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Prospero: Turkey or Tyrant?

Teachers' Rating:
  4 ratings

"Prospero" from Park's Shakspearean Twelfth-Night Characters. Hand-colored print, ca. 1830

October 2006
Heather Newsam, Little Rock Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas. Mary Ellen Dakin, Revere High School, Revere, Massachusetts.

Plays/Scenes Covered

The Tempest, 1.2.46-208

What's On for Today and Why

Students will study characterization and the difference between subjective and objective point of view by creating tableaux to depict three interpretations of the story of Prospero's overthrow, each with a very different point of view. The lesson will help them decode Shakespeare's language and give them an opportunity to interpret the play through movement and gesture.


This lesson will take one class period. 

What You Need

Folger edition of The Tempest
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

What To Do

1. Ask students to read through Prospero's telling the story of his overthrow to Miranda, 1.2.46-208. Ask them to focus on the stated and implied reasons for his overthrow, and take notes on these reasons for use in the next activity.


2. Discuss with students the difference between the words "objective" (fair; presented factually; uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices) and "subjective" (influenced by emotions or personal experiences; expressing the individuality of the artist or author). Introduce the idea of a "spin doctor", a person whose job is to frame remarks by favoring one side—a propagandist. You may wish to bring in captioned photographs from newspapers and ask students to determine whether these are objective, subjective, or spin-doctored.


3. Divide the class into three groups. Group A will present Prospero's story as objective news reporters; Group B will act as spin doctors who emphasize Prospero's innocence and Antonio's crime; Group C will act as spin doctors who emphasize Prospero's neglectful leadership and Antonio as Milan's savior.


4. Ask students to present a tableau vivant—a "living picture"—of Prospero's story, using their designated opinion of the action. Ask each student to pick a character in the scene, and an appropriate line of text to go with that character. The students will gather in a staged image, come to life one at a time to deliver their line, then re-freeze in a different tableau. Give students time to select lines and prepare their presentations.


5. Conclude with a discussion. Were the students able to present three different tableaux that conveyed different opinions about the action? Did this activity change their opinions about Prospero at all? Do they feel that one of these interpretations is "most correct"? Are they able to see many possible interpretations of Prospero available to actors through Shakespeare's text?

How Did It Go?
Did students understand the difference between "objective" and "subjective"? Did they understand the basic facts of Prospero's overthrow? Were they able to present these facts in a variety of different ways? Were they able to see many different possible interpretations of Prospero available to them in Shakespeare's text?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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