The Tempest is believed to have been written around 1610–1611 and was likely the last play William Shakespeare wrote before his death in 1616. Some scholars draw parallels between Prospero leaving his magic behind at the end of the play to Shakespeare retiring his quill, while others believe it was purely coincidental.
Elementary School - Discussion Questions
1. Why is it significant that the play begins with a storm at sea?
2. If you were shipwrecked, what five personal items would you try to save and why?
3. Think about how you might tell a close friend the story of your past. How would you tend to characterize yourself and your actions in your story? What about Prospero’s story? Does he take any responsibility for what happened to him? Should he?
4. At the very end of the play Prospero decides to forgive his enemies. Why do you think he does this?
5. What connection does Shakespeare establish between outward appearance and inner spirit? Do you think this is true? Why or why not?
6. Caliban was a very unkind character. Do you think he was always this way? Do you think the way Prospero treats him has made him cruel?
7. Have you ever been angry with a friend or sibling? Has a friend or sibling ever been angry with you? How upset were you? How did you deal with your anger? Looking back on the experience, would you have done anything differently? How did Prospero deal with his anger? Did he deal with it appropriately?
8. Compare and contrast Ariel and Caliban. How are they the same? How are they different?
Middle/High School Discussion Questions
1. Why does Miranda have such immediate empathy for the men in the ship? Why is she so merciful towards the shipwreck victims but has only contempt and hatred for Caliban? Since we learn that she has lived on the deserted island with her father since childhood, where would she have learned these ideas? Why do they differ between the men and Caliban?
2. In Shakespeare’s day women were not allowed to perform on stage. This explains why Shakespeare included only one female character in The Tempest. Look closely at the way each character speaks to Miranda and the way Miranda speaks for herself. How do you think society viewed women then? How is it similar or different to its view of women today?
3. Prospero is overthrown by his brother before the play ever begins. Political uprising is a plot device Shakespeare uses in quite a few of his works. How is that theme still relevant today?
4. What is your reaction to Prospero’s treatment of Caliban? Does Caliban have a legitimate complaint against Prospero? Why does Prospero keep Caliban as his servant even when he despises him? Why do you think Caliban attempted to “violate the honor” of Miranda? Did he or is this the way his acts were interpreted by Prospero and Miranda?
5. How has Caliban changed throughout his time with Prospero and Miranda? After they leave, how will he respond to having the island to himself again? View clips of Tom Hanks in Castaway. Do human beings require human interactions to survive?
6. What does it take to form a real relationship? Do Miranda and Ferdinand form a real relationship through the course of the play? Does love-at-first sight really exist?
7. What is power? Why do people want power? How do people go about obtaining power? Is the quest for power worth it at all costs? How does Prospero go about regaining his power? Are his methods just? If you could obtain your ultimate power what would it be and how would you go about obtaining it?
8. The idea of forgiveness and revenge is a major theme in The Tempest. Find a major example of each in the text and use it to answer the following question. Is it better to forgive your enemies or give them a taste of their own medicine?
9. One of the reasons The Tempest is sometimes considered a comedy is that all the characters are forgiven for their misdeeds. Prospero forgives everyone in the very last scene of the play. Discuss when you think he makes the decision to forgive the characters that have betrayed him. Did those forgiven really repent? Do you think there is a possibility of Prospero being wronged again? Are there any characters that deserve an apology from Prospero?
10. An allegory is defined as a work in which the characters and events are to be understood as representing other things and symbolically expressing a deeper, often spiritual, moral, or political meaning. The Tempest could be an allegory for Shakespeare’s life. At the end of the play, Prospero gives up his book and his staff. This was Shakespeare’s last play. After The Tempest was written he did not write again. What similarities are there between Prospero and Shakespeare? Find four lines that could be interpreted as Shakespeare moralizing about life and the end of his career.
11. Read the essays at the end of this study guide. Do you agree or disagree with the authors. Why? Write your own research paper on a topic that interests you in The Tempest.
1. Prospero’s speech to Miranda (1.2) is unusually long. What purpose other than clarifying the
narrative background and how the father and daughter came to be on the island, does this
section of the scene serve?
2. Compare and contrast Ariel and Caliban. In what ways are they the same? In what ways are
3. Describe the first meeting between Miranda and Ferdinand. How is Ferdinand introduced and what is Miranda’s impression of him?
4. How are the purposes of Antonio and Sebastian thwarted?
5. What was Prospero’s purpose in giving laborious work to Ferdinand?
6. What sort of duke was Prospero before he was overthrown? What sort of duke is he likely to be after he reclaims his dukedom?
7. Nature and society are frequently contrasted in The Tempest, and they occasionally conflict. Trace this theme throughout the course of the play.
8. The Tempest is a play with relatively little action. What are some of the reasons for its continued popularity?
9. In Greek mythology, Ceres, who appears in the masque of Act 4, is associated with the concept of rebirth, a return to life, a theme that a number of the characters refer to in their closing speeches. In your opinion, has Shakespeare restored the characters to their former selves, or has he changed or developed them during the course of the play?
10. The epilogue of the play is, in many ways, ambiguous. What are some possible interpretations of its meaning? What do you feel may have been Shakespeare’s reasons for including it?
11. What is symbolized when Prospero breaks his staff and buries his books of magic?