Week 11 (Spring ’21): Act 1

Hello again!  Your homework this week is to read Act I of The Tempest, watch my videotaped lectures below, and then post a comment about the assigned reading at the bottom of this page. The speeches that I refer to in my lectures are printed below each video. At the bottom of this page, below all of the videos, I give you some simple study questions to help you formulate a post. The study questions follow up on things I say in my lectures, so you may want to watch the videos first. Leave your post in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Speeches of note from The Tempest Act 1:

Miranda watches the shipwreck, 1.2.1:

If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch
But that the sea, mounting to th'welkin's cheek,
Dashes the fire out.  O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer!  A brave vessel
(Who had no doubt some noble creature in her)
Dashed all to pieces!  O, the cry did knock
Against my very heart!  Poor souls, they perished!
Had I been any god of power, I would
Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere
It should the good ship so have swallowed and
The fraughting souls within her.

Prospero explains what happened to him twelve years ago, 1.2.66:

My brother and thy uncle, called Antonio--
I pray thee mark me--that a brother should
Be so perfidous!--he whom next thyself
Of all the world I loved, and to him put
The manage of my state, as at that time
Through all the signories it was the first
And Prospero the prime duke, being so reputed
In dignity, and for the liberal arts 
Without a parallel; those being all my study,
The government I cast upon my brother
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies...

Caliban describes his initially warm relationship with Prospero, 1.2.330:

                       I must eat my dinner.
This island's mine by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me.  When thou cam'st first,
Thou strok'st me and made much of me; wouldst give me
Water with berries in't; and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night; and then I loved thee
And showed thee all the qualities o'th'isle,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile.
Cursed be I that did so!  All the charms
Of Sycorax--toads, beetles, bats, light on you!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o'th'island.


Discussion Board

Write a comment on The Tempest Act 1 and post it in the comments section below.  Be sure to quote the text of the play at least once in your post.  Consider answering any of the following study questions:

1.) As I explain in my videos, The Tempest is a thinly-veiled allegory of early European efforts to colonize the Americas. Caliban, Sycorax, and to a lesser extent Ariel figure as the indigenous population of a new land, while Prospero and the other Italians play the role of European colonists. Unusually for his time and place, Shakespeare is critical of the exploitation and ethnocentrism practiced by colonial regimes. Can you detect signs of that criticism in Act 1 of The Tempest?

2.) Caliban is an especially important and ambiguous character. Depending on how you cast and direct him in performance, he can come across as an evil monster, a heroic victim, or something in between. Look closely at Caliban’s scenes for clues about how to understand him. What are the key moments or questions in the play that determine our interpretation of Caliban? In your opinion, what is the most coherent and consistent way to interpret his character? How would you cast him?

3.) You know that Shakespeare always uses a character’s language to signal things about the character.  In The Tempest, Prospero and Caliban each have a distinctive speaking style, which not only enriches their characterizations but also establishes them as antitypes of each other.  What do you notice about Prospero’s and/or Caliban’s language?  How do their speech patterns depict them as opposites of each other?

4.) In keeping with the genre of romance, The Tempest has a distinctive atmosphere that is magical, exotic, and pageant-like.  How does Shakespeare create this atmosphere?

24 thoughts on “Week 11 (Spring ’21): Act 1”

  1. 3. In Act 1, scene 2, Prospero and Caliban spoke very unkindly and disrespectfully to one another, which established them as opposites. For example, their relationship was shown, when Prospero stated to Caliban, “Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself” (Act 1, scene 2, line 324). We can see that the two both have negative feelings towards one another. Caliban stated to Prospero, “You taught me language, and my profit on ’t. Is I know how to curse” (Act 1, scene 2, lines 369-370). Caliban wished he never learned Prospero’s language, because he did not want to communicated with him.
    4. I also noticed that, the play has a distinctive atmosphere that is magical, exotic, and pageant-like. When Prospero stated to Miranda, “ Thou art inclined to sleep. ‘Tis a good dullness, and give it away. I know thou canst not choose,” it was almost as if he casted a spell on Miranda that made her fall asleep (Act 1, scene 2, lines 186-187). I also noticed that Prospero talked to a spirit, Ariel, who he discussed the storm from act 1 with. There was also an italicized part in Act 1, Scene 2 that stated, “Ferdinand draws his sword, and is charmed from moving”. Prospero casted a spell on Ferdinand (who his daughter had her eyes on), so he was unable to move, which shows his magical powers.

