List of Characters
Prospero—the rightful Duke of Milan whose dukedom has been usurped by his brother Antonio. Prospero controls the island and its inhabitants with a God-like power.
Miranda—Prospero’s fifteen-year-old daughter who has been living with him on the island since their banishment from Milan when she was only three years old. Her father and Caliban are the only humans she remembers. When she meets Ferdinand, she falls in love with him almost immediately and innocently ffers herself to him as his wife.
Ferdinand—He is the son of Alonso, King of Naples. Though he is a man of royal blood, he must endure the dishonor of carrying logs for Prospero as a trial of his love for Miranda.
Ariel—an airy spirit who has suffered a twelve-year imprisonment in a “cloven pine” for refusing the “earthy and abhorr’d commands” of the evil witch, Sycorax. Prospero releases Ariel, only to subject him to further servitude. With the aid of Prospero, Ariel conjures up the tempest and performs other acts of magic throughout the play. Prospero finally gives him his freedom at the end.
Caliban—Prospero refers to him as a “born devil” whose mother was the evil witch, Sycorax. He is a deformed monster whose bestial nature cannot be changed, though he has been taught to speak a language. Paradoxically, Caliban usually speaks in verse and is given some of the most poetic lines in the play.
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Prospero (PROS-peh-roh), the former and rightful duke of Milan, now living on an island in the distant seas. Years earlier, he had been deposed by his treacherous younger brother, Antonio, to whom he had given too much power, for Prospero had always been more interested in his books of philosophy and magic than in affairs of state. Antonio had the aid of Alonso, the equally treacherous king of Naples, in his plot against his brother, and the conspirators had set Prospero and his infant daughter, Miranda, adrift in a small boat. They were saved from certain death by the faithful Gonzalo, who provided the boat with food and Prospero’s books. Eventually, the craft drifted to an island that formerly had been the domain of the witch Sycorax, whose son, the monster Caliban, still lived there. Through the power of his magic, Prospero subdued Caliban and freed certain good spirits, particularly Ariel, whom Sycorax had imprisoned. Now, in a terrible storm, the ship carrying the treacherous king of Naples, his son Ferdinand, and Antonio is wrecked. They, with their companions, are brought ashore by Ariel. Using Ariel as an instrument, Prospero frustrates the plots of Antonio and Sebastian against the king and of Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano against himself. He also furthers the romance between Miranda and Ferdinand. Convinced at last that Antonio and Alonso have repented of the wrongs they had done him, Prospero...
(The entire section is 641 words.)
Alonso (Character Analysis)
He is the king of Naples and the father of Ferdinand. King Alonso, his son, and his courtiers get caught in the tempest on their way home from the marriage of his daughter to the king of Tunis (II.i.69-72). In I.ii.121-32, we learn that as Prospero's "inveterate" enemy, Alonso contributed to his overthrow by sending troops to Milan "i' th' dead of darkness" to support Antonio's takeover and to banish Prospero and his daughter. In return for this support, Alonso was awarded an annual tribute from the usurping Duke Antonio's coffers, as well as the subjection of Milan to Naples. Thus, twelve years later, when Prospero discovers that Alonso and his followers are nearby aboard a ship, he creates the tempest to wash them ashore and exact a long overdue revenge.
Alonso's first appearance in the play occurs in I.i, while he is on board the ship during the storm, trying to exert his authority over the toiling crew. Faced with the fury of the tempest, the master of the ship, his boatswain, and his crew ignore the king's commands and order him below deck.
Alonso next appears in II.i, grieving over his missing son, Ferdinand, whom he believes to have been drowned and refusing to be consoled even by his faithful counselor, Gonzalo. At the close of II.i, Alonso is saved by Ariel and Gonzalo from being assassinated in his sleep by his own brother, Sebastian, and Antonio.
By the time he appears again, in III.iii, Alonso is exhausted from...
(The entire section is 465 words.)
Antonio (Character Analysis)
He is the current duke of Milan and the treacherous brother of Prospero, the former duke of Milan. At the beginning of the play, Prospero tells Miranda how as duke he retreated to his studies after entrusting Antonio, "whom next thyself / Of all the world I lov'd," with the practical side of governing Milan (I.ii.66-78). Greedy for total power, Antonio usurped his brother with the help of King Alonso of Naples and set Prospero and the infant Miranda adrift in a rotten boat. As the play opens, Antonio is traveling nearby on the ship carrying King Alonso and his courtiers home from Tunis—thus providing Prospero with the opportunity to bring his enemies to justice.
