Reading Questions for The Tempest

Act I:

  1. The opening scene of The Tempest is different from any other beginning we’ve seen to one of Shakespeare’s plays this term. How? What tone does the scene establish for the rest of the play?
  2. What does the Boatswain (pronounced “BO-sun”) mean at lines 1.1.15-16 when he says: “What cares these roarers for the name of king?” Who/what are the “roarers” here?
  3. We find out immediately in 1.2 that the in the spectacle presented in the previous scene there was “no harm done” (1.2.13) to the people on the ship. What has happened to them?
  4. Prospero decides that this is the perfect moment to tell his daughter the story of their arrival on the island. Make sure you pick out these details from his LONG narration:
  • What position did Propsero hold before coming to the island?
  • Who is Prospero’s brother? What position did Prospero place him in, and how did he take advantage of this?
  • What was Prospero doing while his brother was carrying out the job assigned to him above?
  • What agreement did Prospero’s brother make with the King of Naples? What were the terms? What did the King of Naples order Prospero’s brother to do?
  • What is the answer to Miranda’s question at 1.2.138-39: “Wherefore did they not/that hour destroy us?” Note their mode of transportation at 1.2.144-151!
  • Who was responsible for helping Prospero? What did he rescue and give to Prospero?
  • Finally, how has “bountiful Fortune” (1.2.179) now turned in Prospero’s favor? How does this all relate to the events depicted in 1.1? Who was responsible for the storm? What is the fate of the people who were on board the ship?

5. Ariel asks Prospero for “liberty” at 1.2.246, to which Prospero replies that he had already freed him in the past. Who had imprisoned Ariel, and where?

6. Who is Sycorax’s son? What services does he perform for Prospero? How does Prospero enforce his labor? Who was on the island first, Prospero or him? Why did Prospero kick him out of his “cell” (1.2.350)?

7. Who is Ferdinand? What is Miranda’s response when she sees him? What does Ferdinand promise Miranda at 1.2.449-50? What is the condition for this promise?

Acts II and III:

1. We learn more about the ship’s voyage in 2.1. From where were they returning, and what was the purpose of that trip?

2. Note well Gonzalo’s speech at 2.1.147 ff.. How would you characterize his “commonwealth”? How do Sebastian and Antonio parody his ideas?

3. What scheme does Antonio hatch with Sebastian? What happens to stop them from executing it?

4. Act Three opens with Caliban cursing Prospero. Why do you think Caliban so often speaks in curses? How does Prospero torment Caliban?

5. What does Trinculo think he has found when he first sees Caliban? What does he want to do with Caliban?

6. Why is Caliban so willing to help Stefano and Trinculo? What does he promise to do for them? How did Stefano escape death after the shipwreck? (2.2.112)

7. What plan do Caliban, Stefano, and Trinculo devise in 3.2? What are the specifics of the plan? How is this similar to the plan we saw Antonio and Sebastian make in 2.1?

8. Ariel puts out a sumptuous banquet for the Italian noblemen in 3.3. What is the purpose of this spectacle? What effect does it have on them (see especially 3.3.88-90!!).

Act IV:

  1. What promise does Prospero make to Ferdinand at the opening of 4.1? What are the conditions attached to this “rich gift” (4.1.8)?
  2. What are the expressed purposes of the masque Prospero puts on for Ferdinand?
  3. What characters from mythology appear in the masque? What is the symbolic significance of these characters?
  4. Note that during the masque Miranda says “Never till this day/ Saw I him touched with anger so distempered” (4.1.144-45). What happens that upsets Prospero so and makes him call off the spectacle?
  5. How does Prospero manage to stave off the insurrection of Caliban, Stefano, and Trinculo? What does the stage direction tell us about their fates after 4.1.250?

Act V:

  1. What time of day is it at the opening of 5.1? Why is this significant, do you think? Where are all of the other characters on the island at this point?
  2. What does Prospero declare to be “the rarer action” at 5.1.27-28? What does he mean by this? What does he say he will do at 5.1.50-57?
  3. Note the stage direction after 5.1.87: what does Ariel help Prospero do?
  4. What are Ferdinand and Miranda doing when Prospero “discovers” them at 5.1.174 ff.? What is the significance of this?
  5. What does Prospero make Caliban do in order to earn his “pardon” (5.1.296-97)? How does Caliban respond? Do you think Caliban has changed in this moment? Why or why not?
  6. A bit of a tricky question: Does Prospero really free Ariel at the end of the play?
  7. Have a close look at Prospero’s “Epilogue.” What is he asking the audience to do for him? In what way, do you think, Prospero has been in “bands” (bonds) during the play? What is different about his speech here?