The book ‘Monsters’ is taken from the Shakespeare play ‘The Tempest’.
It centres on a single comic scene within the play containing only three characters, Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano.
Caliban is the servant of a wizard called Prospero. Prospero had been stranded on the island with his daughter many years ago. Caliban’s mother was a witch who had trapped a spirit called Ariel in a tree and died leaving her son to fend for himself. Prospero freed the spirit and kept both he and Caliban in his debt by caring for them.
Prospero causes a storm which shipwrecks his old enemies on the island, but they are spread across the island and so each believe they are the only survivors of the wreck.
The scene depicted by the Shakespuss Tale begins with Caliban aware of an approaching stranger in the form of Trinculo. He has never seen anyone different in all his years so is sufficiently scared to prompt him to hide. All he has to hand is a rough tarpaulin which he pulls over himself believing it to be sufficient to cause him to go unnoticed.
Having just been shipwrecked on the strange island, Trinculo is scared when he hears the thunder which is continuing after the storm. He sees the tarpaulin and believes he can at least shelter under it. However, he discovers Caliban beneath it, but the man is so dishevelled and rough Trinculo is not even sure he is a man, but in fact must be some kind of monster.
Eventually, despite the smell of Caliban, he is forced to join him underneath the tarpaulin.
At this point Trinculo’s shipmate, Stephano, wanders by. In order to save himself as the ship sank he had held onto a large barrel of wine, naturally he has now consumed a vast quantity of the alcohol and is very drunk. When he stumbles across the tarpaulin and the two men he believes it is just one creature with four legs, a fearsome monster.
The comic scene is an easy one to retell as it contains many slapstick elements simply translated into comic form, but the inclusion of alcohol presented a considerable problem for a children’s book. As such, very little is made of any mention that Stephano is imbibing, or is in fact drunk. The suggestion is that simply drinking too much of anything is sufficient to cause a person to become unsteady and irrational.
Throughout the play the word ‘Monsters’ is mentioned often and became the most obvious title for the story. There are many abstract aspects, but it is the slapstick quality that is designed to become central to the tale, keeping it as simple as possible and reducing the elemental construction of the Tempest to a form as basic as is possible.