To help you look at any scene in The Tempest and interrogate it, it’s important to ask questions about how it's written and why.

Shakespeare’s plays are driven by their characters and every choice that’s made about words, structure and rhythm tells you something about the person, their relationships or their mood in that moment. You should always try and ask yourself, like actors do, why is the character saying what they are saying or doing what they are doing? What is their motive?

Just like Detectives, we need to look for clues to help us answer those questions each time and here you can find some interrogation techniques we use to analyse text, introduced by the actors that use them. 

  • Analysing the Imagery

    As with all Shakespeare’s plays there are lots of types of imagery used in The Tempest. It’s a great idea to keep a list of key quotes and images and who uses them as you explore the play.

    Here are three types of imagery that come up in The Tempest and are useful to look out for:

    IMAGERY of SEA and SKY

    • At the beginning of the play Miranda describes the storm she has seen with its ‘wild waters’ and how ‘The sky, it seems would pour down stinking pitch / But that the sky, mounting to the welkin’s cheek / Dashes the fire out’ (Miranda, 1:2)
    • When Caliban first appears he curses Prospero and Miranda saying ‘A south-west blow on ye / And blister ye all o’er’ (Caliban, 1:2). A south-west wind, blowing in the sky, was associated with unhealthy warm and damp weather.
    • What other examples can you find in the play of when images of the sea or sky are used? Why do you think those images are used at those moments?


    • Power is an important theme in this play and images of power and challenges to power are used quite often.
    • In the opening scene, the Boatswain asks ‘What cares these roarers for the name of king?’ (Boatswain, 1:1) He believes that however powerful a man is he cannot control the sea. Then, in the following scene, we meet Miranda whose first line suggests her father can control the sea: ‘If by your art, my dearest father, you have / Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them’ (Miranda, 1:2).
    • What other images of power can you find in the play and what do they suggest about the characters who use them?


    • Caliban is called many names that suggest he is some sort of monster. For example, ‘hag-seed’, ‘demi-devil’ and ‘puppy-headed monster’.
    • In the show Prospero creates in Act 4 Scene 1, to bless Miranda and Ferdinand’s engagement, the spirits become goddesses and nymphs. For example ‘Ceres, most bounteous lady’ is conjured as an image of natural plenty to bless the couple ‘that they may prosperous be’.
    • What other images of gods and monsters can you find in the play and why do you think they might be used?

    Look at this video in which actor Mark Quartley and director Gregory Doran discuss how, in his monologue, Ariel uses imagery, metre (or rhythm) and active verbs to describe the storm on the king’s ship to Prospero.

    Come away, servant, come. I am ready now.
    Approach, my Ariel, come
    All hail, great master! Grave sir, hail! I come
    To answer thy best pleasure; 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.
    Learned and respected gentleman.
    Ariel may be talking about all the skills or 'quality' he has here, or he may be talking about the other spirits of the island who work with him.
    Hast thou, spirit,
    Performed to point the tempest that I bade thee?
    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:
    sometime 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 sulphurous roaring, the most mighty Neptune
    Seem to besiege and make his bold waves tremble,
    Yea, his dread trident shake.
    I went on-board the king’s ship and appeared as fire on the prow of the ship, then in the middle of the ship, on the deck and in the cabins.
    Quicker than the eye can follow.
    What do these lines suggest about the strength of the storm?
    My brave spirit!
    Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil
    Would not infect his reason?
    Who was so calm and together that this turmoil would not make him go mad?
    Not a soul But felt a fever of the mad and played
    Some tricks of desperation. All but mariners
    Plunged in the foaming brine and quit the vessel,
    Then all afire with me:
    the king’s son, Ferdinand,
    With hair up-staring — then like reeds, not hair —
    Was the first man that leaped; cried ‘Hell is empty
    And all the devils are here.’
    Everyone except the sailors jumped into the turbulent sea and left the ship which was all flaming with my presence.
    Why, that’s my spirit!
    But was not this nigh shore?
    Why do you think Prospero seems so pleased that everyone on the ship was scared?
    Close by, my master.

    Take a look at the extract from Act 1 Scene 2, in which Ariel describes how he created the storm on the ship in his speech beginning 'I boarded the king's ship'. Watch out for examples in this one speech of imagery of the sea and sky, power, and gods and monsters

    Thinking about this speech, what else can you do to explore the three things Mark identified?


