Most of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, and tragedies were written during England’s “golden age” under the celebrated 45-year reign (1558-1603) of Queen Elizabeth I. Historically, the Elizabethan era took place in the wake of the Protestant Reformation when the English Renaissance was ushered in and the arts flourished. When King James I succeeded Elizabeth to the throne after her death in 1603, he continued, at least to some extent, the rich cultural legacy left by the late queen. The new king, a patron of the arts, agreed to sponsor the King’s Men, Shakespeare’s theatrical group.
By 1608, after an illustrious career as a playwright, Shakespeare turned away from the great tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear) and directed his creative energies toward the romances or tragi-comedies (The Tempest, Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter’s Tale).
The romances involve improbable and fanciful events that border on imagination rather than fact. Prospero’s magic is typical of the genre. Characters are often drawn in opposing categories of black and white and include the idealized heroine. In The Tempest, for example, Miranda is portrayed as the pure image of chastity. Love in the romances is characteristically subjected to great difficulty. Miranda stands by anxiously as she watches Ferdinand bear the “trials of love” imposed upon him by Prospero.
The Tempest is tragi-comic with a serious plot that could be suitable for tragedy but ends happily like a comedy. The usurpation of Prospero’s dukedom and the plot of Antonio and Sebastian to kill Alonso and Gonzalo carry potential tragic elements, but the evil plans are eventually thwarted, and all ends happily.
The Tempest was first published in the Folio edition of 1623 where it was placed as the opening work. According to an account book at the Revel’s Office in Somerset House, the play was first performed at Whitehall on Hallowmas night, November 1, 1611. It was produced in court for the second time to celebrate the marriage of the daughter of James I, Princess Elizabeth, to the Elector Palatine in the winter of 1612-13.
There are no known sources for the main plot, but it is believed that...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Enchanted island. Remote home of the rightful duke of Milan, Prospero, as well as his daughter Miranda and his slave Caliban. Presumably the almost deserted island is in the Mediterranean Sea, but it resembles the tropical islands of even more remote seas around the world that European navigators were beginning to discover during William Shakespeare’s time. Europeans were coming to expect far-off islands to be home to strange creatures and peoples, such as Prospero’s islander slave, Caliban. To the Europeans, remote tropical islands also seemed like earthly paradises, recalling myths of an original Golden Age or a new Utopia.
Such earthly paradises—or any new lands, for that matter—were starting to be occupied by Europeans without much regard for their original inhabitants. A microcosm of this developing colonial mentality exists in The Tempest, whose island originally belonged to Caliban, who is described as a “savage” and “monster.” After becoming stranded on the island with his young daughter, Prospero at first coexists peacefully with Caliban. However, when Caliban tries to mate with Miranda, Prospero takes over the island and enslaves Caliban.
What enables Prospero to enslave Caliban so easily is his knowledge gained from books (much superior to the black magic of Caliban’s mother, a witch). Through this knowledge, Prospero is able to torture Caliban’s joints and give him nightmares. Prospero uses the same knowledge to draw his European enemies to the island, stir up a storm that shipwrecks them, and harass them until they beg forgiveness. Prospero is an archetypal figure of the scientist, and his abilities to play music in the air, control the weather, and call on spirits to do his bidding make the island a science and technology museum.
Act I, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
1. Who was in charge of the ship during the storm at sea?
2. Why did Alonso, the king, interfere with the Boatswain’s work in securing the ship during the storm?
3. Where did the Boatswain tell the king and his courtiers to go?
4. Who were the first to go to their cabins below the top deck?
5. What joke does Gonzalo tell concerning the Boatswain?
6. How does this joke affect the rest of the passengers and crew?
7. How do Sebastian and Antonio react to the Boatswain?
8. How does the Boatswain respond to Sebastian’s and Antonio’s insulting remarks?
9. How does Antonio decide to die in the storm at sea?...
(The entire section is 256 words.)
Act I, Scene 2, lines 1-188 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Miranda ask her father to calm the storm at sea?
2. How does Prospero comfort Miranda’s fears about the suffering people on the ship?
3. Does Miranda remember anything about her life before she came to the island?
4. How old was Miranda when they arrived on the island?
5. In what way did Antonio dispose of Prospero and Miranda after he had usurped his dukedom?
6. Why did Antonio spare the lives of Prospero and Miranda?
7. Why did Antonio put Prospero and Miranda on an old boat without a sail?
8. Where did Prospero and Miranda get their supplies for the island?
9. Why did Prospero raise the storm...
(The entire section is 288 words.)
Act I, Scene 2, lines 189-320 Questions and Answers
1. What three elements of nature does Ariel represent in this scene?
2. How does Ariel “burn in many places” during the tempest?
3. What did the passengers of the ship do when they were afraid of dying?
4. What did Ariel do with the passengers?
5. What did Ariel do with the mariners?
6. Where did he leave the ship? Was it damaged from the storm?
7. What does Ariel expect to get for all of his labors?
8. Why is Prospero angry at Ariel for requesting his freedom?
9. Where did the “foul witch Sycorax” imprison Ariel?
10. Why was Ariel left imprisoned for 12 years?
(The entire section is 239 words.)
