While the plot of this play, written in 1610-11 and thought by many critics to be the last that Shakespeare wrote alone, is well known, its lyrical beauty and other-worldliness set it apart from the majority of his canon.
The play is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion and skilful manipulation. Using his magic powers he conjures up a storm, the eponymous tempest, to lure his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to the island. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio’s lowly nature, the redemption of the King, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso’s son, Ferdinand.
‘The Tempest’ was first performed at Court by the King’s Men in the autumn of 1611, and again in the winter of 1612–1613 during the festivities in celebration of the marriage of King James’s daughter Elizabeth.
It is probably the last play written entirely by Shakespeare, and it is remarkable for being one of only two of his plays (the other being Love’s Labour’s Lost) whose plot is entirely original.
The play does, however, draw on travel literature of its time—most notably the accounts of a tempest off the Bermudas that separated and nearly wrecked a fleet of colonial ships sailing from Plymouth to Virginia.
The play has an eerie and dreamlike quality, making it seem rich and complex even though it is one of Shakespeare’s shortest, most simply constructed plays.