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The Tempest
William Shakespeare




The character of Caliban is wonderfully conceived: he is a sort of creature of the earth, partaking of the qualities of the brute, and distinguished from them in two ways: 1. By having mere understanding without moral reason; 2. By not having the instincts which belong to mere animals.- Still Caliban is a noble being: a man in the sense of the imagination, all the images he utters are drawn from nature, and are all highly poetical; they fit in with the images of Ariel: Caliban gives you images from the Earth- Ariel images from the air. Caliban talks of the difficulty of finding fresh water, the situation of Morasses, and other circumstances which the brute instinct not possessing reason could comprehend. No mean image is brought forward, and no mean passion, but animal passions, and the sense of repugnance at being commanded.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from a lecture on Shakespeare, 1811


Prospero is the central figure of The Tempest; and it has often been wildly asserted that he is a portrait of the author- and embodiment of that spirit of wise benevolence which is supposed to have thrown a halo over Shakespeare's later life. But, on closer inspection, the portrait seems to be as imaginary as the original. To an irreverent eye, the ex-Duke of Milan would perhaps appear as an unpleasantly crusty personage, in whom a twelve years' monopoly of the conversation had developed an inordinate propensity for talking. These may have been the sentiments of Ariel, safe at the Bermoothes; but to state them is to risk at least ten years in the knotty entrails of an oak, and it is sufficient to point out, that if Prospero is wise, he is also self-opinionated and sour, that his gravity is often another name for pedantic severity, and that there is no character in the play to whom, during some part of it, he is not studiously disagreeable.

Lytton Strachey, "Shakespeare's Final Period," 1922; reprinted in Twentieth Century Interpretations of "The Tempest," ed. Hallett Smith, 1969


...The Tempest will be found peculiarly poor in metaphor. There is the less need for it in that the play is itself metaphor. Shakespeare's favourite imagery of storm and wreck cannot powerfully recur as descriptive comparison since the whole play, as its title announces, revolves round that very conception.... Usually Shakespeare's tricks of pictorial suggestion can be felt as playing over and interpreting a story, though too rigid a distinction is dangerous; here there is no interpretation; the story is, or is supposed to be, self-explanatory; the creative act is single. It might be called Shakespeare's "purest work of art"; though whether purity, in art or in moral doctrine, itself so severe in The Tempest, is the whole of wisdom remains arguable.

G. Wilson Knight, The Crown of Life, 1947


"Good wombs," says Miranda, "have borne bad sons"- in the realm of the better nature there are "unnatural" men.... Obviously among the better natures there were those upon whom some encounter or accident might beget an evil nature; that from the seed could grow degenerate plants. Many reasons were alleged to explain this, some astrological, some theological; and ultimately noblemen do ill because, being sons of Adam, they are free to choose.... Caliban has no choice but to be vile; but in Antonio there was surely a predisposition to virtuous conduct; and it could not be easy to think of one who, in the eyes of Caliban, was a "brave spirit", as the betrayer of the fulness of his own more perfect nature, as a man so unnatural as to be impervious to the action of grace, a Macbeth of comedy. We see in Antonio the operation of sin in a world magically purified but still allowing freedom to the will; inhabitants of this world can abase themselves below those who live unaided at the level of nature. And it is as a comment upon his unnatural behaviour that we are offered a close structural parallel between Antonio's corrupt and Caliban's natural behaviour in the two plots against Alonso and Prospero.

Frank Kermode, Introduction to the Arden edition of The Tempest, 1954


Not only do Ferdinand and Miranda sustain Prospero in representing a new order of things that has evolved out of destruction; they also vouch for its continuation. At the end of the play Alonso and Prospero are old and worn men. A younger and happier generation is needed to secure the new state to which Prospero has so painfully brought himself, his friends, and all his enemies save Caliban.

E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Last Plays, 1958


The Renaissance voyagers [who wrote the Bermuda pamphlets], in their casting about for classical and Christian analogues to their experience, in their eagerness to see the miraculous at work and the special providence of God in all that happens, to see hope in disaster and lessons in trials, remind us more than a little of Gonzalo. From his comments on the breakdown of shipboard discipline during the opening storm to his wishful celebration of everyone's self-recovery near the end, Gonzalo tries, like the Renaissance voyagers behind him, to see a providential design in the experience of the play, to moralize that experience into what the Renaissance would call an "allegory." In doing so, although he does not "mistake the truth totally," as Antonio claims, he does have to bend reality ever so slightly to the desires of his mind and to that extent falsify it; not quite everyone, for example, has found himself by the end of the play as Gonzalo would like to think. His allusions to Carthage and "widow Dido" do distort Virgil in the strenuous effort to hammer out the parallel, and are representative of his efforts at perception throughout. One such effort is his benevolent vision of an island utopia [Act II, Scene I, lines 152-173].