Act I, Scene 2, lines 321-374 Questions and Answers
1. Who were the parents of Caliban?
2. What did Prospero do for Caliban when he first came to the island?
3. How did Caliban respond to Prospero’s treatment of him?
4. Why does Caliban feel that he owns the island?
5. What happened when Prospero took Caliban into his own lodging?
6. What does Prospero do to punish Caliban for his behavior?
7. How has Caliban benefited from learning a language?
8. How is Caliban described in the “Names of the Actors”?
9. What does Prospero threaten to do to Caliban if he does not obey him?
10. Why does Caliban finally decide to obey Prospero?
(The entire section is 241 words.)
Act I, Scene 2, lines 375-504 Questions and Answers
1. Who sings the two songs in this part of the play?
2. Who helps Ariel with the dance in “Come Unto These Yellow Sands”?
3. From where does Ferdinand think the music is coming from?
4. According to the song, what has happened to Ferdinand’s father?
5. What is Miranda’s first impression of Ferdinand?
6. What is Ferdinand’s first impression of Miranda?
7. What is Prospero’s false accusation of Ferdinand?
8. Why does Prospero accuse Ferdinand falsely?
9. What is Alonso’s sea-change?
10. Name one way in which music assists the dramatic action of the play?
(The entire section is 242 words.)
Act II, Scene 1, lines 1-184 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Alonso feeling depressed and sad?
2. How do Antonio and Sebastian react to Alonso’s depressed mood?
3. How does Adrian feel about the atmosphere of the island?
4. What is Adrian’s main dramatic purpose in this scene?
5. What happened to the garments of the royal party during the storm at sea?
6. Who was “Widow Dido”?
7. Why does Alonso feel that he suffers a double loss?
8. Why does Sebastian tell Alonso he has himself to blame for his son’s death?
9. Who would manage Gonzalo’s ideal commonwealth?
10. How does Alonso feel about Gonzalo’s proposed commonwealth?
(The entire section is 251 words.)
Act II, Scene 1, lines 185-328 Questions and Answers
1. How does Alonso feel about sleep?
2. What does Antonio do as soon as the king falls asleep?
3. In what way is Sebastian an heir to the throne?
4. How does Sebastian feel when Antonio suggests that Sebastian should be the future king?
5. How does Antonio feel about his conscience?
6. How does Antonio view the king’s position in the natural hierarchy or society’s law of degree.
7. Who has sent Ariel to stop the conspiracy? Why?
8. What is Prospero’s project?
9. Why are Antonio and Sebastian caught with their swords drawn?
10. What was Antonio and Sebastian’s excuse for drawing their...
(The entire section is 242 words.)
Act II, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
1. What does Trinculo think he has discovered when he first meets Caliban?
2. Where does Trinculo hide from the impending thunderstorm?
3. How did Stephano arrive at the shore of the island?
4. How did Trinculo get to the shore?
5. What does Stephano think he has found when he runs across Caliban’s cloak with four legs protruding?
6. How does Stephano’s wine affect Caliban?
7. What does Caliban ask Stephano to be?
8. What promises does Caliban make to Trinculo and Stephano?
9. What is the central idea in Caliban’s song?
10. What does Trinculo think about Caliban’s worship of Stephano as...
(The entire section is 209 words.)
Act III, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Ferdinand have a positive attitude about carrying logs?
2. How does Miranda feel about Ferdinand’s hard labor of carrying logs?
3. What does Miranda offer to do for Ferdinand?
4. How does Ferdinand respond to Miranda’s offer?
5. How does Miranda compare to other women Ferdinand has known?
6. Why does Miranda begin to cry?
7. Why does Ferdinand call himself the king?
8. Who proposes marriage in this scene?
9. What will Miranda do if Ferdinand does not want her for his wife?
10. How does Prospero feel about his daughter’s marriage to Ferdinand?
(The entire section is 243 words.)
Act III, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Caliban unable to walk in the beginning of this scene?
2. What is Caliban’s proposal to Stephano and Trinculo?
3. Who does Caliban suggest as king of the island? What position will Caliban hold?
4. What is Ariel’s purpose for mimicking Trinculo’s voice?
5. Why does Stephano beat Trinculo?
6. What is the first thing the conspirators intend to do when they reach Prospero’s cell?
7. Why are Prospero’s books important to the conspiracy?
8. Who notices that Stephano and Trinculo cannot get the tune of the catch?
9. Who is afraid of the mysterious music of Ariel’s tabor and pipe?
(The entire section is 225 words.)
Act III, Scene 3 Questions and Answers
1. Why does the royal party stop to rest during their search for Ferdinand?
2. What do Sebastian and Antonio plan to do that night?
3. What do Ariel’s spirits bring onto the stage?
4. What does Ariel do when he arrives on the stage?
5. Who does Ariel address in his speech?
6. What does Ariel warn them about in his speech?
7. What does Ariel mean by “heart’s sorrow”?
8. What is meant when Ariel refers to “a clear life ensuing”?
9. In what condition are the three men when Prospero leaves them?
10. What does Alonso intend to do by the end of this scene?
(The entire section is 242 words.)
