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The Tempest

William Shakespeare

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Prospero

Prospero is one of Shakespeare’s more enigmatic protagonists. He is a sympathetic character in that he was wronged by his usurping brother, but his absolute power over the other characters and his overwrought speeches make him difficult to like. In our first glimpse of him, he appears puffed up and self-important, and his repeated insistence that Miranda pay attention suggest that his story is boring her. Once Prospero moves on to a subject other than his absorption in the pursuit of knowledge, Miranda’s attention is riveted.

The pursuit of knowledge gets Prospero into trouble in the first place. By neglecting everyday matters when he was duke, he gave his brother a chance to rise up against him. His possession and use of magical knowledge renders him extremely powerful and not entirely sympathetic. His punishments of Caliban are petty and vindictive, as he calls upon his spirits to pinch Caliban when he curses. He is defensively autocratic with Ariel. For example, when Ariel reminds his master of his promise to relieve him of his duties early if he performs them willingly, Prospero bursts into fury and threatens to return him to his former imprisonment and torment. He is similarly unpleasant in his treatment of Ferdinand, leading him to his daughter and then imprisoning and enslaving him.

Despite his shortcomings as a man, however, Prospero is central to The Tempest’s narrative. Prospero generates the plot of the play almost single-handedly, as his various schemes, spells, and manipulations all work as part of his grand design to achieve the play’s happy ending. Watching Prospero work through The Tempest is like watching a dramatist create a play, building a story from material at hand and developing his plot so that the resolution brings the world into line with his idea of goodness and justice. Many critics and readers of the play have interpreted Prospero as a surrogate for Shakespeare, enabling the audience to explore firsthand the ambiguities and ultimate wonder of the creative endeavor.

Prospero’s final speech, in which he likens himself to a playwright by asking the audience for applause, strengthens this reading of the play, and makes the play’s final scene function as a moving celebration of creativity, humanity, and art. Prospero emerges as a more likable and sympathetic figure in the final two acts of the play. In these acts, his love for Miranda, his forgiveness of his enemies, and the legitimately happy ending his scheme creates all work to mitigate some of the undesirable means he has used to achieve his happy ending. If Prospero sometimes seems autocratic, he ultimately manages to persuade the audience to share his understanding of the world—an achievement that is, after all, the final goal of every author and every play.

Miranda

Just under fifteen years old, Miranda is a gentle and compassionate, but also relatively passive, heroine. From her very first lines she displays a meek and emotional nature. “O, I have suffered / With those that I saw suffer!” she says of the shipwreck (I.ii.5–6), and hearing Prospero’s tale of their narrow escape from Milan, she says “I, not rememb’ring how I cried out then, / Will cry it o’er again” (I.ii.133–134). Miranda does not choose her own husband. Instead, while she sleeps, Prospero sends Ariel to fetch Ferdinand, and arranges things so that the two will come to love one another. After Prospero has given the lovers his blessing, he and Ferdinand talk with surprising frankness about her virginity and the pleasures of the marriage bed while she stands quietly by. Prospero tells Ferdinand to be sure not to “break her virgin-knot” before the wedding night (IV.i.15), and Ferdinand replies with no small anticipation that lust shall never take away “the edge of that day’s celebration” (IV.i.29). In the play’s final scene, Miranda is presented, with Ferdinand, almost as a prop or piece of the scenery as Prospero draws aside a curtain to reveal the pair playing chess.

But while Miranda is passive in many ways, she has at least two moments of surprising forthrightness and strength that complicate the reader’s impressions of her as a naïve young girl. The first such moment is in Act I, scene ii, in which she and Prospero converse with Caliban. Prospero alludes to the fact that Caliban once tried to rape Miranda. When Caliban rudely agrees that he intended to violate her, Miranda responds with impressive vehemence, clearly appalled at Caliban’s light attitude toward his attempted rape. She goes on to scold him for being ungrateful for her attempts to educate him: “When thou didst not, savage, / Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like / A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes / With words that made them known” (358–361). These lines are so surprising coming from the mouth of Miranda that many editors have amended the text and given it to Prospero. This reattribution seems to give Miranda too little credit. In Act III, scene i comes the second surprising moment—Miranda’s marriage proposal to Ferdinand: “I am your wife, if you will marry me; / If not, I’ll die your maid” (III.i.83–84). Her proposal comes shortly after Miranda has told herself to remember her “father’s precepts” (III.i.58) forbidding conversation with Ferdinand. As the reader can see in her speech to Caliban in Act I, scene ii, Miranda is willing to speak up for herself about her sexuality.