  2. #2. In my opinion, the most important key moment in the play is his speech in Act 1 scene 2, line 330. In this speech, we learn that Caliban was very warm and welcoming to Prospero. He didn’t have to be so nice because the island is technically his, but he was. He claims Prospero took the island from him after he taught him how to survive. My interpretation of Caliban’s character is that he is very kind, selfless, and welcoming. He is only cruel now because his kindness was taken advantage of. Just because he was nice to Prospero, he is now a slave and no longer is in control of his island. Also, I predict that as the play goes on Caliban will only get crueler and crueler because he will start to see that being kind got him nowhere except in the feeling of miserableness. Also, how can one be happy when they are enslaved? Deep down, Caliban is pure and good, like Miranda, but culture ruined him. I feel that the two do represent a positive view on nature, even though Caliban acts very mean. Because, in the end, Caliban was thriving and happy until Prospero came into the island and took over with his political skills.

    1. Shakespeare creates an atmosphere in The Tempest that is magical and exotic. He does this by having the setting of the play on an island, that is presumably tropical and in the middle of nowhere. He also makes a magical atmosphere by having many magical characters within the play itself. Prospero and Sycorax both have magical powers, while Caliban is the son of Sycorax and therefore represents the magic of his mother. Ariel also helps to add to the exotic and mystical atmosphere of the play, since Ariel is a spirit. Ferdinand says in Scene 2, “Where should this music be? I’ th’ air, or th’ earth?” (Act I, Scene 2, Line 465). Here Ariel is invisible to Ferdinand and is singing. This helps to emphasize the magicalness of this play because Ferdinand cannot see Ariel, yet he is able to hear Ariel’s singing, which adds a layer of mysteriousness to the play.

  3. In Act 1, Scene 2, Shakespeare creates an exotic atmosphere through Prospero requesting Ariel, the spirit, to create the illusion of a storm at sea. We see how Ariel describes this in lines 225-228:

    Be ‘t to fly,
    To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride
    On the curled clouds, to thy strong bidding task
    Ariel and all his quality

    Another example in Act 1, Scene 2, where Shakespeare creates a magical scene is Prospero’s conversation with his daughter, Miranda. Miranda is curious about what kind of trouble she was to her father, and he responds by saying in lines 183-184:

    Thou wast that did preserve me. Thou didst smile,
    Infuséd with a fortitude from heaven

    The difference in atmosphere between the two examples is that the first involves many people at sea, whereas, in the second example, the atmosphere is referring to Prospero’s mind (or life in the past).

  4. While reading Act 1 of The Tempest, my initial feelings were that I disliked Prospero for his cruel behavior and sympathized with Caliban so if I were to put on a production of this play, I would follow my initial instincts and cast Caliban as the opposite of an evil monster. I do not feel that I know the character enough yet from just reading Act I to know if he is a heroic victim, but things seem to be leaning in that direction, especially victim-wise. This is backed up by Caliban saying of Prospero “When thou camest first, Thou strok’st me and made much of me, wouldst give me Water with berries in ’t… Which first was mine own king. And here you sty me In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me Water with berries in ’t.” I believe that Caliban is a victim because he was tricked by Prospero and had his island taken away from him.

  5. One scene where Shakespeare creates a magical atmosphere is in Scene I act II. In this scene we listen as Prospero is telling Miranda the story of where she is from. Prospero says, “Thou art inclined to sleep. ‘Tis a good dullness, and give it way. I know thou canst not choose.” (scene I, act II, line 220), immediately putting Miranda to sleep. From this we know that Prospero has some kind of magical gifts. Another example where I noticed magic was right after Miranda fell asleep and Prospero called in Ariel to ask, “hast thou, spirit, performed to point the tempest that I bade thee?” (scene I, act , line 230). To this Ariel responds, “To every article. I boarded the king’s ship. Now on the beak, now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin, I flamed amazement. Sometimes I’d divide, and burn in many places. On the topmast, the yards, and bowsprit would I flame distinctly”(scene I, act II, line 231-236). Ariel is explaining to Prospero how he caused the storm, which created chaos on the ship and instilled fear in those on board. Since we know Ariel caused the storm we also know that he has magical gifts like Prospero.

