Theatre: The Tempest

A scene — after one hard party enchantments

The Tempest is one of William Shakespeare's "problem plays" (neither comedy or tragedy), also called "romances." The play centers around Prospero, a powerful sorcerer and the former Duke of Milan who was usurped by his brother, Antonio, and sent out to sea with just his books and his daughter, Miranda. Twelve years later, Prospero is ruling over a seemingly deserted island, with two of the island's only other beings at his command: Ariel, an air spirit (who's grateful to Prospero for rescuing him from being trapped in a tree, but would like to be freed from his service soon), and Caliban, the deformed son of a witch (who hates his master, and makes no secret of it).

When Antonio, along with a group that includes the King of Naples and his son, Ferdinand, sails by the island, Prospero has Ariel create a storm (the emponymous tempest) to shipwreck them onto the island, so that Prospero may have his revenge. The story ends happily, though, with Prospero forgiving those that wronged him, Ferdinand and Miranda falling in love and getting married, and Ariel getting his hard-earned freedom.

This play remains one of Shakespeare's finest, even to this day, and was once theorized as the final play he wrote by himself. Gustave Doré illustrated the story. It inspired the science fiction classics Brave New World, Forbidden Planet and Prospero's Books, and The Decemberists song The Island, and the characters appear again in Prospero's Daughter and A Midsummer Tempest. Contrary to popular belief, though, it was not the Bard's final work, but its reputation is sealed. It is a rare example of a play in which Shakespeare appears to have come up with an original plot (another is The Merry Wives of Windsor).

There are roughly twenty-one filmed and televised versions of this play. Some play it straight, some update to modern times, one cast Helen Mirren as Prospera, and others such as Prospero's Books are massively wild re-interpretations.

Tropes in The Tempest:

