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The Tempest

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The Tempest

The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.

Act 3, scene 2, lines 148–149

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-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve

Act 4, Scene 1, lines 165–171

How beauteous mankind is! O, brave new world
That has such people in 't!

Act 5, scene 1, lines 217–218

Putting romance onstage, The Tempest gives us a magician, Prospero, a former duke of Milan who was displaced by his treacherous brother, Antonio. Prospero is exiled on an island, where his only companions are his daughter, Miranda, the spirit Ariel, and the monster Caliban. When his enemies are among those caught in a storm near the island, Prospero turns his power upon them through Ariel and other spirits.

The characters exceed the roles of villains and heroes. Prospero seems heroic, yet he enslaves Caliban and has an appetite for revenge. Caliban seems to be a monster for attacking Miranda, but appears heroic in resisting Prospero, evoking the period of colonialism during which the play was written. Miranda's engagement to Ferdinand, the Prince of Naples and a member of the shipwrecked party, helps resolve the drama.

The Tempest is thought to have been written in 1610–11; it was performed at court on November 1, 1611. It appears in the 1623 First Folio. Sources include an account of Sir Thomas Gates’s shipwreck, Silvester Jourdain’s A Discovery of the Barmudas, the True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia, and other sources Shakespeare often used for his plays.

Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1994 Folger Shakespeare Library


Further reading

Arthur Horowitz. Prospero's "True Preservers": Peter Brook, Yukio Ninagawa, and Giorgio Strehler—Twentieth-Century Directors Approach Shakespeare's The Tempest. Newark, Del: University of Delaware Press, 2004.

Mark Taylor. Shakespeare's Imitations. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2002.

Virginia Mason Vaughan. The Tempest. Shakespeare in Performance series. New York: Manchester University Press, 2011.

Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan, eds. Critical Essays on Shakespeare's The Tempest. New York: G.K. Hall, 1998.

Hobson Woodward. Brave Vessel: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare's The Tempest. New York: Viking, 2009

The Tempest (2010). Directed by Julie Taymor. Cast includes Helen Mirren, David Strathairn, Djimon Housou, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, Ben Whishaw, Felicity Jones, Reeve Carney, Chris Cooper, and Alan Cumming.

Related movies
Prospero’s Books (1991, Miramax, Allarts). Directed by Peter Greenaway. Cast includes Sir John Gielgud, Michael Clark, and Isabelle Pasco.

Tempest (1982, Columbia Pictures Corporation). Directed by Paul Mazursky. Cast includes John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Susan Sarandon, Raul Julia, and Molly Ringwald.

Forbidden Planet. (1956, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Directed by Fred Wilcox. Cast includes Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Leslie Neilsen.
Pamela Coleman Smith. The Tempest. Caliban. Watercolor drawing, ca. 1900.

The Tempest


Shakespeare in American Life: Shakespeare and the Shipwreck

Folger Theatre

On Stage: The Tempest

Inside the Collection

Folios from the Collection: The Tempest

Just for Kids

Lost at Sea

Read the Play

Folger Digital Texts:
The Tempest

Teacher Resources

Teaching The Tempest

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