Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
in 2010 ©
Tempest is a comedy with an atmosphere resembling that of a fairy tale.
It is among Shakespeare's most mature and most admired plays.
Written: Probably 1611.
Performance: Probably November 1, 1611, at Whitehall (the English royal
palace) by the Kings Players.
Printing: 1623 as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection
of Shakespeare's plays.
main sources for the play have not been fully established. Possible sources
include an account of the wreck of the Sea Venture in the Bermudas
in 1609; A Discovery of the Bermudas (1610), by Sylvester Jourdain;
True Repertory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates
upon and from the Islands of the Bermudas (written in 1610 and published
in 1625), by William Strachey; Comedy of the Beautiful Sidea (circa
1600-1605), a German drama by Jacob Ayer; New and Large Discourse of
the Travels of Sir Anthony Shirley, Knight (1601), by William Parry;
essay by Montaigne (1533-1592).
Rightful Duke of Milan. With his daughter, he had been set adrift by his
evil brother to die, but provisions provided secretly by his friend Gonzalo
enable him and his daughter to reach a mysterious island. There, Prospero
practices magic and rules the island and its inhabitants for 12 years.
When a ship carrying his brother and other high officials of Naples—including
the king—sails a course near the island, Prospero conjures a powerful tempest
that blows the ship to his island.
Tempest begins at sea on a foundering ship. The rest of the action
takes place on an island. Strong evidence suggests that the island Shakespeare
had in mind was a fictionalized Mediterranean version of an island in the
Prospero's brother. He illegally seized Prospero's dukedom. After the tempest
drives the ship carrying him and Alonso, the King of Naples, to Prospero's
island, Antonio conspires against the king.
Fifteen-year-old daughter of Prospero. She has lived with her father on
his island since she was three years old and has never seen a man except
for her father and the half-human Caliban. The name Miranda is derived
from the Latin word mirandus, meaning wonderful, strange,
King of Naples. He helped Antonio oust Prospero as Duke of Milan. However,
after arriving at Prospero's island, he exhibits genuine remorse for his
reprehensible treatment of Prospero.
Brother of the king.
Son of the King of Naples.
Honest old counselor and friend of Prospero.
Spirit of the air on the magical island who serves Prospero. Ariel first
served a witch, Sycorax, who imprisoned him in a recess of a pine tree
after he refused to do her bidding. He remained there to suffer great torment
for twelve years, during which time Sycorax died. Upon his arrival on the
island, Prospero freed Ariel but bound the sprite to his service. Ariel
possesses protean power, enabling him to alter his appearance instantly.
He can also travel to any part of the island in a split-second.
Savage half-man who serves as a slave on Prospero's island. He is the son
of a witch, Sycorax. Caliban believes he is the rightful ruler of Prospero's
island, having inherited it from his mother.
Ceres, Juno: Goddesses presented by the spirits. In classical mythology,
Iris was a messenger goddess and goddess of the rainbow. Ceres was
the goddess of agriculture, and Juno was the queen of the gods.
of the Ship
Michael J. Cummings..©
attending his daughter Claribel’s wedding in Tunis, Africa, King Alonso
of Naples and his company sail home to Italy in a fleet of ships and encounter
a violent storm. With Alonso is his beloved son, Ferdinand. Others on the
king’s ship are Antonio, the Duke of Milan; Antonio’s butler, Stephano;
the king’s brother, Sebastian; a counselor, Gonzalo; and Trinculo, a jester.
When thunder booms and lightning strikes, winds churn the sea into a terrible
fury that imperils all of the ships. Mariners laboring to save the king’s
vessel cry out, “All lost! to prayers, to prayers! all lost!" (1. 1. 28).
Gonzalo, the king’s counsellor, is the last to speak as the ship founders:
“Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground,
long heath, brown furze, any thing. The wills above be done! but I would
fain die a dry death" (1. 1. 44).
a strange, fiery light illumines the ship, the king and his company jump
overboard. All except Ferdinand wash ashore at the same location on an
enchanted island. Ferdinand lands on another part of the island. Alonso
thinks Ferdinand has drowned, and vice versa, and both mourn their losses.
