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The Tempest
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The Tempest

The Tempest is one of William Shakespeare's last plays. It was performed for the first time on November 1, 1611 at Whitehall Palace in London.

As a play The Tempest belong to the class of plays commonly grouped as his late romances. In these plays, Shakespeare show a concern with family ties and reconciliation in a typical myth-like or rarified setting.

Table of contents
1 The Story
2 Criticisms and stage history
3 Influences
4 External links

The Story

The sorcerer Prospero, former Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda, have been stranded for sixteen years on the island, after Prospero's jealous brother deposed him and set him adrift with the newborn girl. Possessed of magic powers due to his great learning, Prospero is served by a spirit, Ariel, whom he has rescued from imprisonment in a tree. Ariel was imprisoned by the witch Sycorax, who had been exiled to the island years before and died before Prospero arrived. The witch's son Caliban, a deformed monster who was the only non-spiritual inhabitant before the arrival of Prospero, has been compelled by Prospero to serve as the sorcerer's servant.

The play opens as Prospero, having divined that his brother, Antonio, is on a ship passing close by the island, has raised a storm (the tempest of the title) which causes the ship to run aground. Also on the ship are Antonio's friend and fellow conspirator, King Alonso, and Alonso's son, Ferdinand. Prospero, by his spells, contrives to separate all the survivors of the wreck so that Alonso and Ferdinand believe one another dead. Caliban falls in with Stephano and Trinculo, two drunken crew members, and attempts to raise a rebellion against Prospero, but this fails. Meanwhile, Ferdinand, imprisoned by Prospero, falls in love with Miranda. All ends happily, as Prospero forgives his enemies and produces a magical masque to celebrate the union of Miranda with Ferdinand. This is the cue for one of the best-known speeches in Shakespeare, including the lines:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. [. . .]

In this speech, reference appears to be made to the Globe Theatre. The character of Prospero is believed by some to be based on Shakespeare's contemporary, Dr John Dee. Because The Tempest was one of Shakespeare's very last plays, it has been popular to excerpt this speech and interpret it as Shakespeare's own farewell to the theatre. Supporters of this interpretation also commonly point to the epilogue spoken by Prospero directly to the audience after the final curtain, in which he insists that his power to work his magic is finally gone and asks the audience to set him free with their approving applause ("Now my charms are all o'erthrown . . .). However, most serious critics consider this interpretation rather fanciful. Shakespeare did not end his career with The Tempest, but went on to collaborate with John Fletcher on perhaps three more plays.

Criticisms and stage history

Some recent criticism of The Tempest has interpreted it in terms of colonialism; other readings of the play interpret it as a discourse on the nature of evil; the tempest and the reference to the Bermoothes are seen by some as an early reference to the Bermuda Triangle.


The Tempest has inspired numerous later works, including short poems such as that by Robert Browning, and the long poem The Sea and the Mirror by W. H. Auden. The title of the novel Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley is also taken explicitly from this play.

External links