Robert Browning: Poems

God as the Quiet in “Caliban upon Setebos” College

The nature of God has been a controversial subject for writers throughout the centuries. In the poem “Caliban upon Setebos,” Robert Browning explores the relationship between deities and their subjects through the voice of Caliban, a brutish monster-servant adopted from Shakespeare’s Tempest. Though the cruel and capricious Setebos is the main subject of Caliban’s musings, a higher deity named the Quiet is briefly addressed. The importance, 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 between Caliban’s beliefs and Browning’s implied assertion that these beliefs are mistaken. Thus, the already complex 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 one as thyself” denotes, Caliban imagines other beings, from...

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