A romantic drama by Shakespeare performed and probably written in 1611, printed in the First Folio (1623). Although there are contemporary accounts of the shipwreck of the Sea‐Venture in 1609 and passages from Golding's Ovid and Florio's Montaigne contribute details to the play, no single source for it is known.
Prospero, duke of Milan, ousted from his throne by his brother Antonio, and turned adrift on the sea with his child Miranda, has been cast upon a lonely island. This had been the place of banishment of the witch Sycorax. Prospero, by his knowledge of magic, has released various spirits (including Ariel) formerly imprisoned by the witch, and these now obey his orders. He also keeps in service the witch's son Caliban, a misshapen monster, the sole inhabitant of the island. Prospero and Miranda have lived thus for twelve years. When the play begins a ship carrying the usurper, his confederate Alonso, king of Naples, his brother Sebastian and son Ferdinand, is by the art of Prospero wrecked on the island. The passengers are saved, but Ferdinand is thought by the rest to be drowned, and he thinks this is their fate. According to Prospero's plan Ferdinand and Miranda are thrown together, fall in love, and plight their troths. Prospero appears to distrust Ferdinand and sets him to carrying logs. On another part of the island Sebastian and Antonio plot to kill Alonso and Gonzalo, ‘an honest old Councellor’ who had helped Prospero in his banishment. Caliban offers his services to Stephano, a drunken butler, and Trinculo, a jester, and persuades them to try to murder Prospero. As their conspiracy nears him, Prospero breaks off the masque of Iris, Juno, and Ceres, which Ariel has presented to Ferdinand and Miranda. Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo are driven off and Ariel brings the king and his courtiers to Prospero's cell. There he greets ‘My true preserver’ Gonzalo, forgives his brother Antonio, on the condition that he restores his dukedom to him, and re‐unites Alonso with his son Ferdinand, who is discovered playing chess with Miranda. While Alonso repents for what he has done, Antonio and Sebastian do not speak directly to Prospero, but exchange ironical and cynical comments with each other. The boatswain and master of the ship appear to say that it has been magically repaired and that the crew is safe. Before all embark for Italy Prospero frees Ariel from his service, renounces his magic, and leaves Caliban once more alone on the island.
Subjects: Shakespeare studies and criticism.
Related content in Oxford Index
William Shakespeare (1564—1616) playwright and poet