The Tempest by William Shakespeare- Summary, Analysis, Characters & Themes

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TitleThe Tempest
PlaywrightWilliam Shakespeare
GenreComedy; Tragicomedy
Date of First Performance1611
SettingRemote island
Main CharactersProspero, Miranda, Ariel, Caliban, Alonso, Ferdinand, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo
ThemesMagic, betrayal, revenge, forgiveness, illusion, reality
StylePoetic, suspenseful, comedic
LegacyConsidered one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays

The Tempest by William Shakespeare is a play about magic, forgiveness, and the power of transformation. The main character, Prospero, is a sorcerer who creates a storm to shipwreck his enemies on an island. Throughout the play, themes of revenge and forgiveness are explored as Prospero seeks retribution but ultimately chooses to let go of his anger. The play also delves into the idea of the illusory nature of reality, as Prospero uses magic to manipulate the events on the island. Overall, “The Tempest” is a tale of reconciliation and the triumph of forgiveness over vengeance.


The characters of “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare are:

  1. Prospero: The main character, a powerful sorcerer and former Duke of Milan. He uses magic to control the events on the island.
  2. Miranda: Prospero’s daughter. She has lived on the island since childhood and falls in love with Ferdinand.
  3. Ariel: A magical spirit enslaved by Prospero. Ariel helps Prospero with his magic but desires freedom.
  4. Caliban: A deformed and monstrous creature, the son of the witch Sycorax. He initially serves Prospero but later rebels.
  5. Ferdinand: The son of the King of Naples. He falls in love with Miranda and undergoes trials set by Prospero to prove his love.
  6. Alonso: The King of Naples. He is initially grief-stricken over the loss of his son but is later reunited with him.
  7. Antonio: Prospero’s brother, who usurped him as Duke of Milan. He is part of the group on the ship that arrives on the island.
  8. Sebastian: Alonso’s brother. He is also part of the group on the ship and has a role in the political intrigue.
  9. Gonzalo: An honest and kind advisor to Alonso. He helps to ensure that Prospero and Miranda survive when they are exiled.
  10. Trinculo and Stephano: A jester and a butler who, along with Caliban, plot to overthrow Prospero. Their plans go awry due to Ariel’s interventions.


The themes of “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare are:

  1. Power and Control: The play explores the dynamics of power, from the magical abilities of Prospero to the struggles for dominance among the characters.
  2. Forgiveness and Redemption: Themes of forgiveness and redemption are central as characters seek to reconcile past wrongs and move towards a harmonious resolution.
  3. Colonialism and Otherness: The relationship between Prospero and Caliban raises questions about colonialism and the treatment of those considered ‘other’ or different.
  4. Illusion and Reality: The Tempest blurs the lines between illusion and reality, challenging perceptions and exploring the nature of truth.
  5. Nature vs. Nurture: The characters, especially Miranda and Caliban, prompt reflection on the impact of one’s environment and upbringing on their nature.
  6. Freedom and Imprisonment: Characters grapple with physical and metaphorical forms of captivity, highlighting the desire for freedom and the consequences of confinement.
  7. The Tempest as a Symbol: The storm in the play serves as both a literal and metaphorical force, symbolizing chaos, transformation, and the potential for renewal.
  8. Theatricality and Performance: The play-within-a-play elements underscore the theme of theatricality, exploring how characters perform their roles and the transformative power of art.

Watch Full Play Summary of “The Tempest”

The Tempest Summary

The play starts with their journey to Italy from the wedding of Alonso’s daughter, Claribel, to the prince of Tunis in Africa, a ship containing Alonso, Ferdinand, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, Stephano & Trinculo is struck by a storm. All of the sailors, even the ever-so-silent Boatswain, start to worry for their lives, including the royal party. The seafarers shout out that the ship has been struck as lightning cracks. Everyone gets ready to go under.

The scenario that follows opens much more subtly. Standing on their island’s coast, Miranda and Prospero gaze out to sea at the most recent shipwreck. Miranda begs her father to assist the unfortunate people on board the ship in any way he can. After assuring her that everything will be OK, Prospero tells her that it’s time to discover more about who she is and where she came from. He recounts to her the long narrative of her history, a story he had frequently begun but never finished, and admits to her that he was the one who planned the disaster. 

