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The Tempest

  • First Things First
    • 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.
  • Background
    • 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?
  • Setting
    • An unidentified island
    • The New World?
    • Magical creatures, witches, and monsters
    • Lost nobles
  • Major Characters
    • 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
  • Plot
    • The tempest and the shipwreck
    • The island
      • Prospero, Miranda, and the story
      • The bargain with Ariel
      • Caliban’s resentment
      • The lovers meet
    • Elsewhere
      • 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
    • Prospero’s banquet
    • Pretty clothes and supernatural dogs
    • A lost son and a lost daughter
    • All is revealed
      • The murder plot
      • The betrayal
      • The forgiveness
    • Loose ends
      • Ariel set free
      • Prospero’s speech
      • Shakespeare’s farewell?
  • Themes
    • Justice?
    • Art and theatre
    • Men and monsters
    • Colonialism
    • Love
    • Power
  • Major Passages
    • “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.”


  • Jumping-Off Points
    • How does the character of Prospero parallel Shakespeare’s role as the author of the play? To what extent do you think Prospero isShakespeare?
    • 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 Tempesttalks 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 …

The Tempest

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.

  • Intro 0:00
  • First Things First 0:08
  • Lesson Overview 0:44
  • Background 1:16
  • Setting 2:24
  • Major Characters 2:46
    • Prospero
    • Miranda
    • Ariel
    • Caliban
    • Antonio
    • Gonzalo
    • Alonso
    • Sebastian
    • Ferdinand
    • Trinculo
    • Stephano
  • Plot 4:26
    • The tempest and the shipwreck
    • The island
    • Elsewhere
    • The lovers get to know each other
    • Ariel messes with the murderous drunks
    • Prospero's banquet
    • Pretty clothes and supernatural dogs
    • A lost son and a lost daughter
    • All is revealed
    • Loose ends
  • Themes 10:54
  • Major Passages 13:14
    • Act II, scene 2, 366-368
    • Act III, scene 1, 77-86
    • Act IV, scene 1, 148-158
    • Epilogue
  • Jumping-Off Points 15:32
    • Is Prospero Shakespeare?
    • Analyze the character of Caliban
    • Prospero's and Miranda's relationship
    • Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban
    • Examine the use of noise in the play
    • Governing the island
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare 18:34