The Tempest

Shakespeare's last play, The Tempest, covers the serious topics of colonialism and imperialism, making this work perfect for cross-curricular study. This guide includes a detailed synopsis and suggested teaching activities for before, during, and after reading the play.
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Shakespeare's The Tempest

After students have read and discussed various themes in the play, conduct activities which will deepen their interpretations and provide a creative outlet.

* Review the definitions of romance, tragedy, comedy, and tragicomedy. What is The Tempest? Have small groups of students select one of these four genre and have them argue that The Tempest should be classified in this genre. A lot of the discussion should focus on the end of the play. Did a true change occur in the characters or have they been manipulated by Prospero's magic so that they have not changed in any fundamental way?

* One of the prereading activities was to read a picture book, Encounter, which told of the landing of Columbus in the "new world" from the viewpoint of a native child. Have students create their own picture book telling of the landing of Prospero and Miranda on the island and what happened from the point of view of Caliban. Use his speeches from the play to create his dialogue and to gather concrete details for illustrations.

* Since The Tempest was Shakespeare's last play, critics liken him to Prospero when Prospero breaks his wand and returns to Milan without his magical powers. Form small groups and have students list the instances in the play when magic is used by Prospero. Then have them brainstorm and list ways Shakespeare's work as a playwright and poet mirror the use of magic by Prospero. (Students will need knowledge of other plays to complete this successfully.)

* Show one or parts of several films either based directly on the story of The Tempest or that use its themes. For example:

1. Forbidden Planet (1956 Director: Fred McLeod Wilcox) is a science fiction version of Shakespeare's play. Space travelers visit a planet where the ruler has built his own empire, with only his daughter and Robby the Robot as companions.

2. Tempest (1982 Director: Paul Mazursky) is a comedy loosely based on Shakespeare's play. The main character, played by John Cassavetes, is a New York city architect with a midlife crisis who decides to move with his daughter to a Greek island.

3. Prospero's Books (1991 Director: Peter Greenaway) gives most of the dialogue to Prospero, played by John Gielgud, while the other characters perform masquelike dances. (Note: There's a great deal of nudity in this film which may make viewing it inappropriate for classroom uses, except for carefully edited sections.) If you use this film, the idea of Prospero manipulating the action like a puppet master may be intriguing to students. They can use a similar performance technique for a scene in which the characters act but all the speeches are given by Prospero.

* Depending on availability, have students view one or more of these films for an independent or group project. Have them make an oral presentation to the class about the different approaches used by directors to cast the various characters or to explain the motivation of characters. In the presentation use short film clips to illustrate the different approaches of several directors. Discuss why the directors chose the approaches they employed. Which are the most successful and why?



The Tempest

Utopias and Dystopias

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale.
Gilman, Charlotte Pulionds. Herland.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World.
Lowry, Lois. The Giver.
More, Sir Thomas. Utopia.
Orwell, George. Animal Farm.
Orwell, George. 1984.
Plato. The Republic.
Voltaire. Candide.
Wells, H.G. The Time Machine.

Native Peoples Encounter Europeans

Dorris, Michael. Morning Girl. Hyperion Books for Children, 1992.
Johnson, Charles. Middle Passage. Plume, 1991.
Markandaya, Kamala. A Nectar in a Sieve. Signet, 1982.
Paton, A. Cry, the Beloved Country. Scribner's, 1948.
Rockwood, Joyce. To Spoil the Sun. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1976.
Yolan, Jane. Encounter. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.

Love at First Sight/Romance

Mazer, Norma Fox and Harry Mazer. Heartbeat. Bantam, 1989.
Clements, Bruce. Tom Loves Anna Loves Tom. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Signet, 1964.

Professional Resources

Moore, John Noell. "Intertextualities: The Tempest in Morning Girl, Lizard, and In Summer Light." In Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the Classics, vol. 3, edited by Joan F. Kaywell. Christopher Gordon, 1997.
Rygiel, Mary Ann. Shakespeare Among Schoolchildren: Approaches for the Secondary Classroom. National Council of Teachers of English, 1992.


James E. McGlinn, Associate Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, has a B.A. and an M.A. in English and an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with specialization in reading from the University of Kansas. He has taught high school English classes and is currently teaching methods of teaching courses for grades 612. His research interests include teaching methods, reading, and computer applications.

Jeanne M. McGlinn, Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville has a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Kansas. Currently she teaches Children's and Adolescent Literature and Literacy Courses for K-9 certification candidates. She is the coordinator of the Classroom Materials Column of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Her research interests include developmental reading, historical fiction, and gender issues in children's literature.


Presently serving as Chair of the Secondary English Committee, Department of Language Education at the University of Georgia, W. Geiger (Guy) Ellis received his A.B. and M.Ed. degrees from the University of North Carolina and his Ed.D. from the University of Virginia. For over 25 years Guy has been active in teaching adolescent literature in the classroom and in training future teachers in its use, lecturing and writing extensively on the subject as well as on more traditional educational topics in the "Probes" column of English Education and other journals. He developed and edited The ALAN Review (NCTE) from 1978 to 1984, changing its focus from a newsletter to a fully refereed journal with an emphasis on articles with research and instructional significance.

Copyright © 1996 by Penguin USA
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