Book Review: The Tempest by William Shakespeare

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The Tempest is a play that explores the theme of appearance versus reality. Throughout the play, most characters believe in illusions at some point. Miranda and the boat’s occupants think the ship is sinking, while Stephano mistakes Caliban and Trinculo for a monster. Caliban, on the other hand, believes that Stephano is a god, and Prospero’s banquet confuses Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio.

Prospero is the one who creates most of the illusions and uses them to help the characters understand themselves better. For instance, Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio feel guilty and repentant after the illusory banquet, transforming them into better people. Ferdinand, who is initially sad and lost, becomes happy and mature after the illusion of the masque.

Stephano and Trinculo are also humbled by the illusion of fancy robes. However, even Prospero, who is a master of illusions, is not always sure what is real and what is not. He sometimes feels like he is dreaming and claims that the world will one day dissolve.

You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book review provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

Let’s get started without further ado.

In this The Tempest book review, I’m going to cover the following topics:

Book Summary

An exiled duke uses his magical powers to regain his position as Duke of Milan.


Alonso, the King of Naples, is in grave danger. While returning from his daughter’s wedding in north Africa, his ship is caught in a terrible storm. As Alonso prays below, his brother, Sebastian, comes on deck to help the crew, accompanied by Antonio, the acting Duke of Milan, and Gonzalo, the old councilor. Almost immediately, the ship begins to break apart, forcing the royal passengers to flee overboard. 

On a nearby island, the aging magician Prospero explains to his daughter, Miranda—who is disturbed by the sight of the sinking ship—that the wreck did not actually take place, but was an illusion created by his magic and that no one was hurt.

He tells her how, 12 years earlier, he had been Duke of Milan, and she a princess. Yet he neglected his duties for his magical studies, and this gave his evil brother, Antonio—with the help of Alonso and Sebastian—a chance to banish Prospero and Miranda and set them adrift at sea. 

But only thanks to the kindly Gonzalo, who had secretly furnished them with supplies, were they able to survive. They finally washed ashore on the island, where Prospero raised Miranda and perfected his magical art. Now “bountiful Fortune” has brought his enemies close, allowing Prospero the opportunity to punish them.

Prospero’s servant, the airy spirit Ariel, reports that he has brought the ship’s passengers ashore in three groups—Alonso and his men; the butler Stephano and the clown Trinculo; and Alonso’s son, Ferdinand. 

Ariel then asks to be freed from Prospero’s service, but is angrily rebuffed by the magician, who reminds the spirit how he had freed Ariel from being imprisoned by the cruel witch Sycorax.

Prospero calls for his other island servant, the monstrous Caliban, son of that long-dead witch. Caliban curses his master, demanding possession of the island on which he was born. Remembering how Caliban had once attempted to rape Miranda, Prospero threatens the man-beast with magically induced pain. 

Ariel, meanwhile, performs eerie music to lead a confused Ferdinand to Prospero and Miranda. The young prince and princess instantly fall in love. Prospero secretly approves, but pretends to be hostile toward Ferdinand; he uses his magical powers to enslave the young prince, not wanting him to think Miranda too easy a prize.

ACT 2 

On another part of the island, Gonzalo comforts Alonso, who believes his son to be dead. Sebastian and Antonio cruelly criticize Alonso for making them undertake the treacherous voyage, and imply that the king bears full responsibility for his son’s death. 

Wisely changing the subject, Gonzalo muses that the island presents them with the perfect opportunity for creating a government based on the laws of nature, where humans would not have to work and where peace would reign. The invisible Ariel then comes upon the men and plays solemn music to lull all but Sebastian and Antonio to sleep. 

As the king and his aides sleep, Antonio reminds Sebastian that with Ferdinand dead and Alonso’s daughter living in a distant land, Sebastian is next in line to the throne. He suggests they murder the sleeping king, an idea to which the corrupt Sebastian readily agrees.

