'The Tempest' Facts

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Shakespeare's is one of the most "magical" plays ever written. The word "magical" can be used in all senses when it comes to this play:

  • Characters use magic
  • The language is magical 
  • The action is set on a magical, mysterious island.

Whilst it is one of Shakespeare's most enjoyable plays, it can also be a real challenge to study because its thematic subject matter is vast and it asks some wide-ranging moral questions.

In this article, we bring you the top The Tempest facts you need to know about this classic Shakespeare play. 

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'The Tempest' - Caliban and Stefano
'The Tempest' - Caliban and Stefano. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery
In 'The Tempest' Shakespeare draws on master/servant relationships to demonstrate how power - and the misuse of power - works. In particular, control is a dominant theme: characters battle over control for each other and the island - perhaps an echo of England’s colonial expansion in Shakespeare’s time. With the island in colonial dispute, the audience are asked to question who the rightful owner of the island is: Prospero, Caliban or Sycorax, the original colonizer from Algiers who performed "evil deeds". Both good and evil characters use and misuse power in the play, as this article demonstrates.

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Prospero from 'The Tempest'
Prospero from 'The Tempest'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery
'The Tempest' raises some difficult questions when it comes to Prospero's character. He is the rightful Duke of Milan but was usurped by his brother and sent on a boat to his death. Prospero survives and takes control of the island and seeks to exact revenge on his brother. The extent to which he is a victim or a perpetrator is not clear.

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Ariel and Caliban in 'The Tempest'
Ariel and Caliban in 'The Tempest'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery
A central theme in 'The Tempest' is "Caliban, man or monster?" The audience is asked to decide whether Caliban has had the island stolen from him by the colonial Prospero, or whether Caliban himself has a stake in the ownership of the island. He has certainly been treated like a enslaved by Prospero, but to what extent is this a fair punishment for attempting to rape his daughter? Caliban is a delicately constructed character: is he a man or monster?

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'The Tempest'
'The Tempest'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery
'The Tempest' is often described as Shakespeare's most magical play - and with good reason. The play starts with a huge magical storm capable of shipwrecking the main cast on the island. The survivors are even magically distributed across the island. Magic is used throughout the play by various characters for mischief, control and revenge ... and not everything is what it seems on the island. Appearance is unstable on the island - appearances can be deceptive, characters are tricked into situations and characters can be displaced around the island for the amusement of Prospero.

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Ariel in 'The Tempest'
Ariel in 'The Tempest'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery
Morality and fairness are themes that run through the play, and Shakespeare's treatment of them is particularly interesting. The colonial nature of the play and the ambiguous presentation of fairness perhaps points to Shakespeare's own political views.

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Strictly speaking, 'The Tempest' is classified as a comedy - but Shakespearean comedies are not "comic" in the modern sense of the word. Rather, they rely on comedy through language, complex love plots and mistaken identity. Whilst 'The Tempest' does share many of these characteristics, it is also quite a unique play in the comedy category.

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This condensed version of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' crams the complex plot into a single page for easy reference. If you're new to 'The Tempest', then it is a priority to discover the play's magical plot. This article, will set you on your way!