The first source are for sure travel tales, which are tales told by explorers who had just explored the new areas of the New World, in particular the West Island (Caribbean), first discovered by Columbus; there was a lot of interest in this kind of stories. The setting of The tempest isn’t so exotic as are the place described in this tales, but it’s obvious he’s referring to these. Another source are the Romances, which are a group of stories which talk about a love with an happy ending supported by musical interludes and magic elements.
At the beginning of the play it seems is could turn into a tragedy, because there’s a shipwreck on a apparently desert island and there are also many other elements of tragedy. In the play the power is taken twice with the force, there’s violence, but no revenge. At the end the revenge is replaced by forgiveness.
It has a similar plot to Hamlet, the only exception is that there’s no revenge, Prospero decides that the best way to settle the all thing is forgive and not take revenge. But The tempest is much more than a romance, in fact in it there’s an investigation of the nature of power in social and human relationships which is seen twice (Prospero who is before a king usurped and than a usurper). The play may also be read as a metaphor of colonialism, with Prospero who is the colonizer who enslaves the natives inhabitants. In this years the natives of this places were seen as savages, brutes, inferior creatures, inferiority which is seen for example in cannibalism, even if not the all of them were cannibal. And this contempt for them justifies the fact that the name of the native of the island enslaved by Prospero, Caliban is an anagram of cannibal. In this play Shakespeare uses the units of action and place of the play set by Aristotle, a thing which he doesn’t do in any of the other plays. The story is quite linear, except for some flashbacks used by Prospero to tell Miranda their story and the all story apart for the first act which is set on the ship, is set on the island. There’s a strong identification between Prospero and Shakespeare, in fact at the end of the play the magician forgive his enemies and decides to give up his magic, thing symbolized by leaving his magic stuff and drowning his magic book. He used white magic, but he will no longer use it. In the same way Shakespeare after this play gives up his world of magic which are his plays, and he do it in a very positive atmosphere. This’s the last of Shakespeare’s great plays, so it’s very important, because he end his career in reconciliation, after so many tragedies full of blood.
The tempest mentioned in the title arrives immediately at the beginning of the play and is caused by Prospero with his magic powers. The ships on which was browsing Alfonso, the king of Naples, with his court are caught in. Prospero does it to make them do a ship-wreck on the island where he has lived for so many years with her daughter. Prospero isn’t a native of the island, in fact he once has been the Duke of Milan, but he lost his dukedom because of a plot set up by his wicked brother and the king of Naples. After that he managed to flee to an island with his daughter Miranda (this is one of the lots of Shakespeare’s inconsistencies, how could they have arrived on the island which, as it’s said, is somewhere between Tunis and Naples, left adrift on the see? Maybe Shakespeare didn’t know very well Italian geography. Another one is that the island is described as a tropical island, despite being in the Mediterranean sea). When they arrived on the island, it was completely desert, except for a native half-man half-beast, called Caliban and a spirit of the air, which is immediately imprisoned by him called Ariel. At first Caliban was a friend of Prospero, and he taught him a lots of things, such as speaking, but then, after an attempt of rape to Miranda, he was made slave and Ariel was then released and used by Prospero as an attendant. Now 13 years has passed and Prospero and his enemies are all on the island, but now he’s the master and they’re shipwrecked and starving.
Act I, scene II
This scene is taken from the first part of the play, when Prospero has just told Miranda the story of their lives. Prospero calls Caliban to go to take some water, but he said he has to eat before. In this scene, as in the all play, there’s an high prejudice against Caliban.
- v. 2: Sycorax is Caliban’s mother.
- v. 1-14: now he’s a slave to him, but before he was king of himself and of his island, which has inherited by his mother, who was a witch and now he has been imprisoned in the worst part of the island, the rocky one. At first the two men were friends: Caliban showed Prospero the best places of the island and Prospero taught new things such as speaking to Caliban, but then everything changed and he made him a slave.
- v. 15-18: the fact that broke the friendship between them was that he tried to rape his daughter Miranda.
- v. 27-28: he made him know his thought by teaching him how to speak.
- v. 22-29: this speech is from years attributed to Miranda, but in the past is was attributed and spoken by Prospero.