In this lesson, our instructor Rebekah Hendershot teaches The Tempest. Youll go over the complete background of the play, the setting, and the characters. Rebekah explains each character in detail, including Prospero, Miranda, Ariel, Caliban, Antonio, Gonzalo, Alonso and everyone in between. Youll learn each element of the plot from the shipwreck to when all is finally revealed. Themes, major passages, and essay topic jumping-off points are also covered. With Rebekah youll discuss topics such as the relationship between Prospero and Miranda, the use of noise in the play, and how to govern an island. The lesson concludes with a few secrets to make understanding Shakespeare a lot easier.
This lesson will teach you how to read and understand a play by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
Written 1610 – 1611
Taken from many sources, but not quite like any of them
Commedia dell’arte? A shipwreck off Bermuda?
Not published during Shakespeare’s lifetime (First Folio, 1623)
Shakespeare’s last (solo) play?
An unidentified island
The New World?
Magical creatures, witches, and monsters
Prospero—Duke of Milan, magician, father of Miranda.
Miranda—Daughter of Prospero who falls in love with Ferdinand
Ariel—Mischievous spirit, servant of Prospero
Caliban—Son of the witch Sycorax, resentful slave of Prospero
Antonio—Duke of Milan, brother of Prospero, usurper
Gonzalo—Neapolitan courtier who secretly gave Prospero and Miranda food, water, and books when they were cast out
Alonso—King of Naples, father of Ferdinand
Sebastian—Alonso’s brother, would-be usurper
Ferdinand—Prince of Naples, son of Alonso, falls in love with Miranda
Trinculo—The King’s jester
Stephano—The King’s drunken steward
The tempest and the shipwreck
Prospero, Miranda, and the story
The bargain with Ariel
The lovers meet
A sleeping spell and a plot against a king
The clown, the steward, and the native get drunk
The lovers get to know each other
Ariel messes with the murderous drunks
Pretty clothes and supernatural dogs
A lost son and a lost daughter
All is revealed
The murder plot
Ariel set free
Art and theatre
Men and monsters
“You taught me language, and my profit on’t Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you For learning me your language!”
-Act II, Scene 2, 366-368
“[I weep] at mine unworthiness, that dare not offer What I desire to give, and much less take What I shall die to want.…”
-Act III, Scene 1, 77-86
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits …”
-Act IV, Scene 1, 148-158
“Now my charms are all o’er thrown And what strength I have’s mine own, Which is most faint … …As you from crimes would pardon’d be Let your indulgence set me free.”
How does the character of Prospero parallel Shakespeare’s role as the author of the play? To what extent do you think Prospero is Shakespeare?
Analyze the character of Caliban. Is he the monster Prospero claims he is? Is he the victim he sees in himself? Is he a savage beast who tried to rape Miranda, or a sensitive creature who speaks some of the play’s most beautiful poetry? How does Caliban align with the image of a colonized native?
Analyze Prospero’s and Miranda’s relationship. Who’s in charge? How does it change over the course of the play as Miranda comes into her own?
How do the scenes with Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban parody the main plot of the play?
Examine the use of noise within the play. It begins “with a tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning”, and noise and music play big roles in the story. How does Shakespeare use noise? How would his audience have perceived these noises (remember this was before high-tech effects!)?
For a fantasy, The Tempest talks a lot about government. How do the various characters view the prospect of governing the island?
The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare
Watch it performed (or on film if you can’t get to a theatrical production). All of Shakespeare makes more sense when it’s spoken by actors who have lived his words and know, bone-deep, what he’s talking about. Never underestimate the power of performance. Remember that this is how Shakespeare meant his work to be seen …
Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.
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