Norman N. Holland
Department of English
University of Florida
P. O. Box 117310
Gainesville FL 32611-7310 U.S.A.


Caliban's Dream

Norman N. Holland

    Holland, Norman. (1968) Caliban's Dream. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 37:114-125. Lightly edited. Original page divisions are indicated in brackets in this text. This paper was originally presented in the Seminar on Dreams given by Dr. Elizabeth Zetzel at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, Spring, 1966.

  Caliban. Art thou afeard?
  Stephano. No, monster, not I.
  Caliban. Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I wak'd,
I cried to dream again.
  Stephano. This will prove a brave kingdom to me, where I shall have my music for nothing.
  Caliban. When Prospero is destroy'd.
                     --- The Tempest, 3.2.142-155.

    Freud found in his study of Gradiva that 'invented dreams can be interpreted in the same way as real ones' (3), (5), naturally enough, I suppose, for invented dreams represent a kind of mid-point between dreaming itself and artistic invention in general. The usual way to interpret a dream is by means of the dreamer's free associations, but Caliban, alas, gives us none --- and, after all, few dreams dreamed in literature are reported from a couch. For a fictional dreamer, Freud suggests `we shall have to content ourselves with referring to his impressions, and we may very tentatively put our associations in place of his' (4). Robert Fliess notes that an analyst can contribute, independently of the dreamer's associations, two elements to the interpretation of a dream: 1, the interpretation of symbolism; 2, associations known to the analyst which the dreamer --- for whatever reason --- may not supply (2). [114]

    If I look simply at the manifest content of this recurring dream in the manner suggested by Erikson (1), it reveals an unusual style. Verbally, the report uses primitive words and sentences like a child's and sensorily, the dream is a simple visual one. Spatially, the dream moves along one line, up-and-down. Temporally, as Robert Graves has noted about this dream, `The illogical sequence of tenses creates a perfect suspension of time' (6). The only somatic phenomena the dream touches on are vision and sleeping and dreaming themselves. There are no interpersonal relations, only relations to an environment, and simple pleasure is the only affect. Caliban's is a very limited dream, and I can admire Shakespeare's fine intuition in giving so primitive a dream to so primitive a dreamer.

    I may admire his intuition even more, though, for making this primitive dream a handsome instance of the most primitive of dream mechanisms --- the dream screen, represented here by the clouds (Cf. 9), (10). The dream, in fact, scarcely progresses beyond its screen; the clouds `would open', would `show riches/Ready to drop'. But the cloud does not open and the riches do not directly appear --- they are only expected. The timelessness of his verbs suggests Caliban's longing to merge (`sleep again', `dream again') into this benevolent environment of vaguely human `voices' and `noises', `sweet airs'. It is not too difficult to see in the clouds a breast symbol and in the `riches' the longed-for, nurturing milk. And when the dream ends, Caliban's response is to cry for the loss of his dream, as though to lose the dream were to lose the breast. `Though the wishes of life become progressively more complex and subtle, this ["the everrecurring wish for a primary breast experience"] remains as the deepest substrate occasionally to be revealed in regressive experiences during the course of analysis or other intense psychological vicissitudes' (11).

    There may be, in Caliban's phrasing, `The clouds methought would open', the faintest sign of a differentiation of self from object that matches the significance of the clouds as dream [115] screen and breast. That is, as soon as Caliban says, `The clouds', he immediately adds, `methought', as though to assert the continued existence of his separate self. Contrast his actual phrasing in this respect with, say, `I thought the clouds would open --- '. Similarly, the accusative me faintly suggests a continued dependency: `The clouds thought me'. But perhaps `twere to consider too curiously to consider so.

    Fliess says we may supply the interpretation of symbolism to a dream when free associations are absent. If I do, I find in this dream a well-nigh universal symbolism --- riches standing for feces. If so, then the clouds about to open and drop them would be the buttocks, and lest this equivalence of breast and buttocks seem too far-fetched, it might be well to remember Caliban's mother was

The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy
Was grown into a hoop (1.2.258).
Even so, despite this convenient, if uncomfortable, confirmation, the reading seems forced.

    Riches may have a different meaning for Caliban, or at least in The Tempest. If I follow the word through the play, I find it associated primarily with gifts: the `rich garments' given to Prospero on his exile from Milan (1.2.164); Prospero's `rich gift' of his daughter Miranda to Ferdinand (4.i.8); the gifts of the goddesses to the young couple (4.1.60, 106).