The ruler of the island is the magician Prospero. It was Prospero who caused
the tempest. Aware of who was on the
ship, thanks to his magical powers, he commanded the sea to deliver to
him the king and his company to settle some unfinished business. Twelve
years before, Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, had been set adrift
to die at sea with his three-year-old daughter, Miranda, after his brother,
Antonio, seized his dukedom with the connivance of King Alonso. However,
the kindly counselor Gonzalo sneaked food and drink to Prospero, along
with his books of magic. So it was that Prospero and his daughter survived
and landed on the island to live in a cave.
of Prospero’s first orders of business on the island was to free the sprites
imprisoned by a witch named Sycorax. The chief sprite was Ariel, a spirit
of the air. In exchange for his liberation, Ariel agreed to do Prospero’s
bidding. Sycorax posed no further threat, for she was dead. However, she
left behind an ugly, half-human offspring named Caliban. Although Caliban
once tried to ravish Miranda, Prospero trains him to talk and perform menial
chores, using magic to keep the beast-man’s instincts in check.
has proved a valuable servant. In fact, under Prospero’s orders, it was
Ariel who guided the tempest toward the island and set the king’s ship
“ablaze" by imitating fire. Sometimes Ariel would divide himself and become
fire in several places at once: the topmast, bowsprit, and yards. In fright,
the king and his company hurled themselves overboard. Miranda witnessed
the terrible spectacle. In reporting on it to her father, she assumes he
caused the tempest and begs him to calm the raging waters. She expresses
sympathy for the ship’s crew and passengers, telling her father that
I have suffered
informs her, however, that no harm was done; for Ariel has preserved the
ship in a hidden harbor and cast its crew into a deep sleep. Ariel allowed
the rest of the fleet to survive the storm and resume the trip to Italy,
“supposing," as Ariel tells Prospero, “that they saw the king’s ship wrecked
and his great person perish" (1. 2. 277-278).
those that I saw suffer: a brave vessel,
had, no doubt, some noble creature in her,
all to pieces. O, the cry did knock
my very heart. Poor souls, they perish’d.
I been any god of power, I would
sunk the sea within the earth or ere
should the good ship so have swallow’d and
fraughting souls within her. (1. 2. 6-14)
Alonso and the others arrive on the island, Prospero dispatches Ariel to
bring the handsome young Ferdinand to the cave, where the beautiful Miranda
is sleeping. He also sends Caliban to bring wood. When Ferdinand arrives,
Miranda awakens and falls immediately in love with him. Love smites Ferdinand
as well. Prospero pretends Ferdinand is a spy and takes him prisoner. Elsewhere
on the island, King Alonso and most of his company are still asleep. The
only two who remain awake—the evil Antonio and Alonso’s brother, Sebastian—see
an opportunity before them: If they kill the king, Naples will be theirs.
But just as they draw their swords, King Alonso and Gonzalo awaken. Meanwhile,
Caliban, who is bringing in the wood, curses Prospero, wishing upon him
“all the infections that the sun sucks up." (2. 2. 4). Caliban, after all,
was the ruler of the island before Prospero arrived. Why should he now
be carrying wood for Prospero?
happens upon Caliban and takes shelter with him from a threatening storm.
Stephano, the king’s butler, also shows up, drunk. It seems he had the
good fortune to float ashore on a barrel of wine, which he put to good
use after fashioning a flask out of tree bark. After he plies Caliban with
wine, the monster-man dreams of being free of Prospero. Back near the cave,
Ferdinand is gathering wood under orders from Prospero. When Miranda goes
out to help him, the two lovers forget about the wood. Instead, they coo
and woo, and talk of marriage. From a distance, Prospero watches and smiles
approvingly. Caliban, suddenly possessed of a bold and persuasive tongue,
convinces his new companions, Stephano and Trinculo, to help him murder
Prospero so that they can all become the new rulers of the island. Their
plan is to steal upon him while he is sleeping, brain him with a log or
pierce him with a stake or a knife, then burn his books.
off working on Prospero’s behalf, conjures up a magnificent banquet for
King Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, Gonzalo and the rest of the king’s entourage.