Critics have noted that Antonio displays his villainous nature virtually from the moment he appears in the play. As the ship is being battered by the storm, Prospero's "perfidious" brother swears at the hard-working boatswain, calling him a "whoreson, insolent noisemaker"; shortly afterward, he accuses the crew members of being "drunkards" and blames them for any deaths that may occur as a result of the tempest (I.i.43-44,56). Later, when he lands on the island with Alonso and his followers, Antonio ridicules Gonzalo for his optimism, mocking the old counselor's effort to cheer up the king and laughing at his description of the ideal commonwealth (II.i.1-190). Once Alonso is charmed asleep by Ariel, Antonio persuades Sebastian (Alonso's brother) to try to murder the king and succeed him on the...
(The entire section is 354 words.)
Ariel (Character Analysis)
He is a spirit of the air. In I.ii.250-93, we learn that Ariel was once the servant of Sycorax, a wicked sorceress who had imprisoned the spirit in a "cloven pine" for refusing to fulfill her "earthy and abhorr'd commands" (I.ii.277,273). Ariel remained trapped inside the tree for twelve years, crying out in pain, until Prospero arrived on the island, released him, and bound the airy spirit to his service. Thus at Prospero's command, Ariel stirs up the tempest which strands Alonso and his followers on the island (I.i). Again acting on his master's instructions, he beguiles Alonso's son, Ferdinand, with music—convincing the prince that his father is dead ("Full fathom five thy father lies") and leading him to the admiring and "admir'd" Miranda (I.ii.375-412; III.i.37). Ariel also saves Alonso and Gonzalo from assassination by Sebastian and Antonio (II.i.300-5) and warns Prospero of plots being formed against him by the drunken Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban.
In III.iii, Ariel helps his master create an illusory banquet for Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio, only to torment these "three men of sin" by whisking their feast away and then chastising them for their crimes against Prospero. In IV.i.57-138, the airy spirit presides over a betrothal masque in honor of Ferdinand and Miranda's engagement. In IV.i.255-66, he helps Prospero punish Caliban and his coconspirators with cramps, pinches, and "dry convulsions."
As the play nears its conclusion,...
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Caliban (Character Analysis)
Described in the character list as "a savage and deformed slave," Caliban is the son of Sycorax, an evil witch who has since died but who once held sway over the island now ruled by Prospero. Regarding him as a "beast" and a "poisonous slave, got by the devil himself' upon Sycorax, Prospero has forced Caliban into servitude (IV.i.140; I.ii.319). By contrast, Caliban considers himself mistreated and overworked. He bitterly accuses Prospero of befriending him in order to take advantage of his gratitude and rob him of the island which he considers his birthright:
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first,
Thou strok'st me and made much of me; wouldst give me
Water with berries in't, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I lov'd thee,
And show'd thee all the qualities o' th' isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place, and fertile.
Curs'd be I that did so! …
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king;
Calling him a liar, Prospero reminds Caliban that he was treated well until he tried to rape Miranda:
I have used thee
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodg'd thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to...
(The entire section is 690 words.)
Ferdinand (Character Analysis)
He is the son and heir of King Alonso of Naples. Ferdinand is the first to leap overboard during the tempest; and in keeping with Prospero's plan, he lands on the island alone, separated from his father's group. Ariel uses song to convince the youth that his father is dead and that the island is enchanted, as well as to lure him into the presence of Miranda:
Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
When he first encounters Prospero's daughter, Ferdinand is struck by her beauty. In fact, his first reaction to Miranda resembles her initial reaction to him: she believes that he is a spirit rather than a man, and he wonders whether she is goddess of the island (I.ii.410-28). The two of them quickly fall in love with one another; but Prospero, who has foreseen the match and secretly approves of it, decides to test Ferdinand's love, "lest too light winning / Make the prize light," and forces the youth into servitude on the pretense that he is a spy (I.ii.452-53).
Ferdinand replies that the loss of his father and his own imprisonment and hard labor "are but light" to him as long as he is near Miranda (I.ii.486-94). Ferdinand appears again in III.i, bearing firewood for Prospero and remaining...
(The entire section is 398 words.)
Gonzalo (Character Analysis)
He is an honest and trusted advisor to King Alonso of Naples. In I.ii.160-68, we learn that twelve years ago, when Prospero was usurped and he and his daughter, Miranda, were set adrift at sea, Gonzalo took pity on the two of them, supplying them not only with the food and water necessary to survive but also with those things that make life easier:
Some food we had and some fresh water that
A noble Neapolitan, Gonzalo,
Out of his charity,—who being then appointed
Master of this design,—did give us, with
Rich garments, linens, stuffs, and necessaries,
Which since have steaded much: so of his gentleness,
Knowing I lov'd my books, he furnish'd me,
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom.
