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The Tempest Digital Study Guide

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Study Guide written by Luisa Appolloni, Resident Teaching Artist, Education Department (Stratford Festival)

Introduction to the Study Guide

"O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in't!" - Miranda, The Tempest, Act V, scene 1

The best way to capture someone's imagination is to take them on a journey of discovery. The Tempest is filled with magic and illusion to entice and delight the senses. However, Shakespeare also provides us with opportunities to explore some of the darker and more ambiguous themes in the play, such as loyalty, betrayal and revenge, freedom versus imprisonment and the impact of colonialism, exploitation and servitude. The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays: it offers pageantry on a grand scale, but more importantly its themes are universal and still resonate with our 21st-century audience. Students will find many moments in the play that will pique their interest and generate much discussion and debate.

Curriculum Connections

Grades 4 and up

  • All Grades: Language/English (listening to understand, speaking to communicate, reading for meaning)
  • All Grades: Drama, Music, Visual Art
  • Grades 4-12: Health and PE (interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, harassment, bullying, leadership)
  • Grades 4-6: Social Studies (heritage and identity, people and environments)
  • Grades 7-8: History (colonialism: events and their consequences)
  • Grade 10: Civics [Politics] (civic issues, democratic values)
  • Grade 11: Introduction to Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology (socialization)
  • Grade 11: Gender Studies (power relations, sex and gender)
  • Grade 11: Equity, Diversity and Social Justice (the social construction of identity, power and relations)
  • Grade 12: Equity and Social Justice: From Theory to Practice (approaches and perspectives, power relations, historical and contemporary issues)
  • Grade 12: World History Since the Fifteenth Century (social, economic and political context)
  • Grades 11-12: Philosophy (metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, aesthetics)
  • Grade 12: Adventures in World History (society and community, politics and conflict)
  • Grade 12: Challenge and Change (cause and effect, social deviance, global inequalities, exploitation)

Key Themes and Motifs

  • Nature vs. nurture
  • Colonization
  • Exploration
  • Supernatural
  • Usurpation and treachery
  • Revenge, forgiveness and reconciliation
  • Freedom vs. imprisonment and powerlessness
  • Change and transformation
  • Power, control and justice
  • Loss and restoration
  • Betrayal
  • Magic, illusion and reality
  • Men and monsters
  • Masters and servants
  • Water and drowning
  • Sounds and music
  • Water and the sea
  • Earth and air
  • Costume and theatre



  • Who he was, body of work, significance in English drama/literature
  • Dramatists of the Renaissance
  • Early modern drama

Elizabethan/Jacobean England

  • Social and economic structure (class systems, playhouses, plays and players)
  • Values and beliefs (four humours, Chain of Being, etc.)
  • Conventions of early English drama (comedy, drama, supernatural, five-act structure)


  • Imagery, blank verse, rhetoric

An Interview with Antoni Cimolino, Director, The Tempest

What excites you most about directing the play?

The Tempest is a beautiful play that looks at revenge and our ability to recognize ourselves and learn and to become contrite - to become sorry for our actions. I think that's so important today. We need to have the ability to recognize in ourselves stuff we've done wrong and ask for forgiveness. I think Propsero goes through a journey where she's been harmed, she's been hurt, and she's so angry about it that she doesn't acknowledge the things that she has done wrong. I think it's vital that she get to a point where she can realize that she's done things herself to be sorry for. The material is based, in part, on the story of Medea and so you have this sense of a person who has crossed the line in what they've been doing. She's commited sins. Her ability to forgive others becomes contingent on her recognizing her own sins and ability to get beyond that.

I feel like the world today is locked in such opposing sides and they can't begin to understand the other point-of-view. All the characters - all of them - go through a kind of journey of a "dark night of the soul" and the shipwreck, of course, provokes that. The shipwreck is an extreme circumstance where people begin to count their blessings, but first it provokes anger and dismay. They only later come to appreciation for what they have. For instance, for Alonso, it's in the possibility of losing a son that he finds something beyond dynastic politics and actually realizes that he just wants his boy back.