An alert Ariel, however, foils the plot by causing Alonso and Gonzalo to awaken. Alonso, clinging to the hope that his son is still alive, leads the men off in search of Ferdinand. Caliban, collecting wood, continues to curse his master. 

He grows frightened upon hearing someone approach and hides under his large cloak. The jester, Trinculo, appears and climbs under the garment with Caliban upon hearing thunder. The drunken butler, Stephano, appears and thinks he has found a sleeping four-legged, two-headed monster. 

As he gives Caliban some drink, Trinculo recognizes Stephano and the two are happily reunited. Caliban, enjoying the liquor and wondering at these new creatures, decides to worship Stephano as his new god.

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ACT 3 

Outside Prospero’s cave, Ferdinand happily works at menial tasks in the service of his beloved Miranda. She arrives to comfort him, followed by an unseen Prospero.

As the magician looks on approvingly, the two young people pledge their love and decide to marry. Nearby, Caliban suggests to the drunken Stephano that he knows a way the butler can become king of the island and gain possession of a beautiful young princess. 

Stephano readily approves of the plan to kill Prospero as he sleeps and to kidnap Miranda. But Ariel overhears the plot and hurries off to tell his master. Alonso and his men, weary from searching the island for Ferdinand, come to rest near Prospero’s cave. 

An invisible Prospero approaches them with his spirits, and as Alonso’s shocked men look on, Prospero’s spirits display a lavish feast and beckon the men to eat. 

Yet before they can do this, Ariel appears in the form of a harpy (grotesque bird with hag’s face) and accuses Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian of their crime against Prospero. Ariel further explains that the shipwreck is their punishment, coupled with the loss of Ferdinand. The “three men of sin” wander off dumbfounded.

ACT 4 

Prospero, meanwhile, frees Ferdinand from servitude, explaining that it was merely a trial Ferdinand had to undergo in order to win Miranda.

After warning them not to sleep together until their marriage, he commands Ariel to present a masque (i.e., an entertainment using poetry, dance, music, and splendid costuming) for them. Spirits in the form of Roman gods appear and wish the lovers a happy, fertile marriage. 

Nymphs and Reapers (harvesters) then enter and join in a celebration dance. Before the dance ends, however, Prospero remembers Caliban’s plot. The spirits disappear suddenly, and Prospero explains the masque by stating that “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep” (i.e., life is a dream). 

Ariel reports that he has led Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo into a foul pond nearby. Prospero, to distract them from their plot, hangs brilliant clothing outside his cell, then awaits the conspirators’ arrival. 

The three, stinking and wet, soon arrive. Caliban urges the two men to kill Prospero, but they are more interested in the shiny clothes. Prospero and Ariel arrive with spirits in the form of hounds and drive out the conspirators. Prospero realizes that his enemies are now at his mercy.

ACT 5 

Dressed in his magic robes, Prospero hears from Ariel that Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio are trapped in a nearby grove, speechless, confused, and almost unconscious with guilt and amazement. Prospero pities them and decides not to punish them severely. 

He then pledges to give up magic—to “break my staff” and “drown my book”—once the day’s work is finished. Ariel leads the three charmed noblemen to Prospero, who lifts the spell from over them and recounts their crimes. 

Then, exchanging his magician’s robes for his duke’s robes, he forgives them and announces he will be returning to Milan to resume his position as ruler. Alonso readily agrees, but continues to mourn the loss of his son.

Prospero then shows him Ferdinand and Miranda playing a game of chess. Father and son are reunited, while Miranda, seeing a crowd of people for the first time, remarks, “O brave new world / That has such people in’t!” 

The boatswain is led in by Ariel and announces that the ship is safe. When Prospero asks that Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo be brought to him, Caliban repents his rebellion and promises to serve his master. Prospero invites all into his “cell” for the night, saying that the next day they will return to Naples for Ferdinand and Miranda’s wedding. 

He thanks Ariel for his service and sets the airy spirit free. Alone on stage, Prospero turns to the audience and, in an “Epilogue” (a speech that concludes the action), explains that he is once again merely human; he asks the audience to forgive him for using magic to achieve his ends.

