The Tempest Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What are the autobiographical elements in Shakespeare's The Tempest?

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Megan Miller eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's last plays, and one that seems to have no source material. This opens up the question: what is the inspiration for this play? Some would say there is no historical source material because the source of inspiration is Shakespeare himself.

Many people believe that Prospero is an autobiographical character. They have interpreted Prospero's speech in which he gives up his magic as Shakespeare's farewell to the theater. He says "our revels are now ended" and later asks for applause to "set him free." The main reason for people thinking this play is autobiographical comes from the character Prospero.

Prospero also makes mention of "the great globe itself," which potentially could be a reference to Shakespeare's Globe Theater. The island is bare, much like how stages at the time would often lack elaborate sets. The magic that occurs on the island could be an allegory for the idea of "magic" being created during a performance, as performances can transport audiences into stories.

At the end of the day, we don't really know for sure if The Tempest is autobiographical or not. This is just a reaction that some readers and Shakespeare scholars have.

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Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Beginning in the late 1800s, critics saw elements of Shakespeare in the character of Prospero, the sorcerer in the Tempest. Even Coleridge, in his essay on the play, mentioned this connection. Prospero is a sorcerer with a great deal of self-control, and in his magic, scholars see reflections of Shakespeare's genius for conjuring characters and plots. In addition, Prospero gives up his magic arts at the end of the play, which parallels how The Tempest was one of Shakespeare's last plays. He died about five years after completing it. 

Scholars such as Paul Beauregard also believe Prospero's character is a sign of Shakespeare's Catholicism. In the epilogue of The Tempest, Prospero says, "And my ending is despair/ Unless I be reliev'd by prayer." Beauregard sees these lines as a reflection of Shakespeare's belief in prayer to achieve salvation, which was a Catholic idea, not a Protestant one. Protestants believe in faith alone as a way to achieve salvation. 

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