I know it's still early days, but is there anything about your vision for the piece that you can share?

It is early days. It's a big show. To find the right energy for the piece is a challenge, because it is really a revenge tragedy that doesn't end in tragedy. It is about a woman seeking retribution and justice, but more than justice - I think she wants to punish people. It has supernatural forces in it, it has magic in it, it has all sorts of things! It's a question of how to find that right world for it. Because it has elements like a masque and it was a late play for Shakespeare, he combines both the family reconciliation and magic of the romances with elements of court masques, which he never wrote for, that we know of, but certainly his friend and collaborator, Ben Jonson, did. They were becoming increasingly popular at the time.


So, to figure out which world allows for all of this to sit cohesively is a challenge?

Yes. I do think the play is a product of an absolutist age in the sense that was unlike even a few hundred years earlier in terms of the forces of religion and national politics. The divine right of kings was coming back. James claimed that he could heal people simply by touching them and that he was God's anointed. Religion was also making it so that it wasn't okay to be on the other side - the Protestants and the Catholics. It was an age of absolutes where there was no middle ground allowed and I think this play is about finding middle ground, finding forgiveness and acknowledging we all have shortcomings.


What a perfect time for it. What do the young characters offer to the story? What is special about them?

They're the "brave new world". Often Shakespeare has the young characters be the key to the future. In Romeo and Juliet, for instance, those two young people are destined to heal their society, either by getting married and bringing their families together or by dying and having their parents realize what they've done and deciding to behave differently in the future. But, one way or another, Romeo and Juliet are going to change the future. In a similar way, Ferdinand and Miranda are miraculous creatures! What do we know about Miranda? She's so unconventional. She's been raised on this island and she doesn't know any of the coy politics of the court, so she just says what she feels. She is probably a tomboy, she's refreshingly frank. She just says, "My husband then?" You know, "Do you love me?" She says what most of us would never say, because we're busy playing games and she never does. The very first thing we hear her say is to Propsero. She says, "If you've done this, stop it!" She is so filled with pity at the shipwreck. She is a kind of miracle in the sense that she's a strong and unconventional young woman who can tell the truth. She's outside the norm of what a young, romantic female character so often is.

Ferdinand is equally miraculous. You have to think about where he's come from. His dad has agreed to the assassination of another leader by his brother so he can now have the claim of that land. This guy is totally Machiavellian. He's just married his daughter off to a king in Africa. She objected to the marriage, but because of dynastic politics, it's the right thing to do. His son, Ferdinand, should be one of the characters like the Dauphin from Henry V who is every bit his father's son, out to build a bigger and bigger kingdom. Instead, in Ferdinand we see a young man who doesn't want to be king, because his dad has died. He is filled with pain. When he sees Miranda, he's totally low status. A gentleman. Noble and giving. All the best senses of nobility.

They are the hope for the future. They are so much better, the two of them, than their parents. Their parents learn through them. Their parents watch them and become better for it. It's the old story of young, intelligent, good young people who begin to make a dent in the bad, old world they're born into.


When people come to see it, how do you want them to feel during the play? What questions do you want them to ask themselves afterward?

I want them to see themselves in the play. I feel like if there's a problem with the play, it's that there's this magician who seems to be totally in control, there' s a bunch of people and we're not quite sure who they are or what they're saying, plus we start with this big, loud shipwreck. I think it can feel far away from us. I want people to see themselves. I want them to see the person who has wanted to kill somebody in themselves. I want them to see when they are ridiculous, how they look to others, their vices. And I want them to see that better part of themselves, perhaps the part that was there when they were young. Maybe it's still there. I want them to feel that journey.

