Summary of The Tempest
The Tempest is a play that was written by William Shakespeare in the early 1600s. When the play begins, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, and his teenage daughter, Miranda, live on a remote island where they have been stranded for the past twelve years. Their only companions are Ariel, a magical spirit enslaved by Prospero, and Caliban, a native of the island who is also enslaved by Prospero. Prospero was originally Duke of Milan, but his position was usurped by his brother Antonio, possibly with the consent of King Alonso of Naples and Alonso's brother Sebastian.
The play opens with Antonio, Alonso, and several of their retainers on a ship in a great storm, the titular tempest. Unbeknownst to them, the storm is the work of Prospero, who aims to shipwreck them on his island. Once they are washed ashore, Prospero plans to take revenge on his foes and regain his position as Duke of Milan. Eventually, through magic, intimidation, and trickery, Prospero succeeds in his plans. Prospero is restored to his dukedom, brings about the revelation of Antonio's betrayal, and secures the marriage of Miranda to King Alonso's son, Prince Ferdinand.
Let's take a look at the characters in this play:
- Prospero is the former Duke of Milan, treacherously overthrown by his brother Antonio. Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, narrowly escaped death during the coup with the help of Gonzalo. Now stranded on a remote island, Prospero is a great sorcerer who draws his powers from his books and from the enslaved spirit Ariel. Prospero plots revenge on his enemies, and this drives much of the action in the play.
- Miranda is Prospero's teenage daughter, who has been stranded on the island with Prospero for the past twelve years. By the end of the play, Miranda has fallen in love with Ferdinand and the two are engaged to be married, much to Prospero's delight.
- Ariel is a magical spirit enslaved by Prospero. Ariel as well as Ariel's magic play a key role in Prospero's deceptions and powers. At the end of the play, Prospero agrees to free Ariel as a reward for Ariel's service.
- Caliban is the son of Sycorax. Caliban and Sycorax inhabited the island when Prospero and Miranda arrived. When the play starts, Sycorax has died and Prospero has enslaved Caliban. Over the course of the play, Caliban rebels against Prospero, but at the end of the play, Caliban agrees to obey Prospero again.
- Sycorax is an earlier inhabitant of the island and Caliban's mother. Sycorax has died by the time the play starts, but she is mentioned several times by Prospero and Caliban.
- Alonso is the king of Naples. Prospero believes Alonso was complicit in Antonio's betrayal of Prospero, but by the end of the play, Alonso restores Prospero to his dukedom and agrees that Alonso's son, Prince Ferdinand, should marry Prospero's daughter, Miranda.
- Sebastian is Alonso's treacherous brother. Over the course of the play, Sebastian plots unsuccessfully to kill Alonso and Ferdinand in order to place himself on the throne. At the end of the play, Sebastian's treachery is revealed and forgiven.
- Antonio is Prospero's brother, who usurped Prospero's position as Duke of Milan. While on the island, Antonio and Sebastian plot, without success, to kill Alonso and his family. At the end of the play, Prospero begrudgingly forgives Antonio after Prospero is restored to his dukedom.
- Ferdinand is Alonso's son and Prince of Naples. With help from Prospero's magic and manipulation, Ferdinand falls in love with Miranda over the course of the play. By the end of the play, the two are engaged to be married.
- Gonzalo is a Neapolitan courtier who provided Miranda and Prospero with water, food, and books when they were at sea.
- Trinculo is the King's jester. He is also a friend of Stephano. Trinculo and Stephano's misadventures on the island are a large part of the comic relief in the play.
- Stephano is the king's steward and friend of Trinculo. Stephano unsuccessfully attempts to help Caliban overthrow Prospero.
Now that we've covered the plot and characters of the play, let's take a moment to analyze the play.
First, The Tempest and the theater. Throughout The Tempest, there are many references to the theater and the putting on of a play. Many critics believe this play provided a forum for Shakespeare to comment on the relationship between the theater and life in general. The Tempest was probably the last play Shakespeare wrote, and some critics have even claimed the character of Prospero is meant to be, in some ways, representative of Shakespeare himself. At the end of the play, when Prospero give up his magic and books, this can be seen as a metaphor for Shakespeare leaving the theater.
Next, postcolonial views of The Tempest. Shakespeare lived at a time when Europeans were exploring the Americas, Africa, and Asia and establishing colonies in some of these places. The Tempest can be read as containing Shakespeare's commentary on colonialism. Prospero's enslavement of Ariel and Caliban by means of magic drawn from books can be seen as a metaphor for Europeans' domination of the people in their colonies through advanced technology. It is clear that Caliban and Ariel suffer as a result of this domination, and this can be read as Shakespeare's critique on the evils of colonialism.
The Tempest is a play that was written by William Shakespeare in the early 1600s. The play opens with Antonio, Alonso, and several of their retainers on a ship in a great storm, the titular tempest. Unbeknownst to them, the storm is the work of Prospero, former Duke of Milan, treacherously overthrown by his brother, Antonio, who has been stranded on an island for twelve years and is now a great sorcerer. He is stranded with his daughter, Miranda, and enslaves a magical spirit named Ariel and Caliban, a native of the island. Themes of this play include theater's relationship to real life and criticism of colonialism.
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