    Another meaning the play associates with rich is change, as in the description of Ferdinand's supposedly dead father's body:

Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange (1.2.397-399).
Similar associations would be with the old courtier Gonzalo's fantasy of an ideal state in a peaceful unchanging golden age; there, `riches, poverty, / And use of service, none'. Conversely, [116] Ferdinand's being forced basely to carry logs is transformed by Miranda's presence so that `most poor matters point to rich ends'. Clouds, too, seem to be associated in the comedy as a whole with transformations, as in the description of Venus, who is to be kept from the masque celebrating the young lovers' betrothal:
           I met her Deity
Cutting the clouds towards Paphos and her son
Dove-drawn with her. Here thought they to have done
Some wanton charm upon this man and maid (4.i.92-95).
But they are prevented from enticing them to pay the bed-right before marriage. Again, Prospero's speech at the end of the wedding-masque (often taken to be Shakespeare's own farewell to the stage) associates clouds with transformation:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack [a wisp of cloud] behind.
          We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep (4.1.148-158).

    The play as a whole, then, associates images of clouds and riches with 1) a gift which 2) transforms. I recognize more specific versions of familiar anal themes: the gift of feces, this first sense of something precious later to be transformed to true riches or airy nothings.

    Yet none of these speeches does Caliban speak or even overhear --- they can hardly be considered part of his associations to the dream. There is, however, one speech about clouds that he [117] does overhear and which seems almost a version of his own recurring dream, and that speech is followed by events which act it out. About a half-hour before recounting the dream, Caliban had been carrying firewood for Prospero and grumbling at an environment that is not only not the benevolent one he dreams of; controlled by Prospero's magic, it bites him, pricks him, stings him, and hisses at him. At this point, Trinculo appears, a jester shipwrecked with the rest of Prospero's visitors. Fearing Trinculo is one of Prospero's spirits, Caliban cowers under his gaberdine, and there he hears Trinculo soliloquize a version of his own recurring dream: `Yond same black cloud, yond huge one, looks like a foul bombard [a big leather liquor bottle] that would shed his liquor --- Yond same cloud cannot choose but fall by pailfuls' (2.2.22-25).

    Then, complaining of Caliban's fishy smell, Trinculo clambers in under the monster's buttocks. Now comes Stephano, the cook from the shipwreck, who has salvaged a literal leather bottle, not a metaphorical one. Caliban mutters terrifiedly at these spirits, and Stephano soothes him by pouring liquor down his throat. When Trinculo exclaims in recognition, Stephano pours drink into his mouth which seems the monster's `other mouth'. `His forward voice now is to speak well of his friend; his backward voice is to utter foul speeches and to detract.' And then Stephano discovers Trinculo: `How cam'st thou to be the siege [i.e., shit] of this moon-calf? Can he vent Trinculos?'

    In effect, shortly before Caliban tells his new-found masters his recurring dream, they have recited and acted out for him a `black', `foul', smelly, and backward --- in short, anal --- version of that dream. And Caliban does indeed take the two clowns as versions of his dream:

That's a brave god, and bears celestial liquor:
I will kneel to him (2.2.115-116).
`I'll swear, upon that bottle, to be thy true subject; for the liquor is not earthly.' `I will kiss thy foot; I prithee, be my god.' `I'll kiss thy foot; I'll swear myself thy subject.' [118]

    He sees these creatures from the clouds as bringing him transformation from what Prospero calls his slave: `Thou earth'. `Filth as thou art.' `This thing of darkness.' Instead, adopting new masters, he thinks, will give him freedom.

No more dams I'll make for fish,
   Nor fetch in firing
   At requiring,
Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash dish;
   `Ban, `Ban, Ca --- Caliban,
   Has a new master --- Get a new man.
Freedom, high-day! high-day, freedom! freedom! high-day, freedom!  (2.2.180-186)

He gleefully capers, unconsciously confirming what Erikson and others have suggested are the central issues of anality: control and autonomy. It is, I suppose, one of the ironies of the play that Caliban would not so eagerly take the clowns as agents of his transformation from filth to a free man if he were as aware as I am that they represent more the anal level of his dream than the oral. They lead him ultimately into `th' filthy mantled pool' where `the foul lake / O'erstunk their feet'. Poor Trinculo complains, `I do smell all horse-piss.'

    Caliban's identification of Stephano, however, shows an even more specific correspondence to his dream and one at a still higher level than either oral or anal.

Caliban. Hast thou not dropped from heaven?
Stephano. Out o' th' moon, I do assure thee. I was the Man i' th' Moon when time was [i.e., once upon a time].

I have seen thee in her, and I do adore thee. My mistress [Miranda] show'd me thee, and thy dog, and thy bush (2.2.135-140).

--- the dog and the bush accompanying the Man in the Moon. That which, in the dream, was about to drop from the heavens, now seems to have a very specific meaning.