I think one of the big challenges for Prospero is the vulnerability and having us understand and sympathize, but at the same time, watch in horror, as this person is moving towards something horrible and vicious. It's the shooter who stops before they shoot. Something horrible is going to happen and it's coming at us like a freight train and then, it doesn't happen. And it doesn't happen because of a spirit who says, "If you saw this person, you'd pity them." I think up until that point everything in the text is toward revenge. She says twice - at the end of Act 4 and the beginning of Act 5 - "I've got them right where I want them now." Then she begins to realize that if Ariel can feel and she can't, there must be something wrong with her. She's the human being. They're the spirit! She thinks, "I can't find forgiveness. I can't find pity. And I'm the human!" But it's not a fast turn. She says, "If they come and if they are contrite, then we'll see." We don't know how it's going to go. It could go completely the other way, but Alonso, with the loss of his son, is actually in a place where he's a human being instead of a politician. Her brother never gets there. Prospero's brother never gets there. Antonio doesn't say anything. He just makes a joke about Caliban. He never says, "I'm sorry". She forgives the person who destroyed her life and tried to kill her. She forgives that person. He does not respond. It's very complicated.


There is some difficulty in the play. What are you still problematizing?

Well, how you create the magic. How far you go. How dark is the world? How light is it? How joyful is the music, how haunting? The island is full of sounds, so I am trying to figure out if the music comes out of the sounds. What's the quality of it? I am setting it in Carolingian times. Shakespeare lived in pre-revolutionary times. Thirty years after he wrote this play, the king's head was chopped off. The pressure cooker was building. His works reflect that. So, I am going just slightly ahead of when he wrote it. Just pre- Civil War. I think that the line of the clothes at that time became much more masculine, more military, and I want that sense of Prospero, as a female leader, having all these men turn on her.

I am excited about working with Martha Henry, because she's a great artist, but also because I think this play has something to say about how we treat our female leaders. How we demand that they behave like men in the conventional sense and then blame them for it. I think we are starting to see, in Angela Merkel, for example, a person who has the ability to bring in one million refugees - there hasn't been an act close to that in terms of generosity and intelligence - you know, it is both a compassionate and a really intelligent thing. It's the reason why women are the hope for this world. We are starting to see it now. And what does Prospero do? This leader tries to spend time in her library and with her three-year-old daughter. She isn't interested in political maneuvering and she is then cut off for it.


Pre-Show Discussion Questions

Ask students:

  • What do you expect to see on stage at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival? Have each student make a list of predictions about what they expect. Save these predictions. After your Stratford trip, revisit them to see how they compared to the actual production.
  • What is magic? Do you consider it good or evil?
  • If you came upon a near-deserted island with not-quite-human inhabitants, how would you behave towards them?




This exercise provides an opportunity for students to explore the opening scene of the play in a creative and imaginative way. Shakespeare gave his characters distinctive voices, so the students will start to gain an understanding about some of the characters through their own language, as well as by their actions and what is said about them.



1. Have the class read through Act I, scene 1 together.

2. Define tableau: a frozen picture that tells a story.

3. The class will decide what five main events are in this scene, and they will create a tableau to illustrate each one. You may break the class into five groups and have each group take one event.

Remind students to:

o   have varied levels in their tableaux (high, medium, low);

o   decide where the "front" of their tableau is and make sure the picture is directed toward the front; and

o   make sure every group member is involved in every tableau - even as furniture or parts of the ship!

4. Rehearse the tableaux in sequence, planning a way to move smoothly from one to the next.

5. Have each group come up with a headline title for their tableau (e.g., "Prospero casts a magic spell to create a violent storm at sea").

6. Each group then presents its tableau to the rest of the class. Feel free to use music or have the students create the sound of the storm themselves to enhance the mood of their scene.

Debriefing Questions:

  • Who questions or challenges authority? Discuss and decide whether or not it is justified.
  • What emotions were expressed in each character's face during each of the tableau moments?
  • After seeing how some of the characters reacted in the storm, come up with a word or phrase that best describes them.
  • If you added atmospheric sound or music, how did it contribute to the overall creation of the scene?



This exercise will enable students to think critically about the characters in the play and the issues raised in the text. They will have opportunities to explore thematic elements in the play and express their ideas with clarity and confidence.


