E432 Shakespeare Questions: The Tempest

William Shakespeare Questions on The Tempest for English 432 Shakespeare's Tragedies and Romances, Spring 2009, Alfred J. Drake at Chapman University in Orange, California

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Assigned: The Tempest (1661-86).

The Tempest

Act 1

1. In scene 1, what kind of "tempest" does Prospero stir up? Explain the resonance of the storm metaphor for this play. For example, what does the storm at the outset of the play do to notions about rank, worth, and so forth?

2. In scene 2, what makes Miranda a central character in the play? What process must she undergo? What virtues does she possess that make success likely?

3. In scene 2, to what degree is Prospero responsible for his own downfall?

4. In scene 2, what kind of magic does Prospero wield -- what is its source, and to what ends does he employ it?

5. In scene 2, what role does Providence (i.e. God's plan) play in The Tempest's opening scenes? What role did it play in Prospero's reaching the island?

6. In scene 2, what does Prospero's treatment of Ariel and Caliban suggest about his understanding of power and its proper uses?

7. In scene 2, Caliban has sometimes been allegorized as a "native" facing the onslaught of European colonizers. How do you interpret his situation?

8. In scene 2, why does Prospero treat Ferdinand as harshly as he does? What does the latter need to learn before he becomes worthy of Miranda?

9. In scene 2, why does Ariel sing "full fathom five" to Ferdinand? Why does he lead the young man to suppose that his father has drowned when he is in fact safe?

Act 2

10. In scene 1, in what sense is Gonzalo wise? What are his limitations, particularly with regard to the utopian vision he offers in this scene?

11. In scene 1, what view of kingship does Antonio set forth for Sebastian, brother of Alonso King of Naples? How does Antonio understand the tempest?

12. In scene 2, how does this comic scene with Trinculo and Stephano complement the previous one with Antonio and Sebastian? Why do Trinculo and Stephano form a natural unit with Caliban?

Act 3

13. In scene 1, what sort of negotiation between Ferdinand and Miranda must take place? How is love connected to politics or governance in this play?

14. In scene 2, how does Caliban view politics? What weakness does he show in this scene?

15. In scene 3, how does Prospero punish King Alonso of Naples for his role in banishing him? What effect does the punishment have?

Act 4

16. In scene 1, what demonstration of his power does Prospero give Ferdinand and Miranda? Why is ceremony so important to the successful resolution of this play?

17. In scene 1, how might Prospero's famous line "we are such stuff as dreams are made on" apply to his own magical powers? Why do you suppose some critics have said that Prospero's words are Shakespeare's own "farewell" to his audience?

Act 5

18. In scene 1, why is Prospero willing to part with his magic -- what has it allowed him to accomplish?

19. In scene 1, when Prospero comes across Ferdinand and Miranda, they are playing chess. What is the significance of that choice on Shakespeare's part?

20. In the epilogue, what power does Prospero grant the audience? Explain his comments in terms of the relationship between art and life.

Edition: Evans, G. Blakemore et al., eds. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd edition. Houghton Mifflin, 1997. ISBN: 0-395-75490-9.