Suggested Essay Topics
Act I, Scene 1
1. With disrespect for the king, the Boatswain says, “What cares these roarers for the name of king?” Explicate this passage in the light of the king’s authority at sea. To whose authority did the king succumb? Did the Boatswain have power over the king? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Gonzalo keeps a sense of humor in spite of the chaos of the storm. Write an essay explaining his joke concerning the Boatswain. Why did he think the Boatswain was the kind of fellow who was born to be hanged? Why would that keep him from drowning? What effect would the Boatswain’s fate have on the other passengers and crew? Draw your examples from the play to support your ideas.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 1-188
1. A primitive island and a civilized Milan are the two opposing worlds of the play. Compare these two worlds in view of the theme of illusion versus reality. In what way is the island an illusory world? In what way is Milan the world of reality? Do the leaders of Milan harbor any illusions? Give examples from the play to support your opinion.
2. The people of Shakespeare’s day believed that the natural order was based on the hierarchy of all beings. In what way does this idea apply to the usurpation of Prospero’s dukedom? What was the result when Antonio became the new Duke of Milan? How did his actions affect the natural harmony of Milan? How did it affect the mutual trust between the two brothers? Cite examples from the play to explain your answer.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 189-320
1. Prospero’s magic is set in contrast to that of the “foul witch Sycorax” in this scene. Compare and contrast the magic of Prospero to the magic of Sycorax. In what way could Prospero’s use of the supernatural be labelled “white magic”? Was Sycorax practicing “black magic”? How do they compare? How are they different? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Ariel frightened the passengers as he “flam’d amazement” during the storm at sea. Explicate this term in the light of Ariel’s powers as a spirit. In what way does he appear as the element of fire on the topmast of the ship? As the element of air? As the element of water? Would this have been a believable phenomenon in Shakespeare’s day? To support your explanation, use examples from the play.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 321-374
1. Caliban’s brutish nature is set in opposition to the civilized nature of Prospero and Miranda in this scene. Contrast the two natures in relation to the idea of a corrupted society. Does Caliban seem less corrupt because he is a natural man? How has learning a language affected him? Do Prospero and Miranda seem more corrupt because they are civilized? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Caliban is described as “a savage and deformed slave” in the “Names of the Actors.” Write an essay explaining the idea of savagery and deformity. Give a definition of a savage as it relates to the sixteenth century and explain how Caliban fits that definition. In what way was Caliban deformed? Why was he subhuman? Would his portrayal have been credible to Shakespeare’s audience? Give examples from the play to support your answer.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 375-504
1. Ariel informs Ferdinand that his father “suffers a sea-change” at the bottom of the sea. Explicate this passage in the light of Alonso’s crimes while he was still in Milan. How does the “sea-change” symbolize what will happen to him on the island? How will the “sea-change” affect Prospero? How will it affect the world of Milan? Cite examples from the play to support your essay.
2. Ariel invites his invisible attendant spirits to the dance. Write an essay explaining how the dance symbolizes the relationship of Ferdinand and Miranda. How will the young couple imitate the dance in their daily lives? How will their lives affect the kingdom of Milan? To support your view, give examples from the play.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 1-184
1. Gonzalo’s ideal commonwealth is patterned after that of Montaigne. Compare and contrast the two societies. In what way is Montaigne’s natural society ideal? How does Gonzalo’s commonwealth measure up to that ideal? What is the irony of Gonzalo’s so-called primeval society? Are there any elements of European civilization in either of the two societies? Cite examples from the play to support your argument.
2. Sebastian and Antonio demonstrate relentless cruelty to Alonso who is grieving for his son. Write an essay analyzing their hope of receiving forgiveness and reconciliation by the end of the play. Do Sebastian and Antonio feel guilty for anything they have done in the past? Does Antonio feel guilty about his usurpation of Prospero’s dukedom? Do either of them feel guilty about their cruelty to Alonso in this scene? To support your argument, give examples from the play.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 185-328
1. Antonio is often thought of as a villain in The Tempest. Write an essay explaining his role as the villain. Is Antonio completely evil? What is his attitude toward his conscience? In what way is he different from Sebastian? Explain his attitude toward power in the play. How far will he go to gain power and position? Cite examples from the play to support your ideas.
2. There are numerous references to sleep in this scene. Write an essay in which you enumerate the sleep images and explicate their meanings. What is Alonso’s feeling about sleep and how is it symbolic of his healing process? Explain the meaning of the sleep images used by Antonio and Sebastian. What does Sebastian mean when he says that Antonio speaks a “sleepy language”? Why does Sebastian let his “fortune sleep”? Use examples from the play to support your explanation.
Act II, Scene II
1. Most critics feel Caliban is superior to Stephano and Trinculo in the play. Write an essay comparing Caliban to Stephano and Trinculo. Compare the language of the three characters. Why does Caliban speak in verse? Why do Trinculo and Stephano speak in prose? Does Shakespeare consider Caliban superior? To support your argument, choose...
(The entire section is 2575 words.)
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