailor might scratch her where’er she did itch:
    Then to sea, boys, and let her go hang!
    This is a scurvy tune too: but here’s my comfort.
    Do not torment me: O!
    What’s the matter? Have we devils here? Do you put tricks upon’s with savages, ha? I have not scaped drowning to be afeard now of your four legs:
    The spirit torments me: O!
    This is some monster of the isle with four legs, who hath got, as I take it, an ague. Where the devil should he learn our language? I will give him some relief, if it be but for that. If I can recover him, and keep him tame, and get to Naples with him, he’s a present for any emperor that ever trod on neat’s leather.
    Do not torment me, prithee: I’ll bring my wood home faster.
    He’s in his fit now, and does not talk after the wisest. He shall taste of my bottle: if he have never drunk wine afore, it will go near to remove his fit. If I can recover him and keep him tame, I will not take too much for him: he shall pay for him that hath him, and that soundly.
    Thou dost me yet but little hurt: thou wilt anon, I know it by thy trembling. Now Prosper works upon thee.
    Come on your ways: open your mouth: here is that which will give language to you, cat. Open your mouth: this will shake your shaking, I can tell you, and that soundly: you cannot tell who’s your friend: open your chaps again.
    I should know that voice: it should be — but he is drowned, and these are devils. O, defend me!
    Four legs and two voices: a most delicate monster! His forward voice now is to speak well of his friend: his backward voice is to utter foul speeches and to detract. If all the wine in my bottle will recover him, I will help his ague. Come. Amen! I will pour some in thy other mouth.

    The forward voice is Trinculo who thinks he recognises Stephano’s voice and the backward voice is Caliban who is swearing at being disturbed. How do you think this moment of confusion could be staged?

    (Text edited for rehearsals by Gregory Doran)
  • Watch
    Read the scene aloud, then watch the actors performing it at the start of this video. Are there any words or lines that really stand out? How do the characters come across? Actor Simon Trinder also suggests some things he looks out for in scenes, do you notice any of these in the performance?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano at the RSC. Which sets and costume choices feel right to you?