    • Gregory describes Ariel’s use of imagery as being like a 'camera script'. While a camera script describes a visual image for the camera to film, Ariel's words describe a visual image for the mind to imagine.
    • Mark says his favourite image is of Ariel dividing himself. What is your favourite image in this speech and why?


    • Gregory notices how Ariel’s speech seems to ‘roll through’ the metre, or rhythm, in these lines which gives a sense of his excitement.
    • Try reading the speech aloud yourself, slowly, pausing at each punctuation mark. Then, try reading it again, more quickly pausing as little as possible. Which reading feels better to you?


    • Gregory asks Mark to emphasise the verbs and make them as physical as he can.
    • How do you think this direction affects the speech? Do you agree with Gregory that the speech becomes ‘more active' rather than descriptive’?
  • Analysing Prospero and Ariel’s duologue

    Prospero and Ariel have a very close relationship. Of all the characters, only Prospero can see and speak to Ariel and only Ariel shares in Prospero’s plans. There are many moments in the play where these two characters talk alone together in duologues.

    In this video, Natalie Simpson and Paapa Essiedu share some of the things they look for to help them interpret the relationship in a duologue. The example they use is from Hamlet, but you can look for the same clues in any conversation between two characters in The Tempest.

    As well as looking at these things, you can often tell a lot about characters' relationships from the way their lines are set out. For example, sharing lines. In this video, Nia explores shared lines and what they might suggest about the relationship between two characters.

    Say, my spirit,
    How fares the king and’s followers?
    Confined together
    In the same fashion as you gave in charge,
    Just as you left them; all prisoners, sir,
    In the lime-grove which weather-fends your cell:
    They cannot budge till your release. The king,
    His brother, and yours abide all three distracted,
    And the remainder mourning over them,
    Brimful of sorrow and dismay: but chiefly
    Him that you termed, sir, the good old lord Gonzalo:
    His tears run down his beard, like winter’s drops
    From eaves of reeds. Your charm so strongly works ’em
    That if you now beheld them, your affections
    Would become tender.
    Dost thou think so, spirit?
    Mine would, sir, were I human.
    And mine shall.
    Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
    Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
    One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
    Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?
    Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th’quick,
    Yet with my nobler reason ’gainst my fury
    Do I take part: the rarer action is
    In virtue than in vengeance. They being penitent,
    The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
    Not a frown further. Go, release them, Ariel:
    My charms I’ll break, their senses I’ll restore,
    And they shall be themselves.
    I’ll fetch them, sir.

    What can you find by looking at the same things in The Tempest?

    You can explore Prospero and Ariel’s duologue in Act 5 Scene 1. As you read, look out for:

    • Shared language or images
    • Questions and answers
    • Names and status
    • Shared lines


    • Although Prospero and Ariel do not use many of the same words, what ideas and images do you think they are sharing with each other?
    • What questions, comments and instructions prompt the other character into giving answers?
    • How do Prospero and Ariel address each other and how do these terms of address give or take status?
    • Consider here that ‘you’ and ‘your’ are generally used to address someone of a higher status, whereas ‘thou’ and ‘thy’ are generally used to address someone of a lower status and creatures who are not human.
    • Notice when and how Prospero and Ariel share lines of rhythm between them. What might this suggest about their relationship?

    Using Natalie’s strategies for exploring duologues and Nia’s advice about shared lines, we’ve started to look at what the language Prospero and Ariel use tells us about them in Act 5 Scene 1. See if you can complete the grid and finish four points which explain what this duologue reveals about the characters at this point in the play.


    Ariel does not directly question Prospero but his comments seem to make Prospero think and question himself.


    ARIEL: 'Your charm so strongly works ’em / That if you now beheld them, your affections / Would become tender.'
    PROSPERO: 'Dost thou think so, spirit?'
    ARIEL: 'Mine would, sir, were I human.'


    Ariel says he thinks Prospero would feel sorry for the nobles if he saw how much they were suffering because of what he has done to them. When he adds ‘Mine would, sir, were I human’, this seems to make Prospero think about what he is doing. Prospero feels he should behave in a more human and humane way than Ariel who is just a 'spirit'.


    During this duologue, the way Prospero and Ariel address each other shows their status

    Evidence Select an option

    Explanation Click text to edit

    Enter your explanation here.


    When Prospero and Ariel share lines this suggests a closeness or dependence in their relationship.