As they are about to eat, lightning flashes, thunder booms, and Ariel appears
in the form of a harpy, a hideous bird. He claps his wings and the banquet
vanishes. Then he rebukes Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian for their previous
mistreatment of Prospero and Miranda years before. He tells them that
perdition—worse than any death
Ariel vanishes and Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian leave the scene, the
goodly Gonzalo, observing the reaction of the three men, says,
be at once,—shall step by step attend
and your ways. . . ." (3. 3.93-95)
three of them are desperate: their great guilt,
meanwhile, presents an entertainment for Ferdinand and Miranda in celebration
of their forthcoming marriage. The entertainers are spirits in the form
of three deities—Ceres, goddess of agriculture; Iris, goddess of the rainbow;
and Juno, queen of the gods—who sing to the betrothed couple. Then Nymphs
and Reapers descend upon the island and perform a graceful dance. After
the entertainment, Prospero uses his magic to thwart the murderous plots
against him while Ariel spellbinds Alonso and the others with music and
leads them to Prospero’s cave. Ferdinand rejoices at the sight of his father,
and Alonso rejoices at the sight of his son. Then every offender repents
his wrongs, and even the beastly Caliban admits he was a “thrice-double
ass" (5. 1. 328). Prospero, having regained his dukedom, renounces magic
and prepares to return to Naples with Ferdinand, Miranda, and Alonso and
his entourage after Alonso’s ship—thought wrecked and lost—is found still
afloat and seaworthy. Prospero commands Ariel to calm the seas, then frees
him. Only Caliban remains on the island...
poison given to work a great time after,
’gins to bite the spirits." (3. 3. 124-126)
and forget. Though Prospero has been wronged, he reconciles with his
your sins. All of Prospero's wrongdoers repent at the end and achieve
New World (America) is a raw, untamed wilderness. Prospero's island
may have symbolized America, or the islands off the coast of America,
with Caliban representing the uncivilized native population.
of new lands often results in mistreatment of native populations. It
has been suggested that Caliban represents indigenous peoples exploited
by Europeans during the Age of Discovery.
storms of life are followed by peace and calm.
in need are friends indeed. Thanks to his friend Gonzalo, Prospero
and his daughter survive their ordeal at sea.
must be earned. Everyone in The Tempest is a slave or a captive—socially,
emotionally, geographically or otherwise. For example, Prospero and Miranda,
victims of treachery, are captives of their environment. The shipwrecked
adversaries of Prospero are captives of guilt, ambition or desire for revenge.
Ariel, a free spirit of the air, is Prospero's slave. Caliban, a misshapen
half-human, is a prisoner of unruly instincts. Only through ordeal, tribulation,
and demonstrations of humanity do these characters redeem and liberate
climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a
novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins
to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting
event in a series of events. The climax in The Tempest occurs, according
to the first definition, in Act III, Scene III, when Ariel (appearing as
a Harpy, a mythological monster with the head of a woman and the body of
a bird) reveals Antonio, Alonso, and Sebastian as sinners who conspired
to remove Prospero from his dukedom. According to the second definition,
the climax occurs at the end of Act V when Ferdinand and his father are
reunited, and all the enemies in the play become friends.
Tempest is among Shakespeare’s finest plays in terms of its musicality.
Shakespeare scholar G. B. Harrison has written the following appraisal
of the language of the play:
all Elizabethan dramatists, used four kinds of speech in his plays: blank
verse, rhymed verse, prose and song. Each kind has its uses, and the whole
play, especially in his maturity, is conceived as a kind of verbal symphony,
each scene or episode being composed as part of a complete harmony. The
Tempest in its poetical scenes is the finest example of the musical
use of words in all Shakespeare’s plays." (Major British 53)Among the passages that best
exhibit musicality are the poems, such as the following
Full fathom five
thy father lies;
of Speech: Types
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were
Nothing of him that doth
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his
Hark! now I hear them,—ding-dong,
Ariel, while invisible,
sings this poem to Ferdinand, telling the lad that his father lies under
thirty feet of water. The poem has a rhyme scheme of ababccdd.
Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's
Which is most faint: now,
I must be here confined
Or sent to Naples. Let me
Since I have my dukedom
And pardon'd the deceiver,
In this bare island by your
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good
Gentle breath of yours my
Must fill, or else my project
Which was to please. Now
Spirits to enforce, art
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by
Which pierces so that it
Mercy itself and frees all
As you from crimes would
Let your indulgence set
me free. (epilogue)
are examples of figures of speech from the play.
Good wombs have
borne bad sons. (1. 2. 141)
of good wombs and bad sons. The statement is also a paradox.
Hast thou forgot
grown into a hoop?
pays all debts.
tale, sir, would cure deafness. (1.2.106)
line also contains a metaphor comparing the tale to a remedy.
Was dukedom large enough.
Comparison of a dukedom
to a library.
The king's son, Ferdinand,
like reeds, not hair,
the first man that leap'd; cried, 'Hell is empty
all the devils are here.' (1.2.213-216)
of Prospero's island to hell
You taught me language; and
my profit on’t
Is, I know how to curse.
(1. 2. 430-431)
Comparison of knowledge
did sing it to me, and the thunder,
deep and dreadful organ-pipe, pronounced
name of Prosper: it did bass my trespass.(3.3.97-99)
(and personification) comparing the winds to a singer
comparing thunder to the sound made by an organ pipe
sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall
make this contract grow. (4.1.18-19)
of heaven's approval to rain (aspersion) that promotes the growth
of a seed
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and
our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Comparison of humans to
the immateriality of a dream
is prologue. (2.1.261)
you notice in your reading of The Tempest that the name of the beast-man,
Caliban, is an anagram for cannibal (except for a missing n)? Did you also
notice that name of Prospero’s servant, Ariel, sounds like aerial, meaning
in the air, of the air, high flying, ethereal, and fanciful—words which
all describe Ariel? Other characters also have names suggestive of their
qualities and lot in life: Prospero (a name that derives from the Latin
meaning to cause to prosper), who prospers through his magic and intelligence;
Miranda (a name that derives from the Latin mirandus, meaning strange,
wonderful, miraculous), who is wonderful to behold and is indeed strange—that
is, exotic; and Ferdinand (a name that derives from Germanic words meaning
bold traveler), who has traveled on the high seas and survived a roaring
plays frequently present characters in settings far removed from urban
centers. However, they generally are creatures of the city, the court,
the vibrant life where people throng. Consider the following observation:
characters are . . . dubious of rusticity. Valentine [in The Two Gentlemen
of Verona] does not rejoice in his woodland life as head of an outlaw
band; the lovers of A [Midsummer Night's] Dream find their woodland
adventure unnerving, and mountain life seems rude to the characters in
who are forced to endure it. Although Florizel [in The Winter's Tale]
dreams of spending his life with Perdita in a cottage, she knows that pastoral
bliss is only a dream; true content lies in Leontes' court, to which all
the characters . . . return. Even Prospero [in The Tempest], who
has no great desire to see Milan again, knows that he and Miranda must
leave their island, which is as much prison as refuge to them. Although
critics can idealize the pastoral experiences of Shakespeare's characters
as renewing contacts with nature, that experience is often somewhat harrowing.—Shakespeare's
Comedies From Roman Farce to Romantic Mystery. Newark: U of Delaware,
1986 (Page 144).
Tempest and Humanism
the European Renaissance between 1400 and 1600, great thinkers began advocating
the betterment of civilization by emphasizing the study of classical culture
and literature and by promoting the cultivation of such ennobling qualities
as compassion, generosity, friendship, wise judgment, and prudence. In
Tempest, Prospero exhibits those qualities. He does not seek to retaliate
against those who wronged him; he seeks only to bring them out of the darkness
of hatred and revenge. In this respect, he is like the Renaissance humanist
who builds a bridge for the Dark Ages to cross into the enlightenment of
a new age in which humankind renounces its old barbarity and savagery.
