Here's one for the road for poor Caliban

This week I made a promise to write about what would become of me if I spent a night on the town without booze. I've been meaning for some time to scale back on drinking, and thought a night of high culture would make for a nice diversion.

So I figured catching William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" at the Elizabethan Stage in Ashland would be the perfect place for this experiment.

A warning: I've never liked Shakespeare. Maybe it was spending four years having "Hamlet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" pounded into my skull as an undergraduate English major.

And then there was grad school, but I've made large gains recently in suppressing those memories, so it's best not to even go there.

I'd read "The Tempest" my freshman year and remember chuckling at certain parts of it. I do recall arguing with a classmate, who claimed the play was ol' Bill's attempt to grapple with English colonialism, that "The Tempest," when it's all said and done, isn't really about much of anything.

Imagine my shock and horror Tuesday night upon realizing "The Tempest" is really about alcoholism.

A quick run-down of the plot, or what passes for a plot, according to Mail Tribune Shakespeare beat writer Bill Varble, suggests the Bard was mailing this one in.

Prospero, a magician and former duke of Milan, has been marooned on an island with his young daughter, Miranda, for 12 years when he decides to play matchmaker. He whips up a storm that fetches a handsome bachelor from a passing ship belonging to his rival Alonso, the king of Naples.

Anyway, Prospero, who would've fit perfectly in the Antebellum South, owns a few slaves, one of them being this gnarled mutant named Caliban, whom he insults and threatens throughout the play.

Poor Caliban. A brief look at his life leaves no mystery as to why he's on the fast track to Alcoholics Anonymous.

He was raised by this hideous witch of a mother named Sycorax. A 2003 Swedish study published in "The Lancet" reported children reared in single-parent families are twice as likely to become alcoholics.

And as crappy as that situation must have been, things probably worsened after Prospero killed Caliban's mother and bragged about it to everyone. Think about it. You're just getting used to the idea of being raised by a supernatural Mommie Dearest when some wizard shows up out of nowhere and snuffs her.

Then said wizard proceeds to slap chains on your legs and inform you that you are now his slave. And when you step out of line, Prospero promises he'll "rack thee with old cramps," whatever the hell that means, but it doesn't sound fun.

Caliban's ugly, too. And he smells like fish. Not that it matters, because there are no women on the island besides Prospero's harpy daughter whose hobby seems to be berating him every chance she gets.

Caliban spends the early part of the play moping around until these two shipwrecked party boys Stephano and Trinculo show up with a cellar full of wine. Caliban partakes and finds his world properly rocked.

Like most alcoholics, Caliban's first instinct is to slough off work in favor of drinking. "I'll bear him no more sticks," he says of Prospero before staggering off with the boys.

But his cry of freedom is short-lived as he becomes so enamoured of Stephano, the great provider, that he swears allegiance to him. "'Ban, 'Ban, Ca-Caliban, Has a new master," he sings. It can be argued that he's speaking to the wine as much as he is Stephano. Does it really matter? Slavery is slavery, whether it be in chains or at the bottom of a bottle.

At the end of the play Caliban languishes with a brutal hangover and his new friends. Alcoholics often find themselves drawn to others who share the disease. Most of the time these people don't even like each other all that much, but it hurts to drink alone sometimes.

Sure, Prospero finally takes pity on Caliban and sets him free after 12 years' hard labor. For Caliban, it's akin to being freshly paroled from prison.

So here he is, alone on an island, on parole and with no good woman to keep him on the straight and narrow. I think he's going to head for Stephano's wine stash and set forth on a legendary binge.

I would.

After seeing "The Tempest" I stopped by Martino's for a Rogue Dead Guy Ale to mull over the poor bastard's fate. So much for my dry evening. I had to have one for Caliban.

They label "The Tempest" a romance, but I liken it more to a Charles Bukowski poem or a Merle Haggard song. A bleak chronicle of failure that begins and ends on a bar stool.

Caliban even utters one of those false gonna-change-my-ways-or-else lines I've heard so many times in dives across the country.

"...I'll be wise hereafter, And seek for grace," he says.

Sure you will, bro. Right after you finish that last one.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471 or

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