The play’s protagonist, and father of Miranda. Twelve years before the events of the play, Prospero was the duke of Milan. His brother, Antonio, in concert with Alonso, king of Naples, usurped him, forcing him to flee in a boat with his daughter. The honest lord Gonzalo aided Prospero in his escape. Prospero has spent his twelve years on the island refining the magic that gives him the power he needs to punish and forgive his enemies.
Propero's brother. Antonio quickly demonstrates that he is power-hungry and foolish. In Act II, scene i, her persuades Sebastian to kill the sleeping Alonso. He then goes along with Sebastian's absurd story about fending off lions when Gonzalo wakes up and catches Antonio and Sebastian with their swords drawn.
The daughter of Prospero, Miranda was brought to the island at an early age and has never seen any men other than her father and Caliban, though she dimly remembers being cared for by female servants as an infant. Because she has been sealed off from the world for so long, Miranda's perceptions of other people tend to be naive and non-judgmental. She is compassionate, generous, and loyal to her father.
Prospero's spirit helper. Ariel is generally referred to as "he", but his gender and physical form are ambiguous. Rescued by Prospero from a long imprisonment at the hands of the witch Sycorax, Ariel is Prospero's servant until Prospero decides to release him. He is mischievous and ubiquitous, able to traverse the length of the island in an instant and to change shapes at will. He carried out virtually every task that Prospero needs accomplished in the play.
Another of Prospero's servants. Caliban, the son of the now-deceased witch Sycorax, acquainted Prospero with the island when Prospero arrived. Caliban believes that the island rightfully belongs to him and has been stolen by Prospero. His speech and behaviour is sometimes coarse and brutal, as in his drunken scenes with Stefano and Trinculo (Act 3, scene ii; Act 4, scene i), and sometimes eloquent and sensitive, as in his rebukes of Prospero (Act 1, scene ii), and in his description of the eerie beauty of the island (Act 3, scene ii).
King of Naples and father of Ferdinand. Alonso aided Antonio in unseating Prospero as Duke of Milan twelves years before. As he appears in the play, however, he is acutely aware of the consequences of all his actions. He blames his decision to marry his daughter to the Prince of Tunis on the apparent death of his son. In addition, after the magical banquet, he regrets his role in the usurping of Prospero.
Alonso's brother. Like Antonio, he is both aggressive and cowardly. He is easily persuaded to kill his brother in Act II, scene i, and he initiates the ridiculous story about lions when Gonzalo catches him with his sword drawn.
Son and heir of Alonso. Ferdinand seems in some ways to be as pure and naive as Miranda. He falls in love with her upon first sight and happily submits to servitude in order to win her father's approval.
An old, honest lord, Gonzalo helped Prospero and Miranda to escape after Antonio usurped Prospero's title. Gonzalo's speeches provide an important commentary on the events of the play, as he remarks on the beauty of the island when the stranded party first lands, then on the desperation of Alonso after the magic banquet, and on the miracle of the reconciliation in Act 5, scene i.
Trinculo, a jester, and Stefano, a drunken butler, are two minor members of the shipwrecked party. They provide a comic foil to the other, more powerful pairs of Prospero and Alonso, and Antonio and Sebastian. Their drunken boasting and petty greed reflect and deflate the quarrels and power struggles of Prospero and the other noblemen.
Appearing only in the first and last scenes, the Boatswain is vigorously good-natured. He seems competent and almost cheerful in the shipwreck scene, demanding practical help rather than weeping and praying. He seems surprised but not stunned when he awakens from a long sleep at the end of the play.
[Sources: The Tempest by David Messer; Spark Notes Study Guide]
Alonso, Ferdinand, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, Stefano and Trinculo have just attended the wedding of Alonso's daughter, Claribel, and are on their way back to Italy by ship.
They encounter a terrible storm and their boat sinks near an island belonging to Prospero and his daughter Miranda.
Act 1, Scene 2:
Prospero reveals to Miranda that he was behind the shipwreck, and begins to tell Miranda the story of her past.
Twelve years ago, Prospero was the Duke of Milan. However, his brother, Antonio, overthrew him with the help of Alonso, King of Naples. It was only with the help of Gonzalo that Prospero and his daughter were able to escape to the island. The only possession they took with them was a set of magical books.
Finally, after all this time, Fortune has sent Prospero's enemies to him, and he intends to settle things with them once and for all.
Prospero calls Ariel, his magical servant. Ariel informs Prospero that everyone got to safety and are now separated into small groups across the island.
Ariel was once the servant of a witch named Sycorax and had been imprisoned in a tree. On Sycorax's death, Ariel became trapped in the tree indefinitely until Prospero arrived and freed him. After that, Ariel became Prospero's servant along with Caliban, Sycorax's son.
Prospero orders Ariel to become a sea nymph and make himself invisible to all but him.
Miranda and Prospero go to visit Caliban, While Caliban fetches firewood, Ariel, invisible, enters. Ferdinand, Alonso's son, enters after him, following the magical sound of music that Ariel is playing.