  • Handout "Social Hierarchy During the Renaissance"
  • Handout "Some Themes in The Tempest"
  • Copies of The Tempest
  • Space large enough for students to work in groups, rehearse and conduct the courtroom proceedings


1. Review trial procedures with your students. For a more formal structure of conducting a mock trial, go to the following websites:

Canadian Mock Trial Information - Resources for Teachers


American Mock Trial Information - Resources for Teachers

2. Divide the class into three teams.

3. Distribute "Social Hierarchy During the Renaissance" and "Some Themes in The Tempest" handouts to the students. These are to be used as guide posts to help them prepare for the trial.

4. The students will put Caliban on trial. Team 1 will be the defence team of lawyers for Caliban, who must find evidence of his innocence. Team 2 will be the Crown (prosecution) lawyers, who must provide evidence that Caliban is guilty as charged. Team 3 will play the characters who will be put on the witness stand.

5. The teacher will act as judge and invite another class to come in and observe the trial, as they will be the jury.

The Exercise:

6. Caliban is put on trial, accused of being a monster, devoid of having any human feelings or civility.

7. Team 1, defence counsel, must look at the text for evidence that Caliban is not a monster.

8. Team 2, Crown (prosecution) counsel, must look at the text for evidence that Caliban is a monster and inhuman.

9. Here are some things to think about to help set each team in motion to find evidence for or against the accusation:

o   "Caliban" is almost an anagram of "cannibal" - was Shakespeare trying to tell us something about the character or how early Europeans first saw the aboriginal/natives as "savages"?

o   Is Caliban the rightful ruler of the island, making Prospero a usurper?

o   Can a so-called "monster" or "savage" find beauty in Ariel's songs or make poetic speeches, as Caliban does?

o   Is the relationship between Prospero and Caliban akin to that between colonist and native? To support your argument, look at the following:

  • Social hierarchy during the Elizabethan and Jacobean period
  • The slave trade
  • Christianity and the conversion of natives and African slaves
  • Europeans exploiting the colonies' rich resources for profit.

10. After completing the research portion, Teams 1 and 2 will assemble their notes and each come up with a two-minute opening argument.

11.   Teams 1 and 2 will create a list of characters whom they wish to call to the stand for questioning.

12.   Both teams will submit their list of characters to the teacher, who will assign character roles to Team 3 from the lists provided. Team 3 will be called upon to give testimony.

13.   The students assigned a particular character role in Team 3 will become familiar with their parts and be prepared to answer questions posed by defence and Crown (prosecution) counsels.

14.   On the trial day, the judge (teacher) will inform the jury (invited class) that they will be hearing a case to determine if Caliban is to be found guilty of being a monster, devoid of having any human feelings or civility.

15.   Defence and Crown (prosecution) counsels will give their two-minute opening arguments, followed by examinations and cross-examinations of the witnesses.

16.   At the end of the examinations, the judge will call upon defence and Crown (prosecution) counsels to give one-minute closing remarks.

17.   The judge will then call upon the jury (invited class) for the verdict.

Debriefing Questions:

Upon completion of the trial discuss with the students, or have them write a response to the following:

  • Is Caliban a product of nature or nurture?
  • What did you find to be admirable and good qualities about Caliban and what did you find to be unappealing? Can these same qualities be applied to or found in Prospero?
  • Is Caliban a victim of colonialism or socially disadvantaged circumstances, or is he morally ambiguous?
  • Is there a strong suggestion of redemption for Caliban at the end of the play or is that a ruse or a challenge for us?
  • After hearing what the other characters said about Caliban, is there a clear picture of what Caliban is/was, or did it provide a complex conundrum?
  • What did you discover during the trial proceedings about Shakespeare's characters and themes?


Ask students:

  • The Tempest has appealed to artists and audiences around the world for 400 years. What do you think is the play's central message?
  • Does having a female actor playing the part of Prospero change your perspective about the character and her motivations?
  • What aspects of the design elements stood out for you and why?
  • Discuss whether Miranda's statement is accurate or naïve when she states the following:

"How many goodly creatures are there here!

