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The Tempest

William Shakespeare

Theme: Colonialism, Political Intrigue, and Relationships
Grades: Grades 10-12


Summary:
The Tempest takes place on an island where Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, lives with his daughter Miranda. Twelve years ago they were set adrift on a boat after Prospero was overthrown by his brother Antonio and King Alonso of Naples. As the play begins, Prospero magically creates a storm that wrecks a ship carrying Antonio, Alonso, and Alonso's son Ferdinand, who gets separated from the others. With the help of the spirit Ariel, Prospero arranges for Ferdinand and Miranda to fall in love, saves Alonso from an assassination attempt, and foils a plot against himself that involves his slave Caliban. The play ends in a spirit of reconciliation. As Prospero prepares to return to Milan and celebrate his daughter's marriage, he sets Ariel free and gives up his magic.


THEME OPENERS
  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: Magic
    Invite students to discuss cultural beliefs about magic that they are familiar with. Encourage them to compare general attitudes toward magic in different cultures.
  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: Exploration and Colonialism
    Invite students to work together as a class or in small groups to share what they know about European exploration and colonialism. Encourage them to discuss the following questions: What motivated Europeans to explore distant parts of the world? What attitudes did they have toward the indigenous peoples they encountered? What problems resulted from these encounters?
CROSSCURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
  1. Milanese Media
    Prospero will no doubt arouse a great deal of curiosity when he returns to Milan. Have a group of students put on a press conference in which he and Antonio answer questions from the media. Encourage reporters to raise issues that are not resolved in the play.
  1. Cartoon Magic
    Have students create a cartoon strip of an episode that is described or dramatized in the play. Encourage them to illustrate something that would be difficult to portray onstage, such as the actions of Ariel.
RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS
  1. Strange Encounters
    In this project, students will give oral reports about early European contact with Native American peoples.

      Suggested Procedure:

    • Divide the class into groups. Ask each group to focus on encounters between European explorers and Native Americans in a particular area of the New World.
    • Have students brainstorm a list of questions about their topic, such as the following: Where did the explorers come from? What motivated them to make the journey? How did Native Americans react to their arrival? How did religious beliefs influence the way Europeans and Native Americans saw each other? What were the positive and negative consequences of this encounter?
    • Each member of a group should participate in the research as well as the presentation. Encourage students to consult primary sources, such as letters, and memoirs, in addition to secondary sources. Remind them that their reports must be balanced and accurate.
    • Challenge students to include a variety of visual elements in their reports, such as maps, time lines, and photographs.
    • After each report, discuss similarities and differences between the colonial encounter and Prospero's relationship with Caliban.
  1. Courtship and Marriage
    Explain to students that the theme of reconciliation in The Tempest is symbolized by the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda, children of two former enemies. Ask students to research and write a paper in which they explore some aspect of courtship and marriage in Elizabethan England.