Miranda and Ferdinand fall instantly in love with each other. This pleases Prospero although he doesn't want things to develop too quickly. For this reason, he accuses Ferdinand of pretending to be the Prince of Naples, and threatens to imprison him.
When Ferdinand draws his sword, Prospero puts a spell on him and leads him off to prison, despite Miranda’s cries for mercy.
He then sends Ariel on another mysterious mission.
Act 2, Scene 1:
Meanwhile, Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo give thanks for their safety but worry about the fate of Ferdinand. Gonzalo tries to cheer everyone up by pointing out the beauty of the island, but no-one seems particularly interested.
Ariel appears (but cannot be seen), and plays music that puts all but Sebastian and Antonio to sleep.
They begin to discuss the possible advantages of killing the others.
Antonio points out that if Ferdinand is dead, and Claribel is far away in Tunis, Sebastian would become ruler of Naples if they kill Alonso. Sebastian agrees and the two are about to stab the sleeping men when Ariel causes Gonzalo to wake with a shout. Everyone wakes up to see Antonio and Sebastian with swords drawn. They make up a far-fetched excuse about having to protect the king from lions.
Ariel goes back to Prospero while Alonso and his party continue to search for Ferdinand.
Act 2, Scene 2:
Meanwhile, as Caliban is fetching wood for Prospero, he sees one of the survivors, Trinculo, but assumes that he is a spirit sent by Prospero to torment him. He tries to hide by lying under his cloak, but Trinculo crawls under the cloak with him, trying to escape a storm that has broken.
Stephano stumbles across the two huddled under the cloak. He is drunk and sings loudly. Caliban is frightened and promises to work harder if the 'spirits' only leave him alone.
Stephano is amused by the situation, and decides to make Caliban drunk. Soon the three are sitting together under the cloak, drinking and singing.
Act 3, Scene 1:
Ferdinand, Prospero's prisoner, is required to fetch wood although he doesn't seem to mind because it is for Miranda. Miranda is so smitten that she proposes marriage to him, and he accepts. Prospero, who has been pretending to be asleep all the while, is happy with the way their relationship is unfolding.
Act 3, Scene 2:
Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban are now drunk and raucous. Ariel, who comes to them invisibly, stirs things up further by impersonating their voices. He provokes them to fight with one another.
Caliban boasts that he knows how to kill Prospero. He tells Stephano that he can take him to where Prospero is sleeping. His plan is that they should take Miranda, kill Prospero and appoint Stephano king of the island.
The three prepare to execute their plan but are distracted by the sound of music. They postpone their plans and decide to follow this music instead.
Act 3, Scene 3:
Antonio and Sebastian are also plotting. They want to take advantage of Alonso and Gonzalo's exhaustion and kill them that evening, as they rest.
Prospero causes a banquet to be set out by strangely shaped spirits. As the men prepare to eat, Ariel appears and causes the banquet to vanish. He then accuses the men of plotting against Prospero, and says that it was for this sin that Alonso’s son, Ferdinand, has been taken. He vanishes, leaving Alonso feeling frustrated angry and guilty.
Act 4, Scene 1:
Prospero welcomes Ferdinand into the family but reminds him not to wait for the marriage ceremony before he 'gets his groove on'. Prospero then asks Ariel to call forth some spirits to perform a masque for Ferdinand and Miranda. They assume the shapes of Ceres, Juno, and Iris and perform a short masque celebrating the rites of marriage and the bounty of the earth. A dance of reapers and nymphs follows but is interrupted when Prospero suddenly remembers that he still has to deal with Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban .
He sends the spirits away and gets Ariel to reveal the details of the plot. Ariel tells how he led the men with his music through prickly grass and briars and finally into a filthy pond near Prospero’s cell.
Ariel and Prospero then set a trap by hanging beautiful clothing in Prospero’s cell. Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban enter looking for Prospero and, finding the beautiful clothing, decide to steal it. They are immediately set upon by a pack of spirits in the shape of dogs and hounds, driven on by Prospero and Ariel.
Act 5, Scene 1:
Prospero uses Ariel to bring Alonso and the others before him. He confronts Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian with their treachery, but tells them that he forgives them.
Alonso tells him of having lost Ferdinand in the tempest and Prospero says that he recently lost his own daughter (although he means it in a different sense). He pulls back a curtain to reveal Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess, and the news of their marriage is revealed.
Prospero instructs Ariel to release Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano who are wearing the stolen clothing. They are commanded to clean up Prospero's cell.
Prospero invites Alonso and the others to stay for the night, after which they will all return to Italy. Prospero, restored to his dukedom, will retire to Milan. Prospero gives Ariel one final task — to make sure the seas are calm for the return voyage — before setting him free.
Finally, Prospero delivers an epilogue to the audience, asking them to forgive him for his wrongdoing and set him free by applauding.
Who is Miranda? What is her reaction to the scene she has just witnessed?
Who is Prospero? How is he so sure that everyone has survived the storm?
