The Tempest

A usurped Duke, marooned on an island, uses wizardry to exact revenge on those who overthrew him, however he must also learn to forgive.

We are such stuff
as dreams are made on...

Prospero, Act 4, Scene 1

Prospero, the Duke of Milan, allows his kingdom to fall into the hands of his ruthless brother Antonio.

With the help of Alonso, King of Naples, Antonio sends Prospero and his young daughter Miranda to sea, to certain death. Miranda and Prospero find safety on a seemingly uninhabited island. For 12 years Prospero rules over the island and its inhabitants and masters the art of magic in the hope that an opportunity for revenge will arise.

With the help of his captive sprite, Ariel, Prospero raises a tempest, which shipwrecks Antonio, Alonso and other Italian nobles on the island. Prospero torments his usurpers, and Miranda falls in love with Alonso’s son, Ferdinand. After Prospero reveals himself as the puppet-master of the ploy, Alonso repents his behaviour and Antonio faces his comeuppance. Prospero sets Ariel free, forgoes his magic and returns to Milan.

Thought to be Shakespeare’s last play as sole playwright, The Tempest is an experiment in form and style that features music, magic and the most stage directions of any of his plays. The play is often thought to be autobiographical, and when Prospero gives up his magic in the final act, many audiences believe this to be Shakespeare’s artistic farewell.

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Damien Strouthos as Caliban, Hazem Shammas as Stephano, and Arky Michael as Trinculo (2015, photo: credit)

SYNOPSIS

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I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer...

Miranda, Act 1, Scene 2

A ship out at sea is caught in a terrifying storm. On board, along with the ship’s crew, is the King of Naples, Alonso, his son Ferdinand, the Duke of Milan, Antonio, and their companions. The ship is wrecked.

Watching from a nearby island, a young girl named Miranda wonders if the storm has been created by her father, Prospero, knowing he is a magician with powers capable of such a thing.

Prospero then reveals to Miranda that he was once Duke of Milan, until his brother Antonio, aided by Alonso, usurped his Dukedom and put Prospero and Miranda to sea, to certain death.

He recalls how the noble Gonzalo assisted them with food, water and Prospero’s books, before they washed up on the shore of this island, deserted except for Caliban (son of the witch Sycorax, who had died), and the spirit Ariel, whom Sycorax had trapped.

Prospero then uses magic to make Miranda sleep, and the magical Ariel, Prospero’s spritely servant, arrives. We learn that Prospero instructed Ariel to raise the storm, and that while the ship was wrecked, all on board are safe and well. Ariel has distributed them all around the island.

Ariel asks Prospero for his freedom, stating his loyal service without complaint. Prospero reminds him that it was he who freed Ariel from the wrath of Sycorax, but promises to release Ariel in less than two days. Then we meet Caliban, a native of the island who Prospero has enslaved. Prospero orders Caliban to do his bidding, but Caliban refuses, claiming that he is the rightful inhabitant of the island. Prospero then threatens Caliban and sends him to fetch firewood.

Ariel uses music to enchant and lure Ferdinand, Prince of Naples, so that Miranda and Ferdinand can meet for the first time. Miranda is amazed at seeing another person, and the two are utterly captivated with each other, which pleases Prospero.

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Famous lines

O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

Miranda, Act 5, Scene 1

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Historical background

The Tempest was most likely written around 1610-1611, during the reign of King James I, and is often considered the last play Shakespeare wrote as the sole playwright.

Fast facts

The Tempest has more music in it than any other Shakespeare play.

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Debatable points

Is The Tempest Shakespeare's final farewell?

As Shakespeare wrote the play towards the end of his career there has been much discussion over its autobiographical nature. Some believe it was Shakespeare’s way of saying goodbye to his art and beloved audiences.

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The Post-colonial Tempest

Despite the lyrical and poetic beauty of the play, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the play’s reception over time, and the conversation surrounding it, has been altered by ever-changing racial theories and evolving cultural awareness.

Read about The Post-colonial Tempest