  6. 2. My interpretation of Caliban is that he is more of a heroic victim than anything else. He was one day overtaken by these European men, stripped of his power, and later forced to become a slave to prospero. He was looked down upon because of his mother Sycronax, but upon further inspection we come to realize that Scycronax is similar to Prospero in many ways. Due to being ridiculed, alienated, and oppressed by these newcomers, Caliban has become hardened and callous. In his speech in act one scene two he states,” this island’s mine by sycorax, my mother, which thou tak’st stuff from me. When thou cam’st first, thou strok’st me and made much of me, would give me water with berries in it and teach me how to name the bigger light and how the less, that burn by day and night. And then I loved thee, and showed thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle, the fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile. Cursed be that I did so! All the charms of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you, for I am all the subjects that you have, which first was mine own King; and here you sty me in this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me the rest o’ th’ island.” This is a crucial speech in the play because it defines Caliban’s character and shows that perhaps Caliban wasn’t always the brute and vicious individual that the Europeans thought him to be. It suggests that there is far more to him than what Prosperous and his fellow Europeans think of him. With this in mind, I would cast Caliban as someone who looks intimidating on the outside with a tall stature and a muscular frame. His actions on stage however, would be opposite. I would make sure that he moved with grace and gentleness as he performed and maybe only acted harsh when surrounded by Prospero and his crew. This would show that it is just these newcomers that have made Caliban appear as the villain and he is actually good on the inside.

  7. Shakespeare infuses his play The Tempest with a magical exotic, and pageant-like atmosphere by setting it on a tropical island in the middle of nowhere and with a cast of magical characters. This was never presented before in a play at that time, so I’m sure the audience had a vivid imagination. “Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere, It should the good ship so have swallowed.” Shakespeare’s introduction to the play also is spectacular because it shows the shipwreck making it seem that he is going to kill the characters at the start of the play which I feel that some special effects were created in order to give that magical twist for the audience to see.

  8. Starting the play with a shipwreck is a great way to introduce the story. The chaos of the first scene makes the story immediately engaging, which is especially good for someone like me who struggles to start a story and care about it, but once I do I cannot stop reading. Amidst all the chaos the scene also has some natural comedy based on how the characters would naturally act, such as the nobles leaving and then immediately coming back four lines later, with the Boatswain responding with “Yet again?” (I.i.39) I also did not realize that Shakespeare wrote plays that rely so heavily on magic, with spirits and witches and Prospero being able to control people and events, which is an intriguing change of pace.

  9. I really enjoyed how Shakespeare started off act 1. Staring with something so strong make readers engaged an d want to read more. So by him starting off with the shipwreck allowed him to hook us readers on and allowed us to want to keep reading more. I feel like this is very magical and it kinda remind me of when I used to read magic treehouse books as a kid. Those were by far my favorite books to read as a kid and to see someone like Shakespeare use magic it makes me want to read more. The atmosphere is so magical and exotic that I think he did a great job making his readers hooked.

  10. Shakespeare opens up the Tempest as any normal story with a roaring sea and a ship with many important people on it that do not want to die at sea. Then, Shakespeare shows us the cause and affect of the storm that capsized the ship and it was the doing of magic and sorcery from a spirit on a nearby island. This caught me very off guard considering all of the other plays that we have read by Shakespeare had nothing to do with magic or spells. Still though, Shakespeare keeps with the theme of romance with his daughter and Ferdinand who instantly she falls in love with and he reciprocates it back. All in all, I am very excited to read this play as it seems that it is going to delve deep in a more fantasy romance story that will keep the play lively and exciting with magic.

  11. Upon reading Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Caliban can be interpreted as a person turned to be an angry individual by the wrongdoings of colonizers. He is a slave to a man not from his own who has been forced to be taught his colonizer’s language, to which the colonizer views this as doing good by Caliban. Of course all of this leads Caliban to resent Prospero as shown in act 1 scene 2 “You taught me language, and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you for learning me your language!” Caliban may be perceived as a villain or opponent to Prospero, but he is a villain the reader should side with him for, as opposed to with Prospero. He is an unpleasant character, but only because of the actions of his enslaver.