 How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in't!"

  • What do you think will happen to the courtiers and their entourage when they go back to Italy?
  • What do you think will happen to Ariel and Caliban left on the island?



This exercise invites students to delve into a speech in an imaginative way. They will analyse the text, exploring the language coherently and confidently. Using creative strategies, they will develop and make insightful connections between the ideas presented in the text with their own experience and insights.


  • Copies of the Epilogue speech
  • A space in which to move


NOTE: This exercise turns a monologue or speech into an ensemble activity that can involve an entire class. The teacher may act as "director" while soliciting input from the students or may divide the class into small groups and have the students be self-directed. If the students are self-directed, they will decide how to divide up the lines; which to speak chorally; what sound effects and movements to add, and where; and so on. Then the groups will present their work to each other. This can lead to lively discussion of the similarities and differences in treatment. This approach is probably best tried after the class has worked together under teacher "direction."

1. Explain to the students that Prospero now stands before the audience asking them to applaud to set him free. As this was one of the last plays Shakespeare wrote, some academics believe that this was his farewell address to the theatre.

2. Start with the entire class standing in a circle. Go through the speech in call-and-response fashion with you reading a line, or part of a line, and the students repeating it after you. Break up long or difficult lines so that students can easily follow you, and deliver the lines with energy, physicality, generosity and commitment.

3. Hand out copies of the Epilogue. Get the students to circle any words that are unfamiliar and figure them out together.

4. Go through the speech with the students line by line, checking to see that they understand everything that is being said.

5. Go through the speech again in call-and-response fashion now that everyone knows what is being said.

6. Go through the speech with the students in order to decide who will say which lines. Ask the students to find opportunities for individual speech, choral speaking and groups. Ask them which lines they think they should say all together; ask if anyone has a line or phrase that they'd really like to say, etc. Note that this is just a preliminary assignment; you and the students may decide on changes as you play with the speech. Make notes of all the decisions on your text.

7. Go through the speech, with the students saying their lines. Review the results with them, soliciting ideas for improvements. Try out each of these new ideas and go through the whole speech again.

8. Work with the students to add (a) staging, (b) gestures and (c) sound effects - or they may want to choose a piece of instrumental music to underscore the speech.

9. Rehearse and perform the speech.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What did you notice about this speech when you performed it? (Pay particular attention to the rhyme, rhythm, metaphors, imagery and setting the mood.)
  • Prospero has manipulated everything throughout the play, and now he begs the audience's indulgence to set him free. Do you believe he deserves to be set free or not? Explain.
  • Which lines or phrases in the speech seemed to indicate this was Shakespeare's farewell speech to the theatre?
  • What do you think will happen to the island once Prospero and courtiers leave? What do you think will become of Ariel and Caliban?




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Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet,

MIT Global Shakespeares

MIT Shakespeare Homepage: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Life and Times,

Shakespeare Online,

Movie Review Query Engine,

Internet Movie Database,



1956 (USA), Forbidden Planet. Directed by Fred McLeod Wilcox, Sci-Fi version of The Tempest

1979 (USA), The Tempest. Directed by Derek Jarman (avant-garde version); starring Heathcoat Williams, Kate Temple and Christopher Biggins.

1982 (Canada), The Tempest. Directed by John Hirsch (Stratford Shakespeare Festival Production); starring Len Cariou, Sharry Flett and Richard Monette.

1992 (UK), Prospero's Books. Directed by Peter Greenaway (adaptation); starring John Gielgud.

2010 (USA). The Tempest. Directed by Julie Taymor; starring Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones, Alan Cumming and Djimon Hounsou.

2010 (Canada). The Tempest. Directed by Des McAnuff (Stratford Shakespeare Festival Stage) and Shelagh O'Brien (Screen); starring Christopher Plummer, Geraint Wyn Davies and Dion Johnstone.

2014 (UK), The Tempest. Directed by Jeremy Herrin; starring Colin Morgan, Roger Allam and Jessie Buckley.


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