The action of The Tempest play takes place on an island in the Mediterranean. The enchanted island, inhabited by spirits, full of strange sounds and music, is the setting for a magical drama of loss, love and reconciliation. Read more about The Tempest settings.
Date written: 1611. The Tempest is the last play Shakespeare wrote before retiring to Stratford. During his retirement, he was visited by many of his former colleagues in the London theatres, and worked with them on their plays, but The Tempest was more or less a signing-off of his full-time career.
Genre classification: The Tempest does not conform to any of Shakespeare’s usual play genres.
Read the full, original The Tempest text
Main characters in The Tempest: Prospero, the Duke of Milan, overthrown by his brother, Antonio, lives on the island with his Daughter, Miranda after having been put into a boat and pushed out to sea 12 years before. During that time he has studied magic and now controls the island through that art.
Prospero causes a shipwreck as his brother, Antonio, with a party of other dignitaries is returning from a wedding in Tunis.
Alonso, the King of Naples, helped Antonio to depose Prospero. With him is his villainous brother, Sebastian and his son, Ferdinand, who falls in love with Miranda the moment he sets eyes on her. The other members of the party are Gonzalo, an old courtier of Milan, the man who tried to help Prospero and Miranda after the coup and two of Alonso’s courtiers, Adrian and Francisco.
Prospero has two servants: Ariel, a delicate and bird-like spirit who is invisible, except to his master and he performs magical tasks for him, and Caliban, a misshapen monster, the son of the wicked witch Sycorax, who died before Prospero arrived on the island.
Trinculo, Alonso’s jester and Stephano, his butler, have also survived the wreck.
There are three goddesses who make an appearance on the island – Iris, Ceres and Juno. See a full list of characters in The Tempest.
The Tempest themes: The play is about forgiveness and reconciliation as Prospero forgives all those who have wronged him and his daughter, and returns to resume his Dukedom in Milan. In a more postmodern fashion, the play is concerned with itself as a play. With its theatrical illusions and disguises, and the action directed by the main character, Prospero, it explores theatrical production.
Magic was a taboo subject in Shakespeare’s time, with witches and other occultists routinely burnt at the stake. Shakespeare is exploring the potential of magic for good rather than evil.
Other themes are civilization versus nature; authority, and, as usual in Shakespeare, appearance and reality.