Students’ Insights on The Tempest

Here are some insights my students came up on their own with from The Tempest. I haven’t shared their names, but will when I get permission. Great job!

Making the best of a bad situation 

It’s in human nature to make the best of a bad situation, as many do in The Tempest.  What comes of it depends on the way you go about achieving it. Two groups of characters in The Tempest show two different approaches: The first group, Stephano, Trinculo, Antonio, and Sebastian, goes about it in a way that exploits others for their own personal gain, while the second group, Prospero, Ferdinand and Gonzalo goes about in a different way.  They change their perspective on things.  It turns out, making the best of a bad situation does not necessarily have anything to do with changing things.

Prospero’s Freedom 

Ariel longs for freedom, but Prospero longs for freedom, for the day when he will no longer have to rely on her.  In the final act of the play, Ariel and Prospero bring almost every character into one place for reconciliation. Miranda and Ferdinand receive the blessing of both their parents.  Stephano and Trinculo are shown to be drunken idiots, and both are forgiven. Caliban sees the man he thought was a god is nothing more than an inebriated, foolish oaf, and repents for his malevolent actions against Prospero. Alonso is forgiven for wronging Prospero all those years ago, and Gonzalo is recognized for the good man he is. Sebastian and Antonio’s treachery is named by Prospero, but not revealed to anyone else, as Prospero decides to give them another chance to reform their ways.  Finally, Prospero is restored his title and given the opportunity to return home, after all these years. And, at long last, Prospero grants Ariel that which he has desired throughout the entire play: his freedom. When all is said and done, each character is also granted a liberty of their own: Alonso is free of his guilt, Miranda and Ferdinand are free to love each other, Caliban is free from the control of any man, Gonzalo is free of being passed off as a witless old man, Stephano and Trinculo are free from their drunken plots, the boatswain will be free of his troublesome passengers when they return to Milan, and, should they choose to follow Prospero’s advice, Sebastian and Antonio are free from their ideas of treachery and murder.  And, above all, the two whose freedom is most profound and noticeable, are Ariel and Prospero.  Though it is small wonder that after Prospero loses his influence over one world, he seeks it through another, and while he did have need of Ariel when he first arrived on the island, when he regains his title as duke of Milan, he no longer has any need of the spirit.



What is Caliban? Caliban depicted differently in every movie and play.  Even in the play, every character calls him something different.  All characters, though, refer to him as not being human. Prospero calls him a “freckled whelp, not honored with human shape.”  Trinculo calls him a “fish”. Stephano calls him “mooncalf,” a deformed monstrosity.  There is also great variation in how directors have portrayed Caliban. Some see him as a human; some as half animal.  In some productions he is a crippled old man, in movies he is usually a primitive man. Some older productions have portrayed as half animal, even half devil. But most modern directors show him as human.  Caliban might have animalistic qualities but he definitely human.  He has the ability to learn, right from wron… he can appreciate beauty, using beautiful poetic language, he can worship a higher power, and he can weigh consequences. When the band of hooligans find clothes and go to steal them, Caliban advises them they can steal after they kill Prospero, then there will be no consequence.  Most directors make Caliban human because they want us to connect with him. To feel his struggles, his successes, his frustrations, and the fun he has with Stephano and Trinculo.


Ariel, who has human qualities, but is not human after all 

Ariel’s ability to have empathy, want independence and freedom, and her very human relationship with Prospero set her apart from normal non-human characters in Shakespeare, like Puck.  We can admire, even relate to Ariel’s character through these traits.  She helps us understand even supernatural creatures want freedom and have compassion.  Yet, while she may understand human emotions, she cannot actually fully experience them. Having some human qualities does not make one a fully fledged human!


The Seven Deadly Sins

All the characters in The Tempest engage in sin, and there are examples of all Seven of the Deadly sins in the story.