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 1-163 Questions and Answers
1. Why did Prospero punish Ferdinand by forcing him to carry logs?
2. What was Ferdinand’s reward for standing up under the test of log-bearing?
3. What is Prospero’s warning to Ferdinand?
4. What does Prospero instruct Ariel to do in this scene?
5. Which characters are given dialogue in the masque?
6. List the characters who sing the masque song?
7. Explain the reason why Ceres does not want Venus to attend the masque?
8. In whose honor is the masque given?
9. Why does the masque suddenly vanish?
10. In what way does Prospero compare life to the masque or the stage?
(The entire section is 220 words.)
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 164-266 Questions and Answers
1. Where has Ariel led Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo with his tabor and pipe?
2. What does Prospero instruct Ariel to do in this scene?
3. What does Prospero call Caliban in this scene?
4. Why does Prospero feel he has treated Caliban humanely?
5. How do Stephano and Trinculo react to Prospero’s expensive wardrobe?
6. How does Caliban react to Prospero’s finery?
7. What have Stephano and Trinculo lost in the “filthy-mantled pool”?
8. What do Stephano and Trinculo do with Prospero’s kingly robes?
9. Who carries the stolen clothing? Why?
10. What finally happens to the thieving trio?...
(The entire section is 214 words.)
Act V, Scene 1, lines 1-87 Questions and Answers
1. In what way is Shakespeare observing the Aristotelian unity of time?
2. Where has Ariel left the members of the royal party?
3. What is the emotional condition of the king and his followers?
4. What does Prospero decide to do about the royal party?
5. Why does Prospero call on his elves and fairies?
6. What does Prospero intend to do with his magic staff and book?
7. Why does Prospero give up his magic?
8. Why do the king and his royal party stand in a circle?
9. What does Prospero tell Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio after the magic spell wears off?
10. What does Prospero do with his magic robe...
(The entire section is 256 words.)
Act V, Scene 1, 88-171 Questions and Answers
1. What is Ariel doing while he is singing?
2. Where will Ariel go when Prospero sets him free?
3. How does Ariel feel while he is singing his song?
4. How does Ariel’s freedom song compare to Caliban’s freedom song?
5. What does Alonso say when he sees Prospero?
6. How does Prospero assure Alonso and Gonzalo that he is still alive?
7. What does Prospero say to his brother Antonio?
8. What is Alonso’s irreparable loss?
9. What does Alonso say that would reconcile him to Prospero and bring their families together?
10. What is Prospero ready to do in response to Alonso’s wish for their...
(The entire section is 226 words.)
Act V, Scene 1, 172-255 Questions and Answers
1. What are Ferdinand and Miranda pretending to do as Prospero discovers them? What are they really doing?
2. What does Ferdinand do when he sees his father, the king?
3. Why does Ferdinand feel that the seas are merciful?
4. What does Miranda think when she first sees the members of the royal court?
5. How does Alonso feel about asking Miranda’s forgiveness?
6. How will Ferdinand and Miranda’s marriage change the future “brave new world” of Milan?
7. How does Gonzalo react when he sees the boatswain?
8. What has happened to the ship in the tempest?
9. What does Prospero promise Ariel as a reward for...
(The entire section is 278 words.)
Act V, Scene 1, Lines 256-330 Questions and Answers
1. Interpret Stephano’s confused speech when he says, “Every man shift for all the rest, and let no man take care for himself.”
2. How does Antonio react when he sees Caliban?
3. Do Antonio and Sebastian become repentant for their past deeds?
4. Does Caliban change in the course of the play?
5. Where will Ferdinand and Miranda celebrate their marriage?
6. Where will the king and his royal court spend the night?
7. How will Prospero entertain his overnight guests?
8. Who will make sure the royal party has calm seas for their trip to Naples?
9. Where does Ariel go when Prospero gives him his freedom?...
(The entire section is 279 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
French, Marilyn. Shakespeare’s Division of Experience. New York: Summit Books, 1981. French sees the play as Shakespeare’s attempt to synthesize themes from his earlier works and finally propound a theory of justice that satisfies the hierarchical imperatives he had previously set out. An examination of gender roles plays a significant part in her attempts to explicate Shakespeare’s universe. Caliban is presented as representative of colonized peoples.
Kermode, Frank. William Shakespeare: The Final Plays. London: Longmans, Green, 1963. Kermode sees this play as the most classically unified of Shakespeare’s late works, and...
(The entire section is 253 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.
The First Folio of Shakespeare, The Norton Facsimile, ed. Charlton Hinman. New York: W. W. Norton, 1968.
Berger, Karol. “Prospero’s Art,” Shakespeare Studies, Vol. X. New York: Burt Franklin, 1977.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Shakespearean Criticism. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1961.
Craig, Hardin. “Magic in The Tempest,” Philological Quarterly, 47 (1968): 8-15.
Cutts, John P. “The Tempest, the Sweet Fruition of Revenge,” Rich and Strange. Washington State...
(The entire section is 303 words.)