Among these books are Prospero's volumes of magic, which enable him to control the spirits of the island and, as it happens, to create the tempest that brings Alonso and his court ashore.
Gonzalo is unusual among Alonso's stranded courtiers for his integrity and optimism. After the tempest washes them ashore in II.i.1-9, he tries to comfort his king by remarking on the "miracle" of their survival. When Alonso refuses consolation, Gonzalo tries to distract him with his own definition of the ideal comonwealth (II.i.148-57,160-65). It is revealing that Prospero's treacherous brother, Antonio, and Alonso's equally untrustworthy...
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Miranda (Character Analysis)
She is the daughter of Prospero, the usurped duke of Milan. Miranda, who is approximately fifteen years old, makes her first appearance in the play at I.ii.1-13, where she vividly reveals to us Prospero's powers as a magician while at the same time showing her compassion and empathy by begging her father to stop the tempest that he has created:
If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,
But that the sea, mounting to th' welkin's cheek,
Dashes the fire out. O! I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer: a brave vessel
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her
Dash'd all to pieces! O! the cry did knock
Against my very heart.
After reassuring her that all on board the ship are safe, Prospero acquaints his daughter with the story of her past—information which he has concealed from her until now, when he deems that both she and circumstances are ready. Miranda's name is derived from the word "admire," or wonder; and, in fact, she listens with wonder and rapt attention to her father's description of his former life as duke of Milan and of their arrival on the island, calling it a tale which "would cure deafness" (I.ii.106).
Miranda's capacity for wonder is a result of her innocence. She has lived on the island for twelve years with no one...
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Prospero (Character Analysis)
He is the usurped duke of Milan and the father of Miranda, as well as a powerful magician. Prospero is responsible for the tempest which casts Alonso and his courtiers upon the island where he and his daughter live. Faced with his daughter's distress at the storm and the foundering ship, Prospero concedes that he has caused the tempest but assures her that no harm has come to any of the passengers. Declaring that "I have done nothing but in care of thee" (I.ii.16), he doffs his magic robes and tells Miranda the story of their past. Twelve years ago, he explains, he was not merely the "master of a full poor cell" but the rightful duke of Milan and therefore a "prince of power" (I.ii.20,55). As duke, he was more interested in his books and "secret studies" than in ruling his city-state, so he unwisely entrusted the running of his government to his brother, Antonio (I.ii.74-77). Unfortunately, this newly received power "awake'd an evil nature" in Antonio, who conspired with King Alonso of Naples to unseat Prospero and take his title (I.ii.93). The duke, however, was so popular with his people that Antonio and Alonso didn't dare to assassinate him; instead they cast him adrift on the ocean with his infant daughter, eventually to land on the island.
Prospero concludes his narrative by observing that his luck has since changed for the better: his enemies Alonso and Antonio were aboard the ship caught in the tempest, and they are now on the island—at the mercy...
(The entire section is 896 words.)
Other Characters (Descriptions)
He is a lord attending King Alonso of Naples and a minor character in the play. After the tempest, Adrian is washed ashore in company with Alonso and several other members of the king's court. His and Gonzalo's efforts to cheer up the dejected king in II.i are ridiculed by Antonio and the king's brother, Sebastian. Thus Adrian's optimism serves as a foil to Sebastian and Antonio's mean-spirited cynicism. (A foil is a person or thing that highlights another character's traits through contrast.) When Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio are temporarily driven crazy by Prospero's spells, Adrian sorrowfully watches over them, along with Gonzalo and Francisco (III.iii.104-09; V.i.7-13).
He is an officer on the ship bearing Alonso and his courtiers home to Naples from Tunis where they had celebrated the marriage of Alonso's daughter to the king of Tunis. As the play opens, the voyagers are caught in a violent tempest conjured up by Prospero, and the boatswain is struggling unsuccessfully to keep the ship from going aground. His blunt treatment of the royal passengers (who are superior to him in social rank) as they repeatedly come on deck to question him is an indication of the severity of the storm. As the boatswain himself puts it, "What cares these roarers [tempestuous waves] for the name of king?" (I.i.16-17). Throughout I.i, the king's counselor Gonzalo doggedly insists that the boatswain is destined to die by hanging...
(The entire section is 1943 words.)