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 has them brought to his cell, where he reveals his identity and reclaims his dukedom. At the end of the story, he has the satisfaction of releasing Ariel, abandoning his magic, and returning to Milan for the marriage of Miranda and Ferdinand. In the figure of Prospero, some readers have found William Shakespeare’s self-portrait; in Prospero’s burying of his books on magic, they have found a symbol of Shakespeare’s renunciation of the stage.
Miranda (mih-RAN-duh), Prospero’s daughter, brought up on the island where her aged father is the only man she has ever seen. She falls instantly in love with Ferdinand. At the end of the play, they are to be married. The character of Miranda often has been taken as the depiction of complete innocence, untouched by the corruption of sophisticated life.
Ferdinand (FUR-dih-nand), the prince of Naples and son of King Alonso. Separated from his father when they reach the island, he is captured by Prospero, who, to test him, puts him at menial tasks. He falls in love with Miranda and she with him. Prospero finally permits their marriage.
Alonso (uh-LON-zoh), the king of Naples and father of Ferdinand. He aided the treacherous Antonio in deposing Prospero. When the castaways reach Prospero’s island, Alonso is so grief-stricken by the supposed loss of his son that he repents of his wickedness and is forgiven by Prospero.
Antonio (an-TOH-nee-oh), Prospero’s treacherous brother, who has usurped the dukedom of Milan. He is finally forgiven for his crime.
Sebastian (seh-BAS-tyuhn), Alonso’s brother. On the island, he plots with Antonio to usurp the throne of Naples. Prospero discovers and frustrates the plot.
Gonzalo (gon-ZAH-loh), a faithful courtier who had saved the lives of Prospero and Miranda.
Ariel (AY-ree-ehl), a spirit imprisoned by Sycorax and released by Prospero, whom he serves faithfully. At the conclusion of the play, having carried out all of Prospero’s commands, he is given complete freedom.
Caliban (KAL-ih-ban), the monstrous son of Sycorax, now a servant of Prospero. He represents brute force without intelligence and can be held in check only by Prospero’s magic. Some have seen in him Shakespeare’s conception of “natural man.”
Stephano (STEHF-ah-noh), a drunken butler who plots with Caliban and Trinculo against Prospero and is foiled by Ariel.
Trinculo (TRIHN-kew-loh), a clown, a companion of Stephano and later of Caliban.