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The tempest: the plot

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The tempest: the plot

A storm strikes a ship carrying Alonso, Ferdinand, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, Stefano, and Trinculo, who are on their way to Italy after coming from the wedding of Alonso's daughter, Claribel.

They encounter a violent storm, or Tempest. Everyone jumps overboard and are washed ashore on a strange island inhabited by the magician Prospero who has deliberately conjured up the storm. Prospero is in fact the rightful Duke of Milan who had been put to sea to die with his three-year-old daughter Miranda by his brother, Antonio who was in league with of King Alonso.
Prospero and Miranda live in a cave on the island which is also inhabited by Ariel, a gentle spirit of the air Sycorax had imprisoned in the trunk of a tree. Prospero released Ariel and made him his agent, and the ugly, half human Caliban. Caliban deeply resents Prospero as he believes that he is the rightful ruler of the island. He plots with some of King Alonso's company to murder Prospero. Miranda and Ferdinand fall deeply in love. Ariel rebukes King Alonso for his previous plotting against Prospero. More plots against Prospero are developed but they fail thanks to his magic.
The play ends in an atmosphere of general reconciliation: Miranda and Ferdinand marry, Prospero forgives his brother and returns to Milan to take possession of his lost dukedom. Caliban is left alone on the island and Ariel is released, free to wander as he wishes.


The themes discussed in the Tempest are: the serenity, the forgiveness and the element of magic.

Shakespeare seems much more concerned with human destiny as a whole rather than with individual peculiarities, more eager to show that good may come of evil.

Forgiveness seems to be one of the main themes: all ends in peace and reconciliation. Miranda isn't a suffering heroine, she embodies womanly perfection through her ethereal beauty and unspoilt innocence.

The most interesting theme of the play is certainly the "element of magic" and its representation as "theatrical illusion". There are two types of magic in the play, maleficent and beneficent. The former, that of the witch Sycorax, tends to work evil on its victims and is usually the result of a pact with the devil. The latter, that of Prospero, derives from study, in fact the attributes of magic used by Prosper are his books, his robe and his wand.

Problems of interpretation

The Tempest is one of the most difficult to stage of all Shakespeare's plays, since it is the most difficult to interpret. Some critics have held that it is simply a fairy tale or Shakespeare's farewell play, his final masterpiece which sets in a fantasy world the usual opposition between good and evil. Then the warning against the dangers of the English expansion abroad. Finally, some critics claim the play has a sadder message than we suspect at first: it is the farewell of the humanists to the dream of a happy era that has turned out to be just an illusion.

Prospero and Caliban

The enchanted island belonged to Caliban, in fact his mother Sycorax left it to him, but it was taken by Prospero, a magician, when he arrived on the island. In this dialogue Prospero says that he was as a father for him, he and Miranda tried to teach him to speak and to know everything Caliban, a strange creature of brute intelligence, showed him all the qualities of the isle because he loved him. This situation changed when Caliban sought to violate Miranda, in this way he was considered by Prospero a brutish, a vile race, an ungrateful and amoral person: therefore now he is confined in a rock and he must served Prospero and Miranda because magician's art is very powerful and he is afraid of it.


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