  12. In Act 1, I had a hard time understanding what the story was about within the first scene. Then, I continued reading and the turning point for me was the conversation between Miranda and Prospero. When he tells her “I should inform thee farther. Lend thy hand
    And pluck my magic garment from me.” This quote intrigued me and help me understand the characters. This showed me that Prospero is up to no good trying to manipulate Miranda and Ferdinand. His character to me seems to be over powering than the others due to his magic which he seems to overuse even on Ferdinand. Prospero does seem to enjoy being the father figure for Miranda.

  13. Shakespeare’s romantic play, The Tempest, is set on an island in the Mediterranean. He uses many fantastical features to make the atmosphere seem magical. First, Prospero can perform magic and it is revealed he caused the storm in Act 1 Scene 1. The presence of magic makes the island appear to be mystical and mysterious. To add, Ariel is a spirit that can perform magic. The inclusion of this genie like spirit helps to create the magical atmosphere. Ariel is seen performing shape shifting in Act 1 Scene 2. Prospero orders Ariel to “Go make thyself like a nymph o’ th’ sea. Be subject To no sight but thine and mine, invisible To every eyeball else. Go, take this shape” (1.2. 359-361). A water nymph is a mermaid like creature from Greek folklore and definitely is a mythical creature. The reference to Greek mythology demonstrates Ariel’s powers and implies the existence of these mythical creatures. Ariel and the presence of magic in The Tempest make the island seem exotic and mystical.

  14. #4) Shakespeare creates this magical atmosphere he’s known for, in “The Tempest” by starting the play off with a shipwreck and having a cast of whimsical and alluring characters. When we think of shipwrecks we think of pirates on a hunt for treasure and other goodies and what isn’t magical about exploring a new world in a pirate fashion. Another way he sets the magical tone is by setting the shipwreck in the tropics and we know that’s usually where magical stuff happens in fiction stories.

    One quote from the book that makes me think of magic, is the one below. Just the way that the stormy and shifty seas are described in this scene is just otherworldly.

    “To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride
    On the curled clouds, to thy strong bidding task, Ariel and all his quality.”
    — Act I, Scene II, lines 225-228

  15. In Act 1 Scene 2: I really enjoyed how Shakespeare started out this story. It usually takes me a while to get into stories but I really got hooked on the story with the start of the shipwreck. I definitely could feel the emotions of Miranda from when she watched the shipwreck while I was reading.
    “Had I been any god of power, I would
    Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere
    It should the good ship so have swallowed”

  16. When I read Tempest Caliban is a character that I interpreted as being a victim who was tricked. He lost his power and was forced into slavery by Prospero. Caliban is someone who was taken advantage of. He was looked upon negatively because his mom was a Sycronax. Sycorax is similar to Prospero; being mocked and abused and taken advantage of.I ” And afterward I adored you, and showed you every one of the characteristics of’ th’ isle, the new springs, brackish water pits, fruitless spot and rich. Every one of the charms of Sycorax, amphibians, bugs, bats, light on you, for I’m every one of the subjects that you have, which originally was mine own Ruler; and here you pen me in this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me the rest of’ the island” I.II.p.330. This shows Caliban’s as he wasn’t the person the Europeans believed him to be. It proposes that there is definitely more to him then what is seen from the naked eye. I would cast Caliban as a Scrawny yet tall man, because tall usually shows a sense of empowerment but being scrawny will present him being easy to be taken advantage of. And because of his lack of realizing when he is being taken advantage of he has lost everything and has allowed his life of empowerment to crumble down in front of him.

  17. Shakespeare immediately jumps at the opportunity to use dialogue to distinguish Prospero and Caliban’s character archetypes. To me, Prospero comes off as out-spoken and almost brassy. This was made clear to me when Shakespeare wrote “He thus being lorded, / Not only with what my revenue yielded / But what my power might else exact, like one / Who, by having into truth by telling of it, / Made such a sinner of his memory / To credit his own lie, he did believe / He was indeed the Duke, out o’ th’ substitution / And executing th’ outward face of royalty…” (I.ii.117-124). Not only did Prospero come across as loud and rather annoying, but as angry and vengeful towards Antonio for usurping his position as the Duke of Milan. Contrary to Prospero, Caliban is presented as a timider and perhaps even a scared speaker. The way that Caliban delivers dialogue to Prospero portrays him as a pitiful victim of Prospero’s captivity, as an indentured native person.