    Stephano had described Caliban as a moon-calf and, much later in the play, Prospero tells of his parentage: [119]

        This mis-shapen knave,
His mother was a witch, and one so strong
That could control the moon (5.1.268-270).

Like all witches in that day and age, Sycorax had intercourse with the devil, so that Prospero can curse Caliban,

Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself
Upon thy wicked dam, come forth!  (1.2.319-320)

Caliban himself can speak of Prospero: His art is of such pow'r, "It would control my dam's god, Setebos"  (1.2.371-373). And, again, late in the play, he associates Setebos with Prospero, when he comes upon him in his Milanese robes and exclaims,

O Setebos, these be brave spirits indeed.
How fine my master is!  (5.1.261-262)
In other words, what Caliban hears and knows allows us to guess at long chains of associations for him: clouds, heavens, moon, and mother; that which drops from the heavens; the man in the moon (`I have seen thee in her'; `My mistress showed me thee'); Setebos as his father but also a god and devil (pagan gods being Christian devils).

    The ultimate meaning, then, of his recurring dream that riches are about to drop from the clouds is a wish for mother to give him a father with godlike powers who will transform him. And Caliban seems in reality to be about to gratify this wish by his eagerly greeting Stephano as his king and god.

    It is questionable, I suppose, to supply associations this way, because, first, the dream is a recurring dream, and, second, Caliban gives us no associations to the dream --- rather, he tells the dream as itself the association to a richly charged psychological event. At the moment he tells the dream, Caliban is planning to kill a father, Prospero, who is not only Miranda's [120] father, but also king, magus, stage manager, master of slaves and spirits, and English teacher --- all positions of godlike authority. Further, it was Prospero who disrupted Caliban's earlier life --- he had been alone on the island that represented his mother.

    The planning of the murder involves a number of suggestive details. Caliban, I have seen, accepted Stephano as his god and vowed to serve him. The next scene I see him, there has been a good deal more drinking, and Caliban feels free to broach his plan to his new master --- they will steal upon Prospero sleeping and brain him, leaving Stephano king of the island with Miranda for his bed.

    During this planning, Ariel, invisible, keeps saying, `Thou liest,' and Stephano, taking the voice to be Trinculo's, beats him for being disrespectful to the king's new `subject,' Caliban. The plan made, the three conspirators sing a song, which Ariel interrupts by playing the tune. Thus, at the moment of planning the archetypal Oedipal crime (killing the father and taking his woman), the invisible Ariel, Prospero's agent, threatens the father's punishment. It is he who provokes Caliban's question, `Art thou afeard,' and his reassurances: `Be not afeard' and the recital of the dream.

    Later Ariel tells us that at this moment,

        they were redhot with drinking;
So full of valor that they smote the air
For breathing in their faces; beat the ground
For kissing of their feet (4.1.170-174).
The conspirators are attacking not only a father, but their very environment. Caliban's recital of his dream then serves as a reassuring reversal of his own massive hostility --- there will be no punishment; the environment, sounds and clouds, is benevolent. At the moment he is about to murder a sleeping father he recalls a dream in which the rich prize of a benevolent father will drop upon a sleeping Caliban, transforming him and freeing him [121]

    Caliban's recurring dream, then, serves him as a wishfulfilling reversal of his own long, deep-seated hostility to Prospero. His wish is for a good father who would make him free, and thus his dream leads us back to a major theme in The Tempest: freedom and servitude. Ariel, who faithfully serves Prospero, is set free, and Prospero himself escapes the island. Those who rebel, however, Ferdinand against Prospero, Sebastian and Antonio against their king, are paralyzed, rendered helpless, and led through educative ordeals. The play as a whole acts out a traditional Renaissance idea: true freedom is submission to the authority of God and his agents. Caliban parodies the theme: submission to the rule of Stephano, `dropped from heaven,' gives him the power to get his peer Trinculo beaten and the father-figure Prospero murdered.

    Caliban in his own way, then, acts out a basic motif for Shakespeare himself, as does this whole play (which is often thought of as Shakespeare's own freeing himself --- retiring from the stage). `So often his plays contrast the private man and the public one --- he seems to enjoy seeing two sharply different characters in a similar situation, often with one merging into a larger matrix or order, the other thrusting loose from it: Hal and Hotspur, Laertes and Hamlet, Macbeth and Banquo, Edmund and Edgar, and so on' (7, p. 141). `Shakespeare's application for a coat of arms and his purchase of New Place --- show how in life he placed his aggressive, phallic drives toward business success at the service of oral wishes to be accepted into a larger, nurturing social order' (7, p. 142 n.) Over and over again in Shakespeare's works, I see a sonlike man finding through submission to a father-figure the strength to fight outsiders, as here Caliban thinks he will gain from benevolent, liquor-giving `King Stephano' the strength to fight the hostile father Prospero.