Caliban

Prospero’s dark, earthy slave, frequently referred to as a monster by the other characters, Caliban is the son of a witch-hag and the only real native of the island to appear in the play. He is an extremely complex figure, and he mirrors or parodies several other characters in the play. In his first speech to Prospero, Caliban insists that Prospero stole the island from him. Through this speech, Caliban suggests that his situation is much the same as Prospero’s, whose brother usurped his dukedom. On the other hand, Caliban’s desire for sovereignty of the island mirrors the lust for power that led Antonio to overthrow Prospero. Caliban’s conspiracy with Stephano and Trinculo to murder Prospero mirrors Antonio and Sebastian’s plot against Alonso, as well as Antonio and Alonso’s original conspiracy against Prospero.

Caliban both mirrors and contrasts with Prospero’s other servant, Ariel. While Ariel is “an airy spirit,” Caliban is of the earth, his speeches turning to “springs, brine pits” (I.ii.341), “bogs, fens, flats” (II.ii.2), or crabapples and pignuts (II.ii.159–160). While Ariel maintains his dignity and his freedom by serving Prospero willingly, Caliban achieves a different kind of dignity by refusing, if only sporadically, to bow before Prospero’s intimidation.

Surprisingly, Caliban also mirrors and contrasts with Ferdinand in certain ways. In Act II, scene ii Caliban enters “with a burden of wood,” and Ferdinand enters in Act III, scene i “bearing a log.” Both Caliban and Ferdinand profess an interest in untying Miranda’s “virgin knot.” Ferdinand plans to marry her, while Caliban has attempted to rape her. The glorified, romantic, almost ethereal love of Ferdinand for Miranda starkly contrasts with Caliban’s desire to impregnate Miranda and people the island with Calibans.

Finally, and most tragically, Caliban becomes a parody of himself. In his first speech to Prospero, he regretfully reminds the magician of how he showed him all the ins and outs of the island when Prospero first arrived. Only a few scenes later, however, we see Caliban drunk and fawning before a new magical being in his life: Stephano and his bottle of liquor. Soon, Caliban begs to show Stephano the island and even asks to lick his shoe. Caliban repeats the mistakes he claims to curse. In his final act of rebellion, he is once more entirely subdued by Prospero in the most petty way—he is dunked in a stinking bog and ordered to clean up Prospero’s cell in preparation for dinner.

Despite his savage demeanor and grotesque appearance, however, Caliban has a nobler, more sensitive side that the audience is only allowed to glimpse briefly, and which Prospero and Miranda do not acknowledge at all. His beautiful speeches about his island home provide some of the most affecting imagery in the play, reminding the audience that Caliban really did occupy the island before Prospero came, and that he may be right in thinking his enslavement to be monstrously unjust. Caliban’s swarthy appearance, his forced servitude, and his native status on the island have led many readers to interpret him as a symbol of the native cultures occupied and suppressed by European colonial societies, which are represented by the power of Prospero. Whether or not one accepts this allegory, Caliban remains one of the most intriguing and ambiguous minor characters in all of Shakespeare, a sensitive monster who allows himself to be transformed into a fool.

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Gonzalo

by SonnetBlossom, July 16, 2013

Gonzalo also mentions that he thinks that the Boatswain is the type of person who looks like he would die by a hanging and not by drowning.He could be suggesting that the boat would not capsize,because otherwise the boatswain would die.

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8 out of 10 people found this helpful

Alonso,Gonzalo and Sebastian

by SonnetBlossom, July 16, 2013

"My Lord Sebastian,
The truth you speak doth lack some gentleness,
And time to speak it in.You rub the sore
When you should bring the plaster"

In these words,Gonzalo is criticizing what Sebastian has told Alonso.In these lines,Alonso's heart is the sore,made by the loss of his son.Gonzalo says that Sebastian is "rubbing the sore" meaning that Sebastian isn't helping Alonso overcome his loss.The "plaster" is the kind,compassionate and encouraging words spoken by Gonzalo and time needed to mend Alonso's bleeding heart.... Read more

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50 out of 59 people found this helpful

Miranda

by SonnetBlossom, July 16, 2013

Miranda shows her immaturity by asking for reassurance from Ferdinand."Do you love me?"
Ferdinand says is it not obvious when he declares "O heaven,O earth.." when he had been talking about how much he loves her.He also clearly says "Beyond all limit of what else i'the' world,Do love,prize,honour you"

By this ,Ferdinand leaves no doubt about his love,he is faithful,he cares,treasures and respects her.

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6 out of 7 people found this helpful

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