How did Prospero and Miranda come to be on the island?
Who is Ariel? Why should he be grateful to Prospero and just do what he's told?
Who is Sycorax? How does Prospero feel about her? Are there any parallels between Sycorax and Prospero?
Who is Caliban? What is his attitude towards Prospero's control of the island?
What event led Prospero to start treating Caliban as his slave?
Why does Miranda think that Ferdinand might be a spirit?
In what sense is Gonzalo wise? What are his limitations, particularly with the utopian vision he offers in this scene?
What view of kingship does Antonio set forth for Sebastian, brother of Alonso, King of Naples?
How does Antonio understand the tempest?
How does the comic scene with Trinculo and Stephano compliment the previous one with Antonio and Sebastian?
Why do Trinculo and Stephano form a natural unit with Caliban?
How does Prospero treat Ferdinand? Why? How does this treatment compare to that of Caliban?
From what event were the Italians returning when they were shipwrecked? What is their attitude towards the event?
What kind of society would Gonzalo like to find on the desert island? What is the reaction of his companions?
What do Antonio and Sebastian want to do to Alonso and Gonzalo? Why?
What does Antonio mean when he says, "What's past is prologue" (Scene 2, line 254)?
What sort of negotiation between Ferdinand and Miranda must take place?
How is love connected to politics or governance in this play?
How does Caliban view politics?
What weakness does he show in this scene?
How does Prospero punish King Alonso of Naples for his role in banishing him? What effect does the punishment have?
Refer to the scenes with Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano in both Acts 2 and 3. What does Caliban think Trinculo is? What does Trinculo think Caliban is? What does Stephano think Trinculo and Caliban together are?
What is their plan, and what happens to it? To what extent would you call this plan revolutionary?
What role does Ariel play in scene 2?
The Harpies are characters from classical mythology who punish a bad king by always destroying his meals with their filth. What role do the Harpies play in scene 3?
Why is Gonzalo the only character who doesn't see and hear the speech given by Ariel in the form of a Harpy?
What demonstration of his power does Prospero give Ferdinand and Miranda?
Why is ceremony so important to the successful resolution of this play?
How might Prospero's famous line "we are such stuff as dreams are made on" apply to his own magical powers?
Why do you suppose some critics have said that Prospero's words are Shakespeare's own "farewell" to his audience?
What is Prospero's major admonition to Ferdinand and Miranda?
Why do you think he is so concerned about this?
For the benefit of Ferdinand and Miranda, Prospero has Ariel stage a masque, or symbolic pageant, celebrating betrothal and marriage. Which goddesses are represented?
Why isn't Venus (the goddess of love) invited to the wedding masque?
What makes Prospero interrupt the masque?
How does Ariel get the best of the low-life plotters?
Act 5 & Epilogue:
Why is Prospero willing to part with his magic?
What has it allowed him to accomplish?
When Prospero comes across Ferdinand and Miranda, they are playing chess. What is the significance of that choice on Shakespeare's part?
What does Miranda mean by the phrase, "Brave new world"?
Who first asks Prospero for forgiveness?
Who might you expect to ask Prospero for forgiveness?
What is Caliban's fate?
What is Ariel's fate?
Does Prospero plan to continue to practice magic when his plan is brought to completion?
In the epilogue, what power does Prospero grant the audience?
Analyze Caliban’s “the isle is full of noises” speech (Act 3, Scene 2). What makes it such a compelling and beautiful passage? What is its relation to Caliban’s other speeches, and to his character in general? What effect does this speech have on our perception of Caliban’s character? Why does Shakespeare give these lines to Caliban rather than, say, Ariel or Miranda?
What is the nature of Prospero and Miranda’s relationship? Discuss moments where Miranda seems to be entirely dependent on her father and moments where she seems independent. How does Miranda’s character change over the course of the play?
Discuss Ferdinand’s character. What is the nature of his love for Miranda? Is he a likable character? What is the nature of his relationship to other characters?
Discuss one or more of the play’s comic scenes involving Trinculo, Stefano and Caliban. How do these scenes parallel and parody the main action of the play? Pay particular attention to Trinculo’s speech about Caliban in Act 2, Scene 2. This is one of the longest speeches in the play. How does it relate to larger thematic issues in the play, such as the difference between ‘men’ and ‘monsters’, or the relationship between colonizers and the colonized?
Look at a few of the many passages in the play in which there is mention of noises, sound or music. Focusing on one or two characters, discuss the role of noise in The Tempest.
Virtually every character in the play expresses some desire to be lord of the island. Discuss two or three of these characters. How does each envision the island’s potential? How does each envision his own rule?
Analyze the tempest scene in Act 1, Scene 1. Topics to discuss include the following: How does Shakespeare use the very limited resources of his bare stage to create a sense of realism? How are we introduced to the characters? How does this introduction affect our perception of them later? How does the dialogue of this scene relate to the content or themes of the rest of the play? How is this scene echoed in later parts of the play?