Quotes From Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'

William Shakespeare 's The Tempest - Act IV scene I. Prospero, Ferdinand and Miranda. Prospero: 'As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air'. English poet and playwright,
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"The Tempest," first produced in 1611 as one of William Shakespeare's last plays, is a story of betrayal, magic, castaways, love, forgiveness, subjugation, and redemption. Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda, have been marooned on an island for 12 years, stranded there when Antonio, Prospero's brother, usurped Prospero's throne and banished him. Prospero is served by Ariel, a magical spirit, and Caliban, a disfigured native of the island whom Prospero holds as an enslaved person.

Antonio and Alonso, the king of Naples, are sailing past the island when Prospero summons his magic to create a violent storm, sinking the ship and sending the castaways to the island. One of the castaways, Alonso's son Ferdinand, and Miranda immediately fall in love, an arrangement of which Prospero approves. Other castaways include Trinculo and Stephano, Alonso's jester and butler, who join forces with Caliban in a plan to kill Prospero and take over the island.

All ends well: The plotters are thwarted, the lovers are united, the usurpers are forgiven, Prospero regains his throne, and he releases Ariel and Caliban from servitude.

Here are some quotes from the play that illustrate its themes:

Brother vs. Brother

"I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated
To closeness and the bettering of my mind
With that which, but by being so retired,
O'erprized all popular rate, in my false brother
Awaked an evil nature, and my trust,
Like a good parent, did beget of him
A falsehood in its contrary as great
As my trust was, which had indeed no limit,
A confidence sans bound." (Act 1, Scene 2)

Prospero deeply trusted his brother, and now he ponders how Antonio became so convinced of his own greatness that he turned against Prospero, stealing his throne and banishing him to the island. This is one of Shakespeare's many references to divided, quarreling families that appear in a number of his plays.

"You Taught Me Language..."

"You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!" (Act 1, Scene 2)

One of the themes of the play is the conflict between the colonizers—Prospero and the "civilized" people who have descended upon the island—and the colonized—including Caliban, the servant and a native of the island. While Prospero believes he has cared for and educated Caliban, Caliban here describes how he sees Prospero as the oppressor and the language he has acquired as worthless and merely a symbol of that oppression.

"Strange Bedfellows"

Legg'd like a man! and his fins like arms! Warm, o' my
troth! I do now let loose my opinion, hold it no longer: this is no
fish, but an islander, that hath lately suffer'd by a thunder-bolt.
[Thunder.] Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep
under his gaberdine; there is no other shelter hereabout: misery
acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. I will here shroud till the
dregs of the storm be past. (Act 2, Scene 2)

This passage occurs when Trinculo, Alonso's jester, comes across Caliban, who mistook Trinculo for a spirit and is lying on the ground, hiding under his cloak, or "gaberdine." Trinculo utters the famous "strange bedfellows" phrase originated by Shakespeare in a more literal sense than we usually hear it today, meaning to lie with him as if asleep, like bedfellows. It's just one more example of the mistaken identities that fill Shakespeare's plays.

"And Makes My Labors Pleasures"

"There be some sports are painful, and their labor
Delight in them sets off. Some kinds of baseness
Are nobly undergone, and most poor matters
Point to rich ends. This my mean task
Would be as heavy to me as odious, but
The mistress which I serve quickens what’s dead
And makes my labors pleasures." (Act 3, Scene 1)

Prospero has asked Ferdinand to undertake an unpleasant task, and Ferdinand tells Miranda that he will fulfill her father's wishes in the hope that it will improve his odds of marrying her. The passage illustrates the many compromises that characters in the play must make to achieve their ends: for example, liberation from servitude for Caliban and Ariel, atonement for Antonio after stealing his brother's throne, and the restoration of Prospero to his former lofty perch in Milan.

Miranda's Proposal

"[I weep] at mine unworthiness, that dare not offer
What I desire to give, and much less take
What I shall die to want. But this is trifling,
And all the more it seeks to hide itself
The bigger bulk it shows. Hence, bashful cunning,
And prompt me, plain and holy innocence.
I am your wife, if you will marry me.
If not, I’ll die your maid. To be your fellow
You may deny me, but I’ll be your servant
Whether you will or no." (Act 3, Scene 1)

In this passage, Miranda abandons her earlier demure, compliant manner and proposes to Ferdinand in surprisingly strong terms and in no uncertain way. Shakespeare is known for his penchant for creating female characters who are stronger than those of his contemporary writers and many of his successors, a list of powerful women headed by Lady Macbeth in "Macbeth."

Caliban's Speech About the Island

"Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again." (Act 3, Scene 2)

This speech by Caliban, often seen as one of the most poetic passages in "The Tempest," to some extent counters his image as a misshapen, inarticulate monster. He speaks of music and other sounds, either coming naturally from the island or from Prospero's magic, that he enjoys so much that if he had heard them in a dream he would have fervently wished to return to that dream. It marks him as one of Shakespeare's many complicated, multi-sided characters.

"We Are Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On"

"These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And, like the baseless fabric of vision,
The cloud-capped 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 sleep." (Act 4, Scene 1)

Here Prospero, who has staged a masque, a music and dance performance, as an engagement present for Ferdinand and Miranda, suddenly remembers Caliban's plot against him and unexpectedly ends the performance. Ferdinand and Miranda are shocked by his abrupt manner, and Prospero speaks these lines to reassure them, saying that the performance, like Shakespeare's play and life in general, is an illusion, a dream destined to disappear in the natural order of things.


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Lombardi, Esther. "Quotes From Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/the-tempest-quotes-741582. Lombardi, Esther. (2021, February 16). Quotes From Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-tempest-quotes-741582 Lombardi, Esther. "Quotes From Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-tempest-quotes-741582 (accessed March 23, 2023).