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Prospero: A powerful and brilliant magician, ruling over an imaginary desert island in the Mediterranean. He was ousted as Duke of Milan by his evil brother and banished for 12 years before the play’s action takes place. Despite being fair and compassionate, he can be somewhat fussy and short-tempered. He is devoted to his daughter and gives up his magical powers after bringing his brother to justice and finding a husband for Miranda.

Miranda: Prospero’s innocent and kind 15-year-old daughter, filled with wonder for the world outside her island home. She falls in love with Ferdinand and accompanies him to Naples to marry him.

Ariel: Prospero’s servant, who is “of the air.” He moves above the earthly, natural reality, surrounding and influencing it like the wind. Saved from perpetual imprisonment in a pine tree by Prospero when he came to the island, he is perceptive, diligent, effective, and nimble, but also somewhat mischievous. He serves as Prospero’s instrument of domination over the island and the ship’s crew, embodying the idea that educated imagination can rule brute passion and natural forces. He wins his freedom through skill and devotion to Prospero in the end.

Caliban: Prospero’s servant, who is half man and half beast. He is a symbol of “natural man” ruled by unchanging, unthinking natural forces. The bastard son of a witch and a devil, he is physically deformed and resists being educated or civilized. Yet, he has some human traits, as seen in his dream of the sky opening up and showing him riches. He attempted to rape Miranda and was enslaved by Prospero as a result. He tries to kill Prospero but fails. His continued enslavement at the play’s end symbolizes the impossibility of freedom without intellect and imagination.

Alonso: The King of Naples, who played a role in the plot that deposed Prospero as Duke of Milan. He gradually regrets his crime and asks for forgiveness from Prospero.

Antonio: Prospero’s evil and corrupt brother, who usurped power and proclaimed himself the new Duke of Milan. He exiled Prospero and plotted to murder Alonso but was thwarted by Prospero.

Sebastian: Alonso’s ambitious brother, who was talked into joining Antonio’s murder plot against Alonso.

Ferdinand: Alonso’s son, who was believed lost in the storm. He is a handsome and honest young gentleman who falls in love with Miranda and proposes marriage.

Stephano: A drunken butler who is mistaken by Caliban as a “god.” His plot to kill Prospero and become the island’s ruler is easily foiled by the magician Ariel.

Trinculo: A jester who accompanies Stephano and Caliban on the ill-fated murder attempt.

Gonzalo: An honest old councilor who helped Prospero and Miranda when they were banished.


Appearance vs. Reality: The play explores the challenge of distinguishing between appearance and reality, with most characters believing in illusions at some point. Prospero creates most of the illusions and uses them to transform the characters into better versions of themselves.

Nature vs. Nurture: Shakespeare demonstrates that basic human life (“nature”) is incomplete, animalistic, and even dangerous without educated reason and civilization (“nurture”). Caliban embodies pure nature, while Antonio and Sebastian reflect the impossibility of Gonzalo’s ideal, the Utopian society where humans would live in a state of nature.

Magic: Prospero’s use of magic allows him to rule the desert isle and capture and reform his enemies. His power is great, but he uses it justly, and he eventually gives up magic, releases Ariel, and returns to the human world.

Forgiveness: The play depicts forgiveness and reconciliation among humans as essential aspects of a civilized individual and a healthy society. Prospero decides not to seek revenge on his enemies, concluding that the “rarer action is / In virtue than in vengeance.”

Freedom: The urge to be free motivates the actions of several characters. Those who serve faithfully and diligently are rewarded with freedom, while those who use plots or rebellions are not. Prospero seeks the audience’s applause to free him from the island at the play’s end.

Destiny: Throughout the play, “Fate” favors Prospero while he seeks justice for a crime committed against him. Prospero believes that “providence divine” led him and Miranda to the enchanted island and that “bountiful Fortune” brought his enemies within sight.