According to legend, Prospero was the Duke of Milan until his brother Antonio took his place by plotting with Alonso, the King of Naples. Gonzalo leaves Prospero and his daughter with food and his books, which are the source of his magic and strength after Prospero is kidnapped and abandoned to perish on a raft at sea. After arriving on the island, Prospero and his daughter stayed there for twelve years. Prospero claims that it is only now that Fortune has finally thrown his foes his way, and he has summoned the tempest to settle the score once and for all.

Following the recounting of this tale, Prospero lulls Miranda to sleep before summoning his principal magical agent, the familiar spirit Ariel. Ariel set fire to the mast and sent the tempest onto the ship, as revealed by Prospero and Ariel’s conversation. Subsequently, he ensured that everyone arrived at the island without incident; however, they are currently divided into smaller groups. Ariel, Prospero’s enslaved servant, reminds his lord that if he completes duties like these without protesting, he will be released a year early. 

Ariel is reprimanded by Prospero for objecting, and he is reminded of the terrible situation he was saved from. Ariel was imprisoned in a tree by a witch called Sycorax before Prospero’s arrival on the island. Ariel was imprisoned when Sycorax passed away until Prospero came and released him. Prospero gives Ariel instructions to assume the form of a sea nymph and become invisible to everyone but Prospero after Ariel reassures Prospero that he understands his position.

After Miranda wakes up from her slumber, she and Prospero proceed to see Caliban, who is both Prospero’s servant and the deceased Sycorax’s son. Prospero and Miranda chastise Caliban for being unappreciative of everything they have provided and taught him, after which Caliban curses Prospero. Caliban is sent by Prospero to get firewood. Ariel, who is invisible, appears, guiding the amazed Ferdinand in while performing music. Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love with one another right away. 

Aside from Caliban and her father, he is the only guy Miranda has ever seen. Prospero is pleased that his daughter’s prospective marriage is going well, but he determines that he has to cause a temporary rift to keep their connection from progressing too rapidly. He threatens to put Ferdinand in jail and claims that he is just acting the part of the Prince of Naples. Prospero charms Ferdinand and brings him to prison after he pulls his sword, disobeying Miranda’s pleas for pity. Then he sent Ariel on yet another enigmatic assignment.

Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, and other unidentified lords express gratitude for their safety but express concern for Ferdinand’s whereabouts on a different area of the island. Alonso claims that he would have preferred not to marry his daughter to the prince of Tunis as his son would still be alive if he had not undertaken this trip. Gonzalo talks about how beautiful the island is in an attempt to keep everyone happy, but Antonio and Sebastian’s nasty remarks undermine his attempts. Except for Sebastian and Antonio, everyone falls asleep to the music played by the invisible Ariel. The two then start talking about the potential benefits of murdering their sleeping partners. 

Sebastian is convinced by Antonio that if they kill Alonso, he will take over as the monarch of Naples. If Ferdinand were to pass away, Claribel would be the heir apparent, but she lives too far away to be able to assert her claim. Gonzalo wakes up with a yell from Ariel, and just as Sebastian and the other man are ready to stab the sleeping males, Sebastian becomes doubtful. When everyone awakens, Antonio and Sebastian tell a silly tale about drawing their swords to keep the lions away from the monarch. While Alonso and his group keep looking for Ferdinand, Ariel returns to Prospero.

While carrying wood for Prospero, Caliban spots Trinculo and believes that he is a ghost sent by Prospero to taunt him. Under his cloak, he lays down and hides. Trinculo follows Caliban under the cloak as a storm approaches, intrigued by his peculiar appearance and stench but unfazed by it. Drunk and singing, Stephano stumbles into the strange scene of Trinculo and Caliban snuggling under the cloak. Hearing the singing, Caliban screams that he will work more quickly as long as the “spirits” stay away from him. Stephano tries to convince Caliban to drink after determining that this monster needs alcohol. Calling out to his friend Stephano, Trinculo recognizes him. Before long, the trio is enjoying a drink while seated together.

Caliban rapidly turns into a passionate drinker and starts to sing. Ferdinand is employed by Prospero to gather wood. Because his effort is for Miranda’s benefit, Ferdinand enjoys it. Miranda encourages Ferdinand to take a break since she believes her father is sleeping. The two make eye contact and flirt. Ferdinand accepts Miranda’s marriage proposal. Prospero is happy with this development as he has spent most of the performance on stage without being spotted.