  18. 4. In Act I of the play, the Tempest by William Shakespeare, the characters Prospero and Caliban spoke to each other in unsettling ways showing how they are the opposite of each other, because of the mass tension between them. For example, the tension between Prospero and Caliban rooted from when Caliban took over the island that Prospero once owned and Caliban says to Prospero, “This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother, Which thou tak’st from me” (Act I, Scene II, lines 332-333). This shows that Caliban still has resentment towards Prospero and still has not let it go. Another example that I noticed is in the same conversation later, Prospero says to Caliban, “Thou most lying slave, whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee, Filth as thou art,with humane care,and lodged thee In mine own cell,till thou didst seek to violate the honor of my child” (Act I, Scene II, Lines 345-349). This line from Act I from Prospero shows the anger that he has towards Caliban that he thinks Caliban is ungrateful that he has taken him in and “civilised” him. Their speech patterns show that they are opposites, because Caliban hate stems from Prosepero taking everything he had and Prospero is angered that Caliban does not appreciate what he has done to Caliban.

  19. 4) In keeping with the genre of romance, The Tempest has a distinctive atmosphere that is magical, exotic, and pageant-like. How does Shakespeare create this atmosphere?
    – He set’s it in a tropical place in the middle of nowhere with a cast of magical individuals. I have never seen a Shakespeare play that has these specific elements, so while I was reading, I had a vivid imagination. Also by adding in the scene with the shipwreck at the beginning was amazing. One of the quotes I’ve read from the book ” “Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere.” In the scene, a couple of the characters are going to be killed, which added imagery to my mind

  20. The tempest has an exotic and magic feel to the play. Shakespeare does this by starting out with a big storm that ends up putting the characters on an island in the middle of nowhere. Shakespeare also includes a character that actually has magic. At one point Prospero uses this magic to put Miranda to sleep. Prospero puts Miranda to sleep so he can talk to Ariel. Ariel is a magical like creature that serves him. Prospero freed Ariel and now is bound to Prospero till the time comes where Ariel no longer has to serve Prospero.

  21. Shakespeare does a good job at creating an atmosphere that is magical, exotic, and pageant-like.
    We see the elements of magic with the way Shakespeare starts of the play, we know that things such as pirates and treasures are not things we see every so often, so we consider this element to be magical. I would say the setting he chose also is very fictional when it comes to the context of the story which makes that a magical element as well.

  22. I feel that Caliban was very welcoming and kind to Prospero when he came to the island. But, Caliban’s kindness seems to be taken advantage of by Prospero. His island is taken over by Prospero and Caliban is then enslaved to him. This hardens him because he feels taken advantage of. He is then alienated and ridiculed by Prospero which then causes him to become more cruel. He is ultimately the victim in this story, but his characterization change makes him seem less of a victim.

  23. With Shakespeare’s setting taking place on an island after a storm destroys a ship out at sea. some of the people on the nearby island who could see the wreck have magical powers or are magical creatures in the case of Prospero and Ariel. While Prospero did put Miranda to sleep, I think that Ariel’s powers are much more or a focal point in this Act. “To every article. I boarded the King’s ship; now on the beak, Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin, I flamed amazement. Sometimes I’d divide And burn in many places. On the topmast, The yards, and bowsprit would I flame distinctly, Then meet and join. Jove’s lightning, the precursors O’ th’ dreadful thunderclaps, more momentary And sight-outrunning were not. The fire and cracks Of sulfurous roaring the most mighty Neptune Seem to besiege and make his bold waves tremble, Yea, his dread trident shake.” (1, 2, 231-42) Ariel admits to Prospero that he was the one that caused the wreck that Prospero saw on the horizon. This is an amazing showcase of Ariel’s power. Ariel also went on about all the things he could do for his master that seemed impossible. However, the admittance that he was the one who caused the tempest on the ship was a great showing of magical powers in Act 1.

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