Pride – believing one is better than others

Envy – a bitter jealousy

Lust from sexual desire

Gluttony – overindulgence in food and drink

Sloth – abject laziness

Greed – endless want

Wrath – vengeful anger

So, Why does the play end as a comedy ending with no death and a happy wedding?  The end is decided by the decisions Prospero makes, and it could have gone differently.  He brought the tempest, but saved the ship. He forgave his brother.  He watched over his daughter and the man she loves and helped them marry. He deals with the drunks trying to kill him by giving them back to their master.  He decides not to have vengeance and show mercy to all.  It is Prospero’s mercy that allows the play to become a comedy.


More on Sin: Revenge and Wrath

Revenge is powerful. It can lead the best people to do the most horrible things if not controlled. The Tempest is a great play that showcases people who can control their desire for revenge, those who can’t, and those who don’t feel it. Caliban is a monster with an uncanny lust for revenge, who wants to take back the island that was taken from him by Prospero and Miranda.  Ferdinand, on the other hand, a prince, is so nobly raised that he does not take action as Prospero toys with him. In order to curb the need for revenge, it is necessary to properly educate people.


More on Sin: Covetousness 

In The Tempest, covetousness and unhappiness go hand in hand.  Characters who allow covetous feelings to turn into actions like Caliban, Sebastian, Prospero, and Antonio, experience more misfortune and more dissatisfaction. The consuming want of possessions, power, or status never bring true happiness and satisfaction, only more grief. All of us covet something at one point or another; it’s what we choose to do with those feelings that determine our happiness.


On why this becomes a comedy 

In life, people are often prevented from bringing harm to themselves as well as others.  Shakespeare’s Tempest, is filled with examples.  Prospero wants to protect his daughter and her virginity, particularly from Caliban who tried to rape her.  He makes him suffer as a slave for it.  Caliban, in turn, seeks revenge on Prospero for betraying him.  At the end of the play the two characters are close to having their revenge on each other, but are prevented from doing so.  Sebastian and Antonio, brothers of kings, and the two drunkards, Stephano and Trinculo, are also stopped from doing bad things.  Sebastian and Antonio are stopped from assassinating Gonzalo and Alonso, and Stephano and Trinculo are stopped from assassinating Prospero.  The prevention of characters bringing harm to others and themselves is what makes comedies, comedies.  It is vital in comedies to create solutions to problems so that it’s not too late to fix them and they become tragedies.  And it is characters like Miranda, Prospero, and Arial that do this.  Without their intervention, there are soon problems and the story becomes a tragedy.


Ferdinand and Miranda 

In The Tempest’s romantic couple, Ferdinand and Miranda, another classic young Shakespearean couple has formed. You know the story, boy meets girl, they fall in love,  and even though they have known each other for less than a week they want to spend happily ever after with each other. Fortunately, Ferdinand and Miranda do not have to kill themselves or use a magic potion called “Love idleness” to be together. Their story is much happier. However,  the question remains: can Ferdinand and Miranda make a good marriage? Will they be able to work hard for and value each other when times are tough? Will they be able to sometimes deny their desires? And can they love each other for the rest of their lives? If Ferdinand and Miranda continue to act towards each other as they do now, they can make a good marriage.  They love each other deeply, they value each other enough to work hard for each other, and they are willing to deny their own desires and do what is best for each other.  They can have self control.  If they can continue to have these things, then they will live happily ever after.


Is Prospero an admirable person? 

Prospero has many admirable qualities, yet he is also human. Do his good qualities outweigh his faults?  I say yes.  Prospero is able to forgive. He has such a powerful sense of forgiveness that he can forgive people who have wronged him more than any other.  He has not only has the motive for revenge, but powerful magic and servants to help him avenge himself however he pleases. Yet, he forgives.  Prospero also demonstrates vigilance and a willingness to act.  After being on an island for twelve years, he recognizes and seizes the opportunity to make things right with the passing of the ship, his only opportunity to ensure a future for Miranda and tie up the loose ends of his own life. In less than one day, he accomplishes this.  He is also willing to put the needs of others above his own, letting Ariel go free and magic go too. He was, after this, forever after a normal man with normal human powers. After having had powers for so long, was surely hard to give up.