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The Tempest

A story of shipwreck and magic, The Tempest begins on a ship caught in a violent storm with Alonso, the king of Naples, on board. On a nearby island, the exiled Duke of Milan, Prospero, tells his daughter, Miranda, that he has caused the storm with his magical powers. Prospero had been banished twelve years earlier when Prospero's brother, Antonio—also on the doomed ship—conspired with Alonso to become the duke instead. Prospero and Miranda are served by a spirit named Ariel and by Caliban, son of the island's previous inhabitant, the witch Sycorax.

On the island, castaways from the wreck begin to appear. First is Alonso's son Ferdinand, who immediately falls in love with Miranda. Prospero secretly approves of their love, but tests the pair by enslaving Ferdinand. After secretly watching Miranda and Ferdinand exchange vows, Prospero releases Ferdinand and consents to their marriage.

Other castaways who appear are Trinculo and Stephano, Alonso's jester and butler, who join forces with Caliban to kill Prospero and take over the island. The nobles from the ship search for Ferdinand and are confronted with a spectacle including a Harpy, who convinces Alonso that Ferdinand’s death is retribution for Prospero’s exile.

Having all his enemies under his control, Prospero decides to forgive them. Alonso, joyously reunited with his son, restores Prospero to the dukedom of Milan and welcomes Miranda as Ferdinand’s wife. As all except Caliban and Ariel prepare to leave the island, Prospero, who has given up his magic, bids farewell to the island and the audience.

Early printed texts

The  Tempest was printed for the first time in the 1623 First Folio, and that text serves as the source for all subsequent editions.

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Item Title: 
Works. 1623] Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1623

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Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. : Published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1632

Picturing The Tempest

As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to The Tempest is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.

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William Haviland as Prospero (late 19th or early 20th century)

Item Title: 
[William Haviland as] Prospero [in Shakespeare's Tempest] [graphic] / photo. J. & L. Caswall Smith.
Item Call Number: 
ART File H388.8 no.1 PHOTO (size M)
Item Date: 
London [England] : Virtue & Co., [late 19th cent. or early 20th cent.]

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Robert Bensley as Prospero (18th century)

Item Title: 
[Robert Bensley as Prospero in The tempest] [graphic] / R. Dighton. del.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box D574 no.1 (size L)
Item Creator: 
Dighton, Robert, 1752-1814, artist.
Item Date: 
[mid- or late 18th century]

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Constance Benson as Miranda (1900)

Item Title: 
Mrs. Benson (Miranda) [graphic] / J. Caswall Smith.
Item Call Number: 
ART File B474.3 no.1 PHOTO (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Caswall Smith, J. (John), 1867-1902, photographer.
Item Date: 
[London, England] : Rotary Photo, [1900?]

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Miranda (late 19th or early 20th century)

Item Title: 
Miranda [from] Shakespeare's Tempest [graphic] / engraved by Samuel Sartain ; from the original picture by G.W. Conarroe.
Item Call Number: 
ART File S528t2 no.88 (size M)
Item Creator: 
Sartain, Samuel, 1830-1906, printmaker.
Item Date: 
[S.l. : s.n., 19th cent. or early 20th cent.]

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Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Caliban (1904)

Item Title: 
[The tempest at His Majesty's Theatre, Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Caliban] [graphic] / Chas. A. Buchel.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box B919 no.19 (size L)
Item Creator: 
Buchel, Charles A., artist.
Item Date: 
1904

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Pamela Colman Smith watercolor of Caliban (20th century)

Item Title: 
The tempest, Caliban [graphic].
Item Call Number: 
ART Box S656 no.4
Item Creator: 
Smith, Pamela Colman, artist.
Item Date: 
[S.l. : s.n., s.d.]

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Louisa Maria Peach as Ariel (1831)

Item Title: 
Miss Carr as Ariel [graphic] : in [Shakespeare's] The tempest.
Item Call Number: 
ART File C311 no.1 (size XS)
Item Date: 
London : Pub. by J. L. Marks, May 12th, 1831.

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Louis Rhead illustration of Ariel (early 20th century)

Item Title: 
[Ariel on a bat's back] [graphic] / Louis Rhead.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box R469 no.108 (size L)
Item Creator: 
Rhead, Louis, 1857-1926, artist.
Item Date: 
[not after 1918]

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Arthur Rackham drawing of Ariel imprisoned in a tree (Act 1, scene 2; early 20th century)

Item Title: 
Imprisoned Ariel [graphic] / ARackham.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box R122 no.10 (size S)
Item Creator: 
Rackham, Arthur, 1867-1939, artist.
Item Date: 
[early 20th cent.]

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Miranda and Ferdinand (1892)

Item Title: 
The tempest, I, 2 [graphic] / Henry Justice Ford.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box F699 no.1 (size L)
Item Creator: 
Ford, H. J. (Henry Justice), 1860-1941, artist.
Item Date: 
1892

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Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess (Act 5, scene 1; 1795)

Item Title: 
Caroline Watson after Francis Wheatley. Shakspeare: Tempest, Act V, Scene I. Ferdinand & Miranda Playing at Chess. Handolored engraving, 1795
Item Call Number: 
ART 262223
Item Creator: 
Watson, Caroline, 1760 or 61-1814, printmaker.
Item Date: 
1795

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Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo (Act 4, scene 1; 19th century)

Item Title: 
The tempest, act IV, scene 1 [graphic].
Item Call Number: 
ART File S528t2 no.106 (size S)
Item Date: 
[S.l. : s.n., mid to late 19th century?]

More images of The Tempest can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)