The Tempest Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights eText

William Shakespeare

Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights

Consider the following as you read The Tempest:

  1. Prospero's magic: Prospero's magic is obviously the cause of his downfall. His motive is flawed because he longs for knowledge that mankind fears and considers evil and dangerous. On the island, however, his magic symbolizes his overall power, which shows the audience that he was most likely a strong leader when he was duke. Prospero's magic is the basis for this play; the play could not exist without it. Now that his dukedom has been taken from him the only strength he has is his magical ability, and it is through his magic that Prospero is finally able to get revenge.

  2. The Tempest: The storm Prospero creates sets the tone for the entire play. The tumultuous weather serves as a motif for the suffering Prospero has endured. Being forced into exile by his brother and living on an island with his daughter has caused Prospero much grief and sorrow. His exile has caused him to grow angry, and now he wants revenge.

  3. Appearance versus Reality: Once the men shipwreck on Prospero's island, they are immediately exposed to more magic. Throughout the play, appearances are altered, not only through magic, but also through role reversals and class distinctions (see Class Distinctions below). Shakespeare's use of appearance versus reality is a common technique he uses in many of his plays, especially in reference to the use of magic. There are several instances in which Prospero conjures spirits who take on appearances of gods or goddesses. In addition, one particular spirit imitates the voice of other characters to cause conflict between the characters. These magical interventions confuse reality and make things appear completely different from what they really are.

  4. Miranda's character: Miranda is Prospero's daughter, and she knows nothing other than life on the island. Although she does not play a major role, Shakespeare does make her an unforgettable character, simply because of her unconventional behavior. Miranda proves that she is not a typical female, especially in her argument with Caliban. She has no female role model to show her the way a woman should act; however, she is still proper and respectful to her father. The portrayal of Miranda's character shows Shakespeare's insight and his awareness that a person's environment shapes his or her personality.

  5. Class Distinction: Throughout the play it is obvious who ranks higher in social status. First, class distinction can be noticed through the character's speech. Typically, if the character is of low social status, he or she will speak in prose, and if he or she is of higher rank, the lines will be written in verse. With the use of magic, Prospero confuses these distinctions. When Stephano and Trinculo meet Caliban, Stephano immediately takes charge as leader, and later refers to himself as king of the island. In addition, Ferdinand, Prince of Milan, is treated as a servant by Prospero, which Ferdinand readily accepts in the name of love. Note the changes in class distinctions as the play progresses.

  6. Dreams: Whenever Prospero inflicts characters with his magic they associate their experience with dreams. This is another technique Shakespeare has used in several of his plays. Shakespeare's audience would have been vehemently opposed to the use of magic. Because the characters believe they are dreaming, the magic is not a threatening element of the play. Incorporating magic in such a way helps make Prospero's magic acceptable to a fearful audience.

  7. Redemption: Despite his use of magic, Prospero is a sympathetic and likable character because he admits that learning sorcery is evil. From the beginning, there are hints and inclinations that Prospero desires to repent, which contrasts with King Alonso and the Duke of Milan, Antonio. King Alonso and Antonio do not long for redemption until they learn who caused the tempest—up until that point, they are unrepentant.

  • conclude from
  • becomes pregnant
  • horn of a cuckold
  • “holy dame,” i.e., the Virgin Mary
  • whip
  • betting
  • fitting
  • suppress
  • willfulness