Howard Felperin, Shakespearean Romance, 1972

[The Tempest Contents]


We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.

Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Hempstead High School, Hempstead, New York

Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Suffolk County Community College, Selden, New York

Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
State University of New York at Stony Brook

Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
National Council of Teachers of English Student Guide Series
Fort Morgan, Colorado

Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Tamalpais Union High School District
Mill Valley, California

Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
State University of New York College at Buffalo

Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
State University of New York College at Geneseo

Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
State University of New York at Buffalo

Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
National Council of Teachers of English
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Guilderland Central School District, New York

Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts
Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois

[The Tempest Contents]



Auden, W. H. "The Sea and the Mirror" (1944), in Collected Longer Poems. New York: Random House, 1969. A poetic commentary on The Tempest.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Coleridge on Shakespeare: The Text of the Lectures of 1811-12, ed. R. A. Foakes. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1971. Lecture 9 focuses on The Tempest.

Eastman, A. M., and G. B. Harrison, eds. Shakespeare's Critics, from Jonson to Auden: A Medley of Judgments. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1964.

Felperin, Howard. Shakespearean Romance. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972. The Tempest in the context of the late plays.

Kermode, Frank, ed. The Tempest. The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare. Sixth Edition. New York: Random House, 1964. An excellent edition of the play, with a helpful introduction and thorough notes.

Knight, G. Wilson. The Crown of Life. London: Methuen, 1948.

_____. The Shakespearian Tempest. Third edition. London: Methuen, 1953. (Originally published in 1932.) Both this and the later, more thorough Crown of Life view The Tempest as the culmination and summation of Shakespeare's great themes.

Nagler, Alois M. Shakespeare's Stage. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958. Shakespeare's performance space considered.

Schoenbaum, S. William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Smith, Hallett, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Tempest. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. A collection of critical essays with a variety of approaches.

Tillyard, E. M. W. The Elizabethan World Picture. New York: Macmillan, 1944. How Shakespeare's audience viewed their universe.

_____. Shakespeare's Last Plays. London: Chatto and Windus, 1938. Rebirth as part of the pattern of tragedy; planes of reality within the play.

Tobias, Richard C., and Paul G. Zolbrod, eds. Shakespeare's Late Plays. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1986. Recent essays.

Traversi, Derek. Shakespeare: The Last Phase. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955.


Shakespeare wrote 37 plays (38 if you include The Two Noble Kinsmen) over a 20-year period, from about 1590 to 1610. It's difficult to determine the exact dates when many were written, but scholars have made the following intelligent guesses about his plays and poems:


    1588-93 The Comedy of Errors
    1588-94 Love's Labor's Lost
    1590-91 2 Henry VI
    1590-91 3 Henry VI
    1591-92 1 Henry VI
    1592-93 Richard III
    1592-94 Titus Andronicus
    1593-94 The Taming of the Shrew
    1593-95 The Two Gentlemen of Verona
    1594-96 Romeo and Juliet
    1595 Richard II
    1594-96 A Midsummer Night's Dream
    1596-97 King John
    1596-97 The Merchant of Venice
    1597 1 Henry IV
    1597-98 2 Henry IV
    1598-1600 Much Ado About Nothing
    1598-99 Henry V
    1599 Julius Caesar
    1599-1600 As You Like It
    1599-1600 Twelfth Night
    1600-01 Hamlet
    1597-1601 The Merry Wives of Windsor
    1601-02 Troilus and Cressida
    1602-04 All's Well That Ends Well
    1603-04 Othello
    1604 Measure for Measure
    1605-06 King Lear
    1605-06 Macbeth
    1606-07 Antony and Cleopatra
    1605-08 Timon of Athens
    1607-09 Coriolanus
    1608-09 Pericles
    1609-10 Cymbeline
    1610-11 The Winter's Tale
    1611-12 The Tempest
    1612-13 Henry VIII


    1592 Venus and Adonis
    1593-94 The Rape of Lucrece
    1593-1600 Sonnets
    1600-01 The Phoenix and the Turtle

[Shakespeare's Sonnets read by John Gielgud]


ECC [The Tempest Contents] []

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