Nixon, James Henry. The Tempest





















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Summary of the play/Story:

plot summary


Study Questions:

study questions(1) : quoted from

1. Is there a golden or brazen world in this play? What does the island represent?
2. Consider the need for forgiveness in this play. Does Prospero forgive? Why or why not?
3. Caliban claims that he is the legal heir to the ownership of the island and that Prospero is a usurper. Is this true? Keep track of both Caliban's and Ariel's origins before the arrival of Prospero. Why is Caliban treated so badly by Prospero? What does Caliban represent?
4. What does Ariel represent? What is the nature of his relationship to Prospero? Is Prospero kind to him?
5. Did Prospero deserve to be removed from office?
6. What is the purpose of the masque in the play? What is the purpose of the storm, aside from bringing the nobles to the island?
7. What do Prospero's book and staff represent? Why does he break them at the end? Should he have taken them back to Italy with him?
8. Caliban is a good speaker in a world where good language means nobility of soul. Why is he so eloquent?
9. What is the purpose of the lowlife subplot?
10. All of the characters refer to art versus "real life" at various points in this play. What is the role of art in this play's world?

study questions(2) : quoted from


Some readers object to The Tempest because they feel that Prospero is too powerful. If he is manipulating everyone, they feel, then there is not enough tension or challenge in the play. To what degree do you think Prospero is in control? Do any characters escape his watchful eye, or do things he didn't expect?
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2. Critics often look at Prospero as a "stand-in" for Shakespeare, saying goodbye to his career in the theater and using Prospero's "magic" as a way to refer to the magic of the stage. Find several passages in the play which seem to make connections between Prospero's magic and a stage performance, or theatrical special effects. How are these connections shown? Do you agree with this critical interpretation?
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3. What do you think Ariel looks like in its "natural" shape? What do you think Caliban looks like all the time? Find passages in the play in which other characters talk about them. Why do you think you have the visual impression you do?<answer keys>
4. The Tempest is virtually Shakespeare's only play to follow a set of rules know as the "classical unities." These were guidelines laid down by the ancient Greek critics which dictated that a play ought to be set in just one place, and ought to occur in the course of just one day. All the action of The Tempest takes place within the span of three or four hours, and Prospero often refers to the time of day: the play progresses in "real time." If you have ever read any of Shakespeare's other plays (or any other play, in fact), compare it to The Tempest. Does its obedience to "the unities" make any noticeable difference?
5. In this study guide, we refer to Ariel as "it." Do you disagree with that approach? If you think that Ariel really has a gender, which gender is it? Why do you think this is so?
6. In the conflict between Prospero and his slave Caliban, who do you think is "right"? Examine the way that Caliban, Prospero, and Miranda each tell the story of how Caliban came to be Prospero's "servant." Is Caliban justified when he protests against his servitude? Is either side right about this?


Prospero does seem to manipulate things from the start. He engineers the tempest that brings the other characters to his island, and after that he uses his magic to control where they go: he can send Ariel to make them fall asleep, freeze them in place, or lead them to wherever he wants them to be. He also seems to have guessed correctly what the psychological reaction of Alonso and the rest would be to Ariel's terrifying accusation while in harpy form, and he seems to have knows that Miranda and Ferdinand would fall in love. Caliban's rebellion took him by surprise, though. But what about the final scene and the Epilogue, when Prospero stands alone on the stage and says "[M]y ending is despair" (15)? <back to Q1>
Consider, for this question: the many shapes taken on by Ariel; the "plays within a play" in III.iii and IV.i; the speeches by Prospero at IV.i.146-158 and V.i.33-101 (and the reactions which follow); Prospero's "revelation" of Ferdinand and Miranda at V.i.171ff.; and his speech in the Epilogue, among other scenes and moments. <back to Q2>
This is a subjective question, and it is important that each reader consider her or his instinctive impressions before looking back at other passages. We really don't seem to get any clear sense from Shakespeare of what Ariel looks like in its off time, since it spends most of its stage time either in a specific form (like the harpy of III.iii) or invisible. We might, from descriptions given like those in I.ii, decide that it looks like a sparkling fire, or a rushing wind, or an elf, or that it is naturally invisible--but what conclusion does each reader come to or his or her own? Caliban is more complicated. He is referred to as everything from a "monster" to a "moon-calf," a "thing of darkness" and a "freckled whelp," and often (by Prospero) a "slave." But whether he is meant to be human or not is not clear--and this seems to be a very important question, when we consider the morality of Prospero's enslavement of him. Is he sub-human? If so, what makes him so? (And, by the way, what do you envision when Prospero says that Sycorax, Caliban's mother, was a witch who had grown so old that she had "grown into a hoop" (I.ii.259)? <back to Q3>



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