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The Tempest

The Tempest is one of William Shakespeare's later plays, and is the only one in which he more or less successfully attempts to abide by the prescribed "unities" of classical drama. Unity of place is achieved by setting the play on a remote island, and unity of time by having all the action take place within the space of a few hours.

Prospero, Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda, have been stranded for sixteen years on the island, as a result of the machinations of Prospero's jealous brother. Having developed magic powers as a result of his great learning, Prospero is able to survive on the island, with the aid of a spirit, Ariel, whom he has rescued from the witch, Sycorax, who originally ruled the island. Caliban, the witch's deformed and embittered son, is kept by Prospero as a servant.

When Prospero discovers that his brother is on a ship passing close by the island, he raises a storm (the tempest of the title) which causes the ship to run aground. Also on the ship are Antonio's friend and fellow conspirator, King Alonso, and Alonso's son, Ferdinand. Prospero, by his spells, contrives to separate all the survivors of the wreck so that Alonso and Ferdinand believe one another dead. Caliban falls in with Stephano and Trinculo, two drunken crew members, and attempts to raise a rebellion against Prospero, but this fails. Meanwhile, Ferdinand, imprisoned by Prospero, falls in love with Miranda. All ends happily, as Prospero forgives his enemies and produces a magical masque to celebrate the union of Miranda with Ferdinand. This is the cue for one of the best-known speeches in Shakespeare (Prospero's final speech), including the lines:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd 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 a sleep. [. . .]

In this speech, reference appears to be made to the Globe Theatre. The character of Prospero is believed by some to be based on Shakespeare's contemporary, Dr John Dee. Many feel that Shakespeare was speaking directly to his audience in Prospero's final speech, as this play is generally considered to have been his last complete work (written c. 1610-1612).

Recent criticism of The Tempest has interpreted it as a commentary on colonialism; other readings of the play interpret it as a discourse on the nature of evil.

External Link

  • The Tempest (http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/The_Tempest/index) - searchable, indexed e-text
  • the e-text of The Tempest (http://www.abacci.com/books/book.asp?bookID=2289)

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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