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Tempest: The storm that opens the play symbolizes the upheaval in society and nature caused by Antonio’s crimes against Prospero. Throughout the play, a tempestuous noise symbolizes disorder, rebellion, and crisis, while solemn and graceful music symbolizes love, forgiveness, and social and natural harmony.

Gods: Shakespeare uses mythical characters in the masque to symbolize redemption, reconciliation, and promise for the future. Ferdinand and Miranda’s marriage embodies this symbolism.

Banquet: Prospero’s imaginary feast for the ship’s company symbolizes their base appetite for power and worldly gain. The banquet’s disappearance symbolizes the fleeting nature of such desires and gains.

Writing Style

Shakespeare’s writing style in The Tempest is poetic and lyrical, with beautiful imagery and metaphors that capture the play’s themes and characters’ emotions. The play also incorporates elements of song and dance, which add to its whimsical and otherworldly atmosphere.

The language can be challenging for modern readers, but Shakespeare’s words still resonate today, and the play’s themes remain relevant. The play is also notable for its use of magic and supernatural elements, which add to its enchanting and mysterious tone.


1. Engaging and Complex Characters

One of the most striking aspects of The Tempest is its cast of engaging and complex characters. Each character, from the enigmatic Prospero to the monstrous Caliban, is expertly crafted and brought to life through Shakespeare’s poetic language.

The characters’ unique personalities and motivations drive the plot, and their personal growth and transformation make the play a rewarding experience for audiences. The depth and complexity of these characters allow for multiple interpretations and lend a timeless quality to the play.

2. Rich Imagery and Symbolism

Another aspect of The Tempest that I appreciate is the rich imagery and symbolism that permeate the play. The island setting, with its magical and mysterious atmosphere, serves as a backdrop for the characters’ emotional and psychological journeys.

The recurring theme of illusion and reality is skillfully interwoven throughout the play, inviting the audience to question their own perceptions and the nature of existence. This exploration of deeper themes through vivid imagery and symbolism adds another layer of complexity and intrigue to the play, making it a thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating experience.


1. The Treatment of Caliban

One of the aspects of The Tempest that I find problematic is the treatment of Caliban, the native inhabitant of the island. While the play is often celebrated for its themes of forgiveness and redemption, the resolution of Caliban’s storyline leaves much to be desired.

The character is consistently dehumanized and mistreated by Prospero and the other characters, and his ultimate submission to Prospero can be seen as a troubling reinforcement of colonialist attitudes. This aspect of the play may be difficult for modern audiences to reconcile with the more positive themes of transformation and forgiveness.

2. The Complexity of Language

While Shakespeare’s poetic language is undeniably beautiful and expressive, it can also present a significant barrier to understanding for some readers and audiences.

The complex sentence structures, unfamiliar vocabulary, and intricate wordplay can make The Tempest a challenging work to engage with, particularly for those who are new to Shakespeare’s plays. This complexity of language, while a testament to Shakespeare’s genius, may detract from the overall enjoyment of the play for some readers, requiring additional effort to fully appreciate the richness of the text.


The Tempest remains a timeless masterpiece that continues to captivate audiences with its engaging plot, rich language, and fascinating exploration of appearance versus reality.

Through the use of illusion and magic, Shakespeare weaves a tale that offers profound insights into human nature and the transformative power of forgiveness. The play’s enduring appeal lies in its ability to transport audiences to a world of enchantment, where the line between reality and illusion is constantly blurred, and where

About The Author

William Shakespeare was an English playwright, poet, actor, and theatre shareholder born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. He moved to London in 1586 and worked in the theatre industry as a playwright until 1612.

Shakespeare wrote many types of plays, including tragedies, comedies, romances, and historical dramas. In his early plays, he expressed the hopeful and lively spirit of England during a time of rising power.

However, in his later plays such as Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, he showed a more negative view of society, with themes of pessimism, cynicism, and political corruption prevalent in these works.

Buy The Book: The Tempest

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