Who or what is Setebos? What is going on with the pronouns, and why does the speaker, Caliban from Shakespeare’s late play “The Tempest”. Twenty years after Browning had written Caliban upon Setebos he once singled it out as his most representative ” dramatic ” poem.’ For Browning the word. Significant quotes in Robert Browning’s Caliban Upon Setebos with explanations .

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Last night I was talking with a friend who read aloud a passage from Dr.

Newman’s Apology in which he says that “he is as convinced of the existence of God”—an individual, not an external force merely—”as of his own existence: I can see nothing that comes from absolute contactso to speak, between man and God, but everything in all variety from the greater or less distance between the two.

When anyone tells me that he has such a conviction, I look at a beggar who holds the philosopher’s stone according to his profession.

What happens in Browning’s “Caliban upon Setebos”?

Do you see the bearing of all this as I seem to see it? How, remaining beggars—or poor, at least—we may at once look for the love of those to whom we give our mite, though we throw it into the darkness where they only may be: The letter is interesting as an intervention in the nineteenth-century debate over the relation between ontology, objective knowledge, and religious belief.


Browning is keenly aware of the not very subtle anthropomorphism that underwrites the postulation of a personate deity whose attributes as an individual are both knowable and known, not to mention the solipsism of such a postulation.

Browning here seems aware of how arguments such as Newman’s can be appropriated, taken out of context, and used on incursions into the scientific sphere to justify the enterprise of natural theology, even if Newman’s argument for the existence of God is not being used for that purpose in the passage under discussion.

The sentiments of Browning’s contemporary Robert Chambers are, if anything closer to Newman’s than Boyle’s are.

Department of English

A Sequel to “Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation”Chambers, like Newman, expresses his conviction of the existence of God and states further the belief that his understanding of the very nature of his own existence offers an insight into the nature of God.

The vital flame which proceeded from him at first returns to him in our perfected form at last, bearing with it all good and lovely things, and making of all the far-extending Past but one intense Present, glorious and everlasting. Browning’s Caliban argues along lines not very different from those ascribed to Newman and those mobilized by Boyle and Chambers, if only to show the limits and ultimate irony of any attempt to express such convictions. According to Clyde de L.

Ryals, “in ‘Caliban upon Setebos’ Browning deals with the Higher Critics’ thesis that God is created in the image of man and with the natural theologians’ claim that the character of God can be derived from the evidences of nature. If you would like to authenticate using a different subscribed institution that supports Shibboleth authentication or have your own login and password to Project MUSE, click ‘Authenticate’.


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Caliban Upon Setebos – English – Ryerson University

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