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God as the Quiet in “Caliban upon Setebos”

The nature of God has been a controversial topic for writers all through the centuries. In the poem “Caliban upon Setebos,” Robert Browning explores the relationship amongst deities and their subjects through the voice of Caliban, a brutish monster-servant adopted from Shakespeare’s Tempest. Even though the cruel and capricious Setebos is the principal subject of Caliban’s musings, a higher deity named the Quiet is briefly addressed. The value, or even necessity, of the Quiet in this poem is not immediately evident. Caliban projects his own experiences and character onto his conceptions of deities, which leads him to falsely construct a theological hierarchy in which power is inversely related to compassion. This view is embodied in Caliban’s descriptions of the Quiet, which also reveal the tension amongst Caliban’s beliefs and Browning’s implied assertion that these beliefs are mistaken. Hence, the currently complicated subject of God is further complicated by the radical nature of Caliban’s views, and the way in which Browning shapes Caliban to be an unreliable theologian. As the introductory biblical passage to this poem “Though thoughtest that I was altogether such a 1 as thyself” denotes, Caliban imagines other beings, from animals to gods, to be like himself (1296). The peculiarities of Caliban’s personality and living scenario lead him to picture a hierarchical structure of the divine. As a slave, Caliban is directly under the handle of his master Prospero, who keeps Caliban trapped in a dank cave (163-167) When the Quiet is 1st being introduced, Caliban mirrors Setebos’s situation with his personal: “But wherefore rough, why cold and ill at ease?” (127). The word selection here, “rough” and “cold” specially, is far more apt to describe a monster in a cave than a god. Caliban has no cause to assume Setebos is in such unhappy conditions, if not for the trend he sees in his own life: Caliban has power over the crabs that enter his cave, just as Prospero has power over him, just as Setebos should have energy more than each of them, . . . leading Caliban to the conclusion that “There might be some thing quiet o’er His [Setebos’s] head” (132). This may lead the reader to query why there is no god above the Quiet Caliban imagines the chain of power such that a single could usually be below the rule of some greater, far more strong deity. This is a possibility, and a single of several theological implications that are particular to Browning’s poem. Even so, I will argue in the subsequent paragraph that the Quiet represents Caliban’s ultimate version of a deity, such that no higher god is required. Caliban explicitly makes assumptions about the Quiet by analyzing his own experiences. The Quiet “. . . that feels nor joy nor grief/ . . . I joy due to the fact quails come would not joy/ Could I bring the quails right here,” (133, 135-136). Caliban’s religious beliefs hence derive from analysis of his personal experiences rather than feelings of reverence and spiritual elation, as is common in religion. The gap between liking to eat quails and the complete emotional disposition of the Quiet is exceedingly massive. Caliban’s assumption that deities have feelings and circumstances like these of earthly beings is unusual, even presumptuous depending on one’s religious views. If the reader accepts that Caliban is amiss in his beliefs, this self-projection is the root result in of his mistake. Browning’s lesson for readers would then be very chastising: individuals have to not assume gods have the exact same feelings and inclinations as earthly beings, lest they conclude that the faults of humans are also manifest in the gods. It is this pessimistic view of human nature that leads to Caliban’s rigid theological hierarchy, in which the gods – as I will address in the following paragraph – are exceedingly cruel and apathetic. A single objection to this assertion may address a disconnect in between the half-monster Caliban on his mythical island and the totally human, earthling readers of the poem. Even though Browning does not explicitly contact his poem a critique on modern religion, to find excellent significance in the poem one must relate the connection to gods that Caliban and humans, in a standard sense, share. Caliban’s conception of theology is even much more radical in the inverse partnership in between energy and compassion, resulting in an all-effective, entirely apathetic Quiet. His rigid hierarchy of species follows the classic Excellent Chain of Getting blueprint, but pure energy, rather than spirituality, increases with each and every ring in the chain. Along with power comes a lack of compassion, which in higher concentration manifests as arbitrary cruelty, and lastly total apathy. Needless to say, this is a really bleak view of divinity. Caliban is pointlessly cruel to the bugs and crabs about him (105, 260), but is also capable of a peculiar kind of empathy. His inclination to project upon other beings leads him to think about the feelings of a fish (33-43) and feather (122-125). Prospero is undoubtedly a lot more effective than Caliban, and arguably crueler in his inhumane treatment of Caliban and Miranda (157-167). Then there is the major subject of the poem, Setebos, who Caliban imagines acts arbitrarily with his mercy and cruelty. Setebos does look to have feelings and some reasoning behind his actions, even though Caliban states he is “Nor kind, nor cruel: He is strong and Lord,” (99). This line clearly shows that status as a God is derived from power, not holiness or spirituality. Browning wants the Quiet to totally recognize Caliban’s distinctive view. The Quiet is “Out of His [Setebos’s] attain, that feels nor joy nor grief/ Since each derive from weakness in some way/ . . .This Quiet, all it hath mind to, doth,” (132-133, 137). Caliban arrives at an enigmatic, practically deistic view of the ultimate god: the Quiet has the power to do something he wishes, but his capacity for empathy and emotion is so decreased that the Quiet is fully apathetic, and