'The Tempest' - Study Guide

The Ultimate Student Study Guide to 'The Tempest'

William Shakespeare wrote the The Tempest in around 1610, making it one of the last - if not the last - plays that Shakespeare wrote on his own.

A ship is wrecked on an island following a magical storm conjured by Prospero. It is part of a plan to regain Prospero's noble rights after he was usurped as the Duke of Milan.

The shipwreck has brought Prospero's usurping brother to the island, and Prospero exacts his revenge through magic. 

This study guide to The Tempest provides commentary on themes and characters to aid your study.

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'The Tempest' Summary

The fantastical plot of this magical play is all contained here in this summary. It is a great place to start your study because it provides a one-page overview of the entire plot and captures the essence of Shakespeare’s most magical play.

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'The Tempest' Themes

Ariel and Caliban in 'The Tempest'
Ariel and Caliban in 'The Tempest'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

The Tempest is packed with grand themes. Who really has power over the island and owns it? Do any of the characters really abide by any moral code? Fairness is also a blurred issue throughout.

Read about all of the main 'The Tempest' themes with our concise 'The Tempest' theme guide. 

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'The Tempest' Analysis

With the plot and the key themes now under your belt, it is time to dig in with a deeper analysis. This analysis discusses Shakespeare’s presentation of morality and fairness in the play.

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Who is Prospero?

Prospero from 'The Tempest'
Prospero from 'The Tempest'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

Prospero is the magical ruler of the island. He controls Ariel and Caliban, often treating them like enslaved people. But he is only the current ruler - he colonized it from Sycorax, a powerful witch he overthrew.

As such, Prospero's actions are difficult to sympathize with. He wishes to exact personal revenge and seems uncaring about who he might pull into his actions. This Prospero character analysis explores the complexity behind Prospero.

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Who (or what) is Caliban?

Caliban in is described as a monster in the play. He is certainly primitive, but he has a stronger understanding of how the island works than any other character. As the bastard son of the witch, Sycorax, he has been unfairly enslaved by Prospero to do his bidding.

Caliban believes that Prospero stole the island from him, rendering Prospero a colonial (and perhaps villainous) occupier.

This article explores Caliban and asks if he is a man or a monster?

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Who is Ariel?

Ariel in 'The Tempest'
Ariel in 'The Tempest'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

Ariel is a spirit character that attends on Prospero. They are also enslaved by Prospero, but this is not their first experience with enslavement. Before Prospero, Ariel was a prisoner to Sycorax. Ariel often asks Prospero for their freedom.

Feisty by nature, Ariel performs much of the mischievous magic we see in the play. This includes the summoning of the tempest that wrecks the ship.

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Power Relationships in “The Tempest”

'The Tempest' - Caliban and Stefano
'The Tempest' - Caliban and Stefano. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

As we have seen in the articles above, power and the right to rule are overriding themes in The Tempest. The plot locks the characters into a power struggle for their freedom, for control of the island and for the title of Duke of Milan.

This article explores this dominate theme in more detail.

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Magic in 'The Tempest'

'The Tempest'
'The Tempest'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

Often described as Shakespeare's most magical play, no study guide would be complete without exploring how magic works in the play. In this article we discover magic at work in Prospero's books, Caliban's uncertain humanity and the tempest itself that kick-starts the story.

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Act-by-Act Analysis

Shakespeare (illustration)
CSA Images/Printstock Collection/Getty Images

Detailed analysis and modern-day translations of The Tempest, all broken down into individual acts to help you study this play closely.