In discussing this idea, Shakespeare scholar Bernard D. Grebanier wrote:
is perhaps the perfect expression of Renaissance humanism. His profound
sympathy for humanity enabled him to pierce to the very core of his characters;
his unexcelled gifts as a poet made his men and women unforgettable creatures
of flesh and blood. This may be said as much of the best of his earliest
plays as of The Tempest, where Prospero is himself a kind of incarnation
of the best of what the Renaissance had extended to mankind. (Grebanier,
Bernard D., et al. English Literature and Its Backgrounds. New York:
Holt, 1950, page 242)Prospero’s
Island as The New World
sets the scene in a far-off, isolated island. Whether he intended the setting
to symbolize the New World is arguable, but it certainly resembles it.
Like America, it is wild and undeveloped, with strange sights, sounds,
and creatures. It has a “colonial" overseer, Prospero, who exploits the
native population—the savage beast-man, Caliban,
and the sprite, Ariel—turning them into servants,
or slaves. Prospero’s daughter, Miranda, knows no other world but her father’s
island. In this respect, she is like the real-life Virginia Dare, the first
English child born in the Americas (on Roanoke Island, off the coast of
present-day North Carolina).
Grab Bag of Marvels
give his play a wondrous, fairy-tale atmosphere, Shakespeare set it on
a remote island with an exotic landscape, then populated the island with
a sorcerer (Prospero), a monster (the beast-man Caliban, son of a witch),
a mischievous sprite, a beautiful maiden (Miranda), a young prince who
loves her (Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples), and mythological deities--including
goddess of agriculture; Iris, goddess of the rainbow; and Juno, queen of
the gods. Perhaps Shakespeare was capitalizing on stories about the New
World across the seas--a world that was mostly terra incognita to the English
and therefore a ripe subject for speculation about wonders there that awaited
were, of course, published reports about the Americas and the islands near
the mainlands. These reports included several about Bermuda, including
an account of the wreck of the Sea Venture in the Bermudas
in 1609; A Discovery of the Bermudas (1610), by Sylvester Jourdain;
True Repertory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates upon and
from the Islands of the Bermudas (written in 1610 and published in
1625), by William Strachey. The Spanish navigator Juan Bermúdez
is credited with discovery of the Bermuda Islands, and they first appeared
on Spanish maps in 1511. It may well be that the wreck of the Sea Venture
inspired Shakespeare to write about the wreck of King Alonso’s ship.
as an Exploited Native
Tempest, Caliban suffers the same fate as many New World natives: He
loses control over a domain he thought he ruled, becoming a virtual slave
of Prospero. Although Prospero teaches him language, Caliban complains
that the only benefit of this experience is that he learned how to curse.
Caliban’s encounter with Prospero resembles the encounter of real-life
native Americans with Europeans seeking riches in the New World wilds while
spreading their culture. The natives learned bad habits, acquired alien
diseases, and lost control of their domains. Of course, The Tempest
centers on the wrong done to Prospero by his brother, who usurped Prospero’s
dukedom. But did not Prospero usurp Caliban’s domain?
Questions and Essay Topics
on DVD (or VHS)
Write an essay explaining how
closed, isolated environments like Prospero’s island in The Tempest,
Elsinore Castle in Hamlet, and the forest of Arden in As You
Like It affect the characters.
Shakespeare uses allusions to
mythology in The Tempest. What is an allusion? Where do allusions
take place in Acts 3 and 4?
Lust for power, a theme in other
Shakespeare plays, manifests itself in The Tempest in two independent
conspiracies? What are these conspiracies and who is involved in them?
Would you consider Prospero’s
island an example of a microcosm? Write a short essay that explains your
answer. In the essay, be sure to define microcosm as a literary device.
To whom does Shakespeare address
the epilogue at the end of the play?
What was Prospero’s wife like?
(See lines spoken by Prospero in Act I.)
Do you despise or pity Caliban.
Explain your answer.
Do you approve of the way Prospero
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