    But to see Prospero as hostile is to see him from Caliban's point of view. Prospero himself has submitted to higher forces --- God, Providence, destiny --- and it is this submission and identification that give him his magic powers. He can call down [122] spirits and goddesses from the heavens to act a wedding masque, blessing his daughter's betrothal: `Sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall.' Similarly, old Gonzalo at the end of the play can look at the young lovers and say,

Look down, you gods,
And on this couple drop a blessŠd crown (5.1.201).

    By contrast, Caliban can only wish --- dream --- for riches to drop on himself --- or curses on others:

As wicked dew as e'er my mother brushed
With raven's feather from unwholesome fen
Drop on you both!  (1.2.321-323)

In short, Caliban's dream parodies Prospero's great wedding-masque: both invoke blessings from the heavens.

    Similarly, Caliban ends his recital of his dream by wishing to sleep again. `When I waked, / I cried to dream again.' By contrast, Prospero ends his masque by saying:

         We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep (4.1.156-158).
The brute longs for pleasure; the old man can contemplate not only pleasure but all of life as a passing fantasy.

    In recognizing that Prospero's masque is the mature and superlative version of Caliban's wishful dream, I am finding from the special point of view of dream analysis what many critics have said about this play. `The main opposition is between the worlds of Prospero's Art, and Caliban's Nature. Caliban is the core of the play --- he is the natural man against whom the cultivated man is measured. But I am not offered a comparison between a primitive innocence in nature and a sophisticated decadence. Caliban represents nature without benefit of nurture; Nature, opposed to an Art which is [123] man's power over the created world and over himself' (8). Now, however, I can see this contrast from a psychological point of view.

    Prospero is the mature man, willing to give up his daughter to her young lover, willing, too, to give up his kingly power and retire a private citizen to Milan `where / Every third thought shall be my grave.' If Prospero speaks for Shakespeare, he speaks for a man writing of himself at the last of the psychosocial stages, accepting the fact his life is lived, giving up to the next generation the power and the woman he has achieved.

    Even so, opposed to the mature Prospero, Shakespeare has left a spokesman for his childhood: the ugly, brutish Caliban eager to kill the father and rape his woman. Prospero's masque is a rich, artistic ceremony in which he passes his power of procreation on to the next generation. The dark underside of that ceremony is Caliban's dream, the child's unruly, sexual hunger to be fed by another. Yet, The Tempest brings even the brute child to temper his cravings --- to seek riches from the clouds in another sense. As Caliban says in his last words: `I'll be wise hereafter, / And seek for grace.'

    To sum up, if I analyze Caliban's dream as hard as I can, I find it expresses three levels of wish. At the oral level he longs for nurture from a breast. At an anal level he seeks transformation from the earthy, smelly filth he is to an autonomous individual. At the Oedipal level he wishes his mother would give him a father, identification with whom would transform him from a slave. He tells his dream as a way of protecting against punishment for his own hostile wishes toward a father.

    More generally, as Freud suggested, I can interpret invented dreams in a literary work like real ones, and, when I do, even the more recondite concepts of psychoanalysis (such as the dream screen) enrich the unity of the whole work of art. The play's moral contrast of Art and Nature acts out in an intellectual way the contrast between the integrity of age and the dependency of childhood, as in all art --- and life, too --- mature significances fulfil and inherit the conflicts of infancy. [124]


(1) Erikson, Erik Homburger (1954). The dream specimen of psychoanalysis. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 2: 5-56.

(2) Fliess, Robert (1953). The revival of interest in the dream. A Critical Study of Post-Freudian Psychoanalytic Contributions. New York: International Universities Press. 123-124.

(3) Freud, Sigmund (1900). The Interpretation of Dreams. Standard Edition 4: 97.

(4) ----- (1907 [1906]). Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's Gradiva. Standard Edition 9: 73.

(5) ----- 1925 [1924]. An Autobiographical Study. Standard Edition 20: 65.

(6) Graves, Robert (1960). The White Goddess. New York: Vintage Books. 477.

(7) Holland, Norman N. (1966). Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare. New York: McGraw-Hill.

(8) Kermode, Frank, ed. (1964). The Tempest. In: The Arden Shakespeare. 6th edn. New York: Random House. xxiv.

(9) Lewin, Bertram D. (1953). The forgetting of dreams. In: Drives, Affects, Behavior. Rudolph Loewenstein, ed. New York: International Universities Press. 191-202.

(10) ----- (1953). reconsideration of the dream screen. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 22: 174-199.

(11) Whitman, Roy M. (1963). Remembering and forgetting dreams in psychoanalysis. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 11: 752-774. [125]