  • The Alcoholic: Stephano and Trinculo.
  • And I Must Scream: Prior to being released by Prospero, Ariel was trapped inside a pine tree for some time by Sycorax. Granted, he could scream (which led to his release), but he couldn't do anything about it either.
  • Artistic License – Geography / Critical Research Failure: Averted. Act I Scene 2 tells us that Prospero and Miranda were taken from Milan by "bark" (boat) "some leagues to the sea" where they were put aboard "a rotten carcass of a boat". While Milan does not have direct access to the ocean, Milan does have access to an extensive network of canals, one of which connects Milan to the Mediterranean Sea via the Ticino river. The Grand Canal (Naviglio Grande) is still around today.
  • As You Know: A lot of this in Prospero's first scenes with Ariel and Caliban, to explain the latter two's back stories.
  • Attempted Rape: In the Back Story, Caliban tried this on Miranda and has never ceased reminding Prospero of it.
  • Author Avatar: Prospero, according to many critics. The Fourth Wall-breaking speech at the end certainly helps this idea.
    • Some critics view Prospero's farewell to magic as Shakespeare's farewell to theater and writing. This does ignore the official timeline that Shakespeare wrote more plays after this.
  • The Atoner: Prospero has moments of this later in the play, and renounces sorcery at the end.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: The line is not "the stuff dreams are made of", but rather, this:
    ''...We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep''
  • Butt Monkey: Stephano and Trinculo, whilst having nothing to do with the usurping of Prospero, spend the entire play being ridiculed whilst flat out drunk. Caliban too, but since he once attempted to rape Miranda, one can debate that he deserves it.
    • Trinculo specifically in Act 3 Scene 2, when Stephano constantly beats him as punishment for what the invisible Ariel says.
  • Cassandra Truth: Gonzalo is right about everything, but no one ever listens to him.
  • The Chessmaster: Prospero
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Prospero references this in his fourth-wall breaking speech at the end.
  • The Cover Changes The Meaning: The 2012 London Olympics opening and closing ceremonies used Caliban's "Be not afraid" speech, but changed the context and the emphasis to give a different meaning.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Caliban, after Those Two Guys meet him.
  • Daddy's Girl: Miranda.
  • Evil Prince: Antonio.
  • Good Plan: A rare heroic version; the entire play is Prospero's God Game to end his exile from Milan. 'Good' because all he wants is to get his home back and teach his evil brother a lesson. No one gets hurt, not even the evil brother, and almost all of them go back to Milan as more or less friends.
  • Expy: Prospero is often considered to have been inspired by John Dee, an adviser to Elizabeth I. Dee was a practicing occultist who was an early advocate of colonizing the New World - and, contemporary legend had it, he had saved England from the Spanish Armada by using his magic powers to... raise a tempest.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Miranda. She cries for the victims of the storm, and only calms down when her father assures her nobody was hurt. According to some versions of the play, she tried to teach Fish-Man and resident Enemy to All Living Things Caliban to read prior to the events of the play, but gave it up when he attempted to rape her.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Yes, confused readers: Ariel is male. Sometimes. See Viewer Gender Confusion. note 
  • Gender Flip: In addition to making Ariel female, some productions (like the Julie Taymor film) have an actress play Prospero. Though less common, some productions also recast Trinculo as a woman because of the massive amount of Ho Yay between him/her and Stephano. Even characters such as Stephano, Sebastian and Antonio have switched genders on the odd occasion.
  • Genre Savvy: Prospero — why else would the guy fake a Parental Marriage Veto while playing The Matchmaker?
  • Happiness in Slavery: Averted. Both Caliban and Ariel are Prospero's slaves, and both demand freedom, though they use different arguments. Ariel is eventually freed; Caliban's fate is left more ambiguous.
  • Harmless Villain: It's clear from the beginning that Caliban's takeover has no chance of succeeding.
  • Hidden Depths: Caliban is a despicable creature, who tried to rape Miranda and says he only values her teaching him to read because it opened up a whole new world of cursing and profanity for him...and then he gives a poetic, loving, beautiful description of the wilderness of the island, his only lines in rhymed verse.
    • Robert Browning's poem Caliban Upon Setebos, basically Caliban musing on his deity with Darwinist undertones, is an excellent fanfiction on Caliban exploring such depths.
  • If Jesus Then Aliens: One of the men believes in unicorns after seeing Prospero's magic.
  • The Ingenue: Miranda.
  • Island of Mystery: Prospero's island.
  • Invisibility: One of Ariel's powers is invisibility. In fact, except for rare moments when he changes form, no one but Prospero can see him at all.
  • Jerkass: Antonio and Sebastian, and Prospero at times.
  • Karma Houdini: Antonio gets absolutely no comeuppance for his actions against Prospero.
    • Well, Prospero does torture them a bit through Ariel. Whether or not this is enough is another question.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Shakespearean costuming was usually done with rich, well kept contemporary clothes regardless of the setting. This is why Prospero mentions how he was given rich linens before being exiled from Milan, and why the shipwrecked noblemen comment on how their clothes are bone dry despite having been sent through a storm.
  • Love at First Sight: Ferdinand and Miranda.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Miranda
  • Magic Wand: Prospero can disarm thee with this stick, and make thy weapon drop.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Brushed on — Prospero tells Miranda that her virtuous mother had told him she was his daughter.
  • The Matchmaker: Prospero
  • Meaningful Name: Prospero's name comes from the Latin word for "good fortune", which may or may not be ironic, depending on your point of view (he's unlucky to have been deposed, but lucky to be alive). Ariel means "Lion of God," appropriate here because he, being the one who unleashes the tempest, carries out the forceful will of Prospero, a godlike figure. Miranda's name means "to marvel", which is something she both does herself and inspires in others. Trinculo's name derives from a word for excessive drinking. Ferdinand means "brave journey". It's been suggested that "Caliban" is an almost anagram of "cannibal". note 
  • Missing Mom: Miranda's mother is mentioned once.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Subversion - Prospero only pretends to oppose Ferdinand and Miranda's relationship.
  • The Philosopher King: Slightly subverted, as, rather than making him a more effective ruler, Prospero's quest for knowledge ultimately distracts him from more worldly concerns, such as his brother trying to usurp him.
  • Plot Parallel
  • Rags to Royalty
  • Reverse Psychology: Prospero's fake Parental Marriage Veto
  • Secret Test of Character: Another reason for the above-mentioned Parental Marriage Veto.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Prospero summons the eponymous storm and performs his elaborate plot in a seeming effort to avenge his exile from dukedom. But the way his actions serve to teach his scheming brother, and the swiftness in which he agrees to Ariel's plea for mercy, suggest Prospero wasn't in this for revenge: he just wanted to go home with his daughter. (In the very last speech of the play he breaks the fourth wall and asks the audience to pray for him to be forgiven.)
  • Shown Their Work: The commands shouted by the boatswain in the opening storm are exactly the actions a contemporary ship's crew would need to perform in their situation.
  • Tender Tears: Miranda, on seeing the shipwreck.
  • Those Two Guys / Those Two Bad Guys: Stephano and Trinculo.
    • Also Adrian and Francisco, in Alsono's party.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Sycorax, Caliban's mother and the witch who trapped Ariel in a pine tree long before the play's events, is described as "blue-eyed" as a euphemism for "pregnant." Made much more sense in Elizabethan times, we assume.
    • Reportedly, this expression refers to the eyelids of pregnant women turning bluish. Maybe an iron deficiency?
    • Or, Sycorax is meant to be a blue-eyed Algerian. Or both.
  • Visible Invisibility: Ariel and the other fairies are invisible to all characters save Prospero, but visible to the audience.
  • Win-Win Ending
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Reversed; the moment Prospero decides to back out of his revenge plan - a near-miss "My God, What Have I Done?"