has no will to do anything. Accordingly, Caliban feels no need to fear the Quiet, as he does Setebos (139). Caliban also expects Setebos’s wrath to quit with an age-induced “doze, as good as die” rather than any move on the Quiet’s part (281-283). The extremely name of “the Quiet” embodies the chilling lack of emotion, involvement, or any connection to humans. “Caliban upon Setebos” presents a removed god, and implies that if the Quiet had been to actively rule over earth, he would act a lot more as a compassionless demon than an angel. Naturally, the reader might wonder what Browning thinks of all these radical religious views. By utilizing stylistic clues from the text and analyzing Caliban’s suitability as a theologian, the reader may ascertain that Browning does not advocate Caliban’s religious views. The dramatic monologue style of this poem tends to make it exceedingly tough to attain this conclusion. The reader is presented with only Caliban’s direct speech – excepting short descriptions of action at the introduction and conclusion of the poem – but there is a second layer to the narration. The dramatic monologue form successfully cloaks the deeper narrative layer, that of the author, with the overwhelmingly evident views of the fictional narrator. The essential point is that Caliban is a fictional character, and so the views expressed in this poem need to in some fashion be attributed to Browning. Even so, the reader would be incorrect to preemptively assume Browning is a proponent of Caliban’s views I will proceed to argue just the opposite. A curious tension amongst wanting to believe Caliban and sensing that he is not adequately suited to attain theological conclusions might perplex that reader as they operate through the poem. Caliban is a slave resigned to inhumane living conditions it appears only organic that he imagines the gods to be as cruel as his own master. A sympathetic reader might follow his train of believed, which is really complicated and analytically sophisticated, and conclude that Caliban is correct in the conclusions he derives. However, this strategy of “natural theology” is the root trigger of Caliban’s misconceptions. After again, take the example of the Quiet: “that feels nor joy nor grief/ Considering that both derive from weakness in some way. / I joy simply because the quails come would not joy/ Could I bring the quails right here when I have a mind” (133-135). Temporarily granting that human emotions are also applicable on a godly scale, Caliban’s reasoning is still questionable. He assumes that not getting handle over the quails is a type of weakness, and more importantly, that he could not take pleasure in the quails if he did have the power to get in touch with them. In this way, the Quiet cannot get pleasure from, or detest, all the life that he has developed. Readers may wonder why a god characterized by such indifference would bother to produce life at all. Readers may possibly also exempt humans from the false reasoning that misguides Caliban. Caliban is a monstrous slave with questionable self-awareness who often speaks in the third particular person he is cruel to animals and effortlessly jumps to farfetched conclusions. He is an exaggerated representation of a worshipper who is hindered by their earthly faults in trying to conceptualize the divine. Browning provides voice to radical religious beliefs through inadequate Caliban so that the reader might thoughtfully reject them. Nuances in Caliban’s speech denote that the Quiet is an imagined deity, one that Caliban shapes in his thoughts just as the poem is getting narrated. Even though the idea of a god over Setebos was very first introduced to Caliban by his mother, he does not agree with her on how the Quiet functions as a god (170-171). As an alternative, he utilizes “natural theology” to shape his ideas about the Quiet while in the time frame of the poem. The idea that “There may be something quiet o’er His head” inspires the personified name “This Quiet” a few lines later (132,137). Caliban expresses an uncertainty about the existence of the Quiet in the phrase “may be” (132). Notably, the idea of the Quiet is introduced in relation to Setebos. The Quiet is a necessary portion of Caliban’s hierarchical structure of the divine, and in contrast to most gods the Quiet is not presented as intrinsically relevant nor definitively real. Browning faces the reader with but one more radical notion: that gods are contrived. Caliban’s “natural theology”, a sort of rational projecting onto the gods, leads to misguided conclusions and unavoidable uncertainty. Browning does not present an alternative, correct way to be religiously informed. He might believe that people can know the gods through spiritual elation, tradition, or rational thought but he chooses to present a world in which the nature and existence of deities is distressingly uncertain. The overall of impact of “Caliban upon Setebos” is to show how simply a person can be led astray in attempting to formulate a image of God based on their own image or natural theology. Robert Browning presents a extensive, radical set of theological views through the voice of Caliban. The dramatic monologue kind makes it possible for Browning to delicately balance among a set of explicit, convincing religious beliefs and silent condemnation of those same beliefs. Caliban’s view, as manifest in passages on the Quiet, is exceedingly complicated: a hierarchical religious order exists in which energy is inversely connected to emotion. At this level of analysis, “Caliban upon Setebos” is substantial in its new theological thinking and complexity of narrative form. Taken a step additional, by relating Caliban’s partnership to the Quiet with humans’ relationship to God, the poem becomes a cautionary critique of its readers. Humans need to not presume to consider the gods are like themselves, lest they finish up like Caliban at the closing of the poem – operating from a coincidental wind storm in blind terror and unfounded repentance, fearful of a merciless, wrathful god.

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