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THE TEMPEST. By William Shakespeare. THE TEMPEST. Power and politics Key characters: Prospero, Miranda, Earth and Air The Court Characters The Comic Characters Key themes Summary. POWER/ POLITICS. The play features a number of power bases:

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the tempest


By William Shakespeare

the tempest2

Power and politics

Key characters: Prospero, Miranda,

Earth and Air

The Court Characters

The Comic Characters

Key themes


power politics

The play features a number of power bases:

  • Prospero's rule over Miranda, Ariel and Caliban.
  • Alonso’s rule over Antonio, Sebastian and the other on the ship.
  • Antonio’s influence of Sebastian.
  • Trinculo and Stephano’s power over Caliban.
  • There seems to be a necessity to have power and control from many of the characters.
  • The play opens on a ship in the middle of a storm which is concocted by Prospero, showing his power.

The rightful Duke of Milan who is sent away by his brother Antonio.

Gonzalo helps him survive. He gains control of the island.

Rules over the spirits of the island and Caliban is his servant.

Is powerful and uses magic to keep his power.

Makes others scared of him, some say he is cruel to Caliban and Ariel.

Shows great love for his daughter Miranda.

Loves books,reading and magic. (Gonzalo ensures he has books with him).

He raises the storm and Ariel ensures all the key characters are separated on the island.

He is in control of most of the events on the island.

Threatens Ariel with imprisonment and punishment if he fails to obey him, showing a darker side to Prospero’s character.

Promises pains for Caliban which is also unpleasant.

Complements Ariel for all his help and promises freedom throughout; he eventually keeps his promise at the end of Act 5.


He watches over almost all that happens.

He controls Ferdinand and Miranda’s love as much as he can, testing Ferdinand’s love for her. He complements them both and calls Ferdinand his son once he has passed the test.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made of” his life is coming to an end, showing a sense of weariness.

Draws all to a satisfactory close, everyone is forgiven and hopefully learns their lessons.


Signs off with “my ending is despair” a sad lonely figure who has spent all energy. Many say this is a parallel with Shakespeare signing off at the end of his writing career.


Prospero’s daughter. Beautiful, innocent.

She has not seen anyone else other than Prospero and Caliban and finds the others fascinating. A gentle and caring character, she seems genuinely concerned for the welfare of those on the ship.

She trusts her father and doesn’t ask questions.

earth and air

She falls in love with Ferdinand at first sight, but all she has seen are Prospero and Caliban.

“O brave new world that has such people in’t” expresses best her innocence and naivety.

She agrees to marry Ferdinand and is sorry he has to go through such pain to show his love for her.


A very earthy character. Physically strong; although unintelligent, he is not stupid.

Acts on instinct, both for food and has sexual desires as he tried to rape Miranda.

He is ugly and described as such throughout “freckled whelp” “strange fish” “savage” “abnormal” “slave”.

Educated by Prospero.

He has to obey Prospero because of Prospero’s power.

Needs to follow others and falls in with Trinculo and Stephano to overthrow Prospero.

He speaks aggressively throughout, but some sensitivity is shown “be not afeared, the isle is full of strange noises” when calming Stephano and Trinculo.

Learns from his stupidity in the end.


The spirit of the island. Rescued from slavery by Prospero (ironic as he treats Ariel like a slave).

Obedient servant, he does as Prospero asks.

Refers to the elements air, earth, water and fire.

Can take on many shapes such as a Harpy, hounds and uses many voices.

Light and of the air.

Seems unhappy to be working for Prospero “is there more toil”.

Helps in the punishment and education of the other characters.

Often uses poetry to speak, showing his light nature.

the court characters


A gentle character, he spends most of the play sad and depressed as he fears he has lost his son in the storm.

Tired of Antonio and Sebastian’s continual sarcasm he is a serious character.

Threatens suicide after he sees the harpy who shows them what they truly are.


Aggressive and unpleasant to almost everyone except Sebastian who is his close friend.

Plots the death of Alonso, desperate for power and control.

Ambition is his downfall according to Prospero, who calls him a traitor.


Aggressive, insulting and sarcastic.

Jokes at others expense.

He is racist.

Follows Antonio and will do all he can to support him.


Knowledgeable, loyal and old.

Sensible, wise and holy.

A positive thinker in times of despair.

Has a vision of the perfect world.

Rescues Prospero and also Alonso from the evil clutches of Antonio and Sebastian.

Prospero calls him: ‘Holy Gonzalo, honourable man’ showing his truly good nature.


Alonso’s son, Miranda falls in love with him.

The romantic interest.

He is a gentle character, a positive figure.

Sad when he fears his father has died in the storm.

the comic characters


Drunken and foolish.

Uses prose to speak to show his low status.

Abuses Caliban, but a coward when pushed.


Lacks intelligence.

Plays on physical comedy of drunkenness, bawdy humour.

Caliban ends up being frustrated by their inept attempts to overthrow Prospero.

Rude jokes and comments made would have provided the audience with humour and light relief.

A coward and easily scared when it matters most.

key themes
  • Disguise/clothing

Prospero and Ariel in the play and a number of other characters also disguise their true selves.

  • Animals

Common in Shakespeare’s plays, animals are used to describe many characters, particularly Caliban to reflect his earthy nature.

  • Politics dominates all the groups.
  • Leadership/power. There are many potential leaders in the play, but few good ones.
  • Magic/ books are the key to Prospero’s downfall and his revenge.
  • Earth, air links to Caliban and Ariel, who links to the theme of magic.
  • Slavery/ imprisonment Prospero uses Caliban and Ariel as slaves/servants.
  • Justice/forgiveness which Prospero is mainly responsible for.
  • Politics and power are a key theme.
  • Prospero controls all the action on the stage.
  • All learn from their experiences.
  • There are a number of key themes in the play, mainly forgiveness, the elements, power and magic.
  • The ending signals the end of Shakespeare’s writing career.
  • Written at a time of exploration in the world, the themes would have interested and excited the audience.