    Evidence Click text to edit

    Enter your evidence here.

    Explanation Click text to edit

    Enter your explanation here.

    Point Click text to edit

    Enter your point here.

    Evidence Click text to edit

    Enter your evidence here.

    Explanation Click text to edit

    Enter your explanation here.

    What else can I do to explore Prospero and Ariel’s duologues?

    • Look at Prospero and Ariel’s duologue in Act 1 Scene 2 in the Investigate section and look out for: shared language, questions and answers, names and status, and shared lines. You can also watch this scene in performance and hear from the actors in the 2016 production.
    • You can find the text the characters speak on our Investigate page.
    • Consider what this might suggest about whether Prospero and Ariel’s relationship has changed from Act 1 to Act 5.
    • Find other duologues between Prospero and Ariel in the play and see what you notice about how Prospero and Ariel speak to each other in those moments.
  • Analysing Verse and Prose

    Shakespeare’s plays are written in a combination of verse and prose. The Tempest is 80% verse and 20% prose. Traditionally, in Shakespeare’s time, characters talking about important or emotional topics or characters who were behaving formally spoke in verse, while characters with a lower status or conversations about more ordinary things used prose.

    Shakespeare liked to play with these conventions and the choices he makes about whether a character speaks in verse or prose can offer clues as to what they might be feeling.

    Look at this video to find out more about the difference between verse and prose.

    Nia describes prose as conversational, while verse has a more formal structure and rhythm. She also suggests that the structure of verse helps to highlight the inner feelings of the character speaking.

    Look at the video in which actors Simon Trinder and Joe Dixon discuss Caliban and Trinculo’s use of verse and prose with director Gregory Doran and ask yourself the following questions about the two characters:


    • Notice how Caliban uses the rhythm of iambic pentameter and when there are disturbances to how he speaks in this rhythm. What do those disturbances suggest about how he is feeling when he speaks those words?
    • Notice the images Caliban uses, especially the animal images for the spirits that Prospero sends to torment him. What do these descriptive words suggest about how he feels?
    • Why do you think Shakespeare has Caliban speak in verse?


    • Now look at Trinculo's speech. Does this speech feel different to speak aloud, compared to speaking aloud Caliban’s speech?
    • Look at the images Trinculo uses. What do his descriptions suggest about how he feels?
    • Why do you think Shakespeare has Trinculo speak in prose?
    All the infections that the sun sucks up
    From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall, and make him
    By inch-meal a disease. His spirits hear me,
    And yet I needs must curse. But they’ll nor pinch,
    Fright me with urchin-shows, pitch me i’th’mire,
    Nor lead me like a firebrand in the dark
    Out of my way, unless he bid ’em: but
    For every trifle are they set upon me,
    Sometime like apes, that mow and chatter at me,
    And after bite me: then like hedgehogs, which
    Lie tumbling in my barefoot way and mount
    Their pricks at my footfall: sometime am I
    All wound with adders, who with cloven tongues
    Do hiss me into madness.
    Lo, now, lo!
    Here comes a spirit of his, and to torment me
    For bringing wood in slowly. I’ll fall flat:
    Perchance he will not mind me.
    Here’s neither bush nor shrub to bear off any weather at all, and another storm brewing: I hear it sing i’th’wind: yond same black cloud, yond huge one, looks like a foul bombard that would shed his liquor. If it should thunder as it did before, I know not where to hide my head: yond same cloud cannot choose but fall by pailfuls. What have we here? A man or a fish? Dead or alive? A fish, he smells like a fish: a very ancient and fishlike smell: a kind of not-of-the-newest poor-John. A strange fish!

    Take a look at Act 2 Scene 2 and read through the speeches you have heard. What impression do you get of Trinculo and Caliban?

    You might also want to think about the following notes on the two characters as you read:


    • The name Caliban is often thought to be intended as an anagram of cannibal. The character of Caliban is thought to be based on stories of the indigenous people of the West Indies who were described as exotic, fierce and sometimes cannibalistic. Joe Dixon offers a different interpretation of the name as someone who is banned from beauty. How do these different interpretations of Caliban’s name help you to think about why Caliban might speak in verse?