Now that they are inebriated and rowdy, Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban are made even more so by Ariel, who approaches them covertly and uses their voices to tease and incite conflict between them. Caliban’s assertions that he knows how to murder Prospero become more and more vehement. He claims he can take Stephano to Prospero’s sleeping quarters. He suggests that they murder Prospero, kidnap his daughter, and appoint Stephano to rule the island. Stephano considers this a smart approach, and the three get ready to search for Prospero. 

The music that Ariel plays on his flute and tabor drum, however, diverts them, and they choose to pursue it before carrying out their plan. Travel weariness causes Alonso, Gonzalo, Sebastian, and Antonio to stop and rest. Alonso and Gonzalo are so tired that Antonio and Sebastian conspire in secret to kill them in the evening. Probably hidden from the men on the stage balcony, Prospero orders weirdly formed spirits to spread up a meal. Ariel makes an appearance like a harpist and makes the dinner disappear as the guys are ready to eat. Then, he accuses the men of replacing Prospero and claims that Ferdinand, Alonso’s son, was abducted because of this transgression. Alonso is left feeling confused and guilty as he disappears.

At this point, Prospero starts to warm up to Ferdinand and accepts him into the household as Miranda’s future spouse. He does, however, firmly warn Ferdinand that Miranda’s “virgin-knot” (IV.i.15) cannot be severed until the marriage has been formally consummated. Next, Prospero requests that Ariel summon spirits to create a masquerade for Ferdinand and Miranda. The spirits take on the forms of Iris, Juno, and Ceres and conduct a brief masque that honors earthly plenty and marital customs. A reaper and nymph dance ensues but is cut short as Prospero realizes all of a sudden that he still needs to put an end to the conspiracy against his life.

After chasing the ghosts away, he queries Ariel regarding Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban. Ariel informs his boss about the three men’s inebriated schemes. Additionally, he describes how he guided the soldiers with his music through brambles and spiky vegetation until they arrived at a dirty pond close to Prospero’s cell. Next, Ariel and Prospero baited Prospero by hanging exquisite garments in his cage. Entering in search of Prospero, Stephano, Trinculo, & Caliban resolve to pilfer the exquisite attire after spotting it. Prospero and Ariel lead a group of spirits that take the form of wolves and hounds and attack them right away.

Ariel is used by Prospero to push Alonso & the others in front of him. Then, he sent Ariel to fetch the mariners and the boatswain from their makeshift home on the sunken ship. When Prospero confronts Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian about their betrayal, he extends his forgiveness to them. Prospero explains he recently lost his daughter, and Alonso tells him about losing Ferdinand in the storm. He pulls back the curtain to show Ferdinand and Miranda engaged in a game of chess, further elucidating his meaning. The miracle of Ferdinand’s survival astounds Alonso and his friends, while Miranda is taken aback by the sight of individuals she has never seen before. Ferdinand shares his marriage with his father.

Returning with the seafarers and the boatswain is Ariel. The Boatswain recounts how he was roused from what seemed to be a prolonged sleep following the tempest. Ariel releases Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano at Prospero’s request, and they enter wearing their pilfered apparel. They are told to put it back and tidy Prospero’s cell by Prospero and Alonso. To tell Alonso and the others the story of his life over the last twelve years, Prospero extends an invitation for them to spend the night. The gang intends to head back to Italy after this. Now that he is a duke again, Prospero plans to retire to Milan. Before releasing Ariel, Prospero gives him one more assignment: to ensure that the seas remain calm for the return trip. In his epilogue, Prospero asks the audience to pardon him for his transgressions and to cheer for his release.

Important FAQs

What is the story The Tempest about?

A tale of magic, revenge, and forgiveness set on a remote island.

What is the main message of The Tempest?

The main message of The Tempest is that forgiveness is more powerful than revenge.

Why is The Tempest so famous?

The Tempest is famous for its blend of magic, betrayal, and forgiveness, exploring the power of illusion and the depths of human nature.

What gender is Ariel in The Tempest?

Ariel’s gender is ambiguous in Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” The character is referred to with male pronouns in the original text, but some interpretations view Ariel as a female or non-binary spirit.

Who is the monster in The Tempest?

Caliban, the island’s native inhabitant, is often labeled as the monster in The Tempest.

Why is it called The Tempest?

The play is named after the violent storm that opens the play, which sets the stage for the magical events that follow.

Who does Miranda fall in love with in The Tempest?

Miranda falls in love with Ferdinand, the son of the King of Naples.

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