    • Simon describes Trinculo’s prose as ‘heightened formality’ and thinks this reflects how, as a jester, Trinculo is ‘always on show’. In Shakespeare’s time the parts of Trinculo and Stephano would have been played by ‘clowns’, highly skilled actors who could sing and dance and improvise jokes with the audience. Considering what Simon and Greg discuss about Trinculo, how does this help you to think about why Trinculo speaks in prose?
  • Analysing the Themes

    As with all Shakespeare’s plays there are lots of themes that appear in The Tempest. It’s a great idea to keep a list of key quotes and examples of these themes in each act as you go through the play, looking at who uses them and where they come up.

    Here are three of the themes that can be seen a lot in The Tempest and are useful to look out for:


    • Prospero's magical power and ability to control spirits seems closely connected to his books. Caliban, for example tells Stephano, ‘Remember / First to possess his books, for without them / He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not / One spirit to command’ (Caliban, 3:2). He also has a staff and cloak that help his magic. What other references to these tools of magic can you find in the text? What differences can you find between how Prospero and Sycorax use magic? What differences can you find between Prospero's powers and Ariel’s? How do you think Prospero’s use of magic is linked to the theme of power and control?
    • Moments of theatrical magic are when, for example, a character like Ariel is invisible to other characters on stage in Act 3 Scene 2, or when Ariel emerges from the banquet as a harpy in Act 3 Scene 3. What other moments of theatrical magic can you find in the play? Why do you think moments like this are enjoyable for an audience?
    • Use of set, lighting and sound has become increasingly sophisticated since Shakespeare’s time and these elements can all be used to create theatrical magic. For the 2016 production of The Tempest, the RSC worked closely with Intel to combine stage tricks and sophisticated digital technology to create the magic of The Tempest. You can discover more about this in the performance section.


    • Prospero’s deep sense of betrayal drives much of the plot of The Tempest. He tells Miranda in Act 1 Scene 2 the story of how his brother Antonio betrayed him, leading to their exile from Milan. It is Prospero's desire for revenge that brings Antonio, Alonso and the others to the island.
    • Prospero and Miranda feel their trust and friendship was betrayed by Caliban’s attack on her which later leads Caliban to plot against them with Stephano and Trinculo.
    • Alonso’s trust in Antonio and Sebastian is betrayed by their plot to kill him and Miranda even feels she is betraying her father by falling in love with Ferdinand. Can you track who betrays whom in the play and conversely who is loyal to whom? In each case can you find evidence in the text suggesting why a character betrays another or is loyal to them?


    • The play opens with the power of nature shown by the storm, against which the power of the king and his nobles is useless. We soon realise, however, that the storm is being controlled by Ariel who is being controlled by Prospero. Prospero’s power as Duke of Milan was taken from him by Alonso and Antonio and now he uses his powers, obtained through magic, to control them and everyone else on the island. What Prospero can’t control is how people feel. Look at Prospero’s attempts in the play to control how characters feel and consider how successful he is. For example, he hopes Miranda will fall in love with Ferdinand and acts hostilely towards Ferdinand to test how they feel about each other. In this case his actions seem successful but is the same true with Alonso or Caliban, for example?

    Thinking specifically about the theme of Magic, look at the extract from Act 5 Scene 1. In this speech Prospero describes his magical powers and promises to give them up, saying ‘I’ll break my staff’ and ‘I’ll drown my book’.

    Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,
    And ye that on the sands with printless foot
    Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
    When he comes back: you demi-puppets that
    By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
    Whereof the ewe not bites: and you whose pastime
    Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
    To hear the solemn curfew, by whose aid —
    Weak masters though ye be — I have bedimmed
    The noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds,
    And ’twixt the green sea and the azured vault
    Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
    Have I given fire, and rifted Jove’s stout oak
    With his own bolt: the strong-based promontory
    Have I made shake and by the spurs plucked up
    The pine and cedar. Graves at my command
    Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth
    By my so potent art. But this rough magic
    I here abjure: and when I have required
    Some heavenly music —which even now I do —
    To work mine end upon their senses that
    This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
    Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
    And deeper than did ever plummet sound
    I’ll drown my book.

    Looking at this speech, what powers does Prospero have? How easy do you think it will be for him to give up those powers and return to life as Duke of Milan?

Teacher Notes

The following activity will help you to explore the language around the gods and magic in the play, looking at the masque.

Staging the gods (2016)

The activity can be found on page 8 and takes approximately 30 minutes.

You can also print the PEE grids from each of the sections on this page to help students explore the language of central characters and some of the imagery used in more detail.