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Let’s explore: Prospero’s back-story in The Tempest


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Actors often  create a ‘back story’ for their characters which says what happened to them before the play starts. In The Tempest, there is no need for the actor to work out Prospero’s back story, because Prospero tells it himself, in Act 1 Scene 2, when he tells his daughter Miranda how they came to be shipwrecked on the desert island where they are.


The following link will take you to the script of The Tempest, for A1S2, with Prospero’s role in Parts and Cues (or Cue Script) mode. This means you won’t see Miranda’s lines which break up Prospero’s story, but it is fairly clear what is going on without her lines. Click on the following link, which will open a new tab and let you read Prospero’s lines (out loud if at all possible) until the entry of Ariel:




Now you’ve read those lines, what do you think about the character of Prospero? And in particular, what are your answers to the following questions:


  • At the start of the scene, Prospero seems to be very keen to tell Miranda (the only other person on the stage) that ‘No harm has been done’. What do you think that says about his relationship with Miranda?
  • Prospero starts to tell Miranda about their past by asking if she remembers a time before they ‘came to this cell’. Why does he do that?
  • What do you think Prospero feels about his brother, Antonio?  How would you express these feelings when you were acting the scene?
  • Prospero then tells the story of how they ‘came to this cell’. The story is fairly self-explanatory and you can work it out for yourself, but why does he ask Miranda three times if she’s listening? Is he afraid she’s falling asleep, or that he’s so boring that she’s not paying attention, or that he is so wrapped up in the story that he doesn’t know what is happening to Miranda, or something else entirely?
  • What do you think about Gonzalo after hearing what Prospero says about him?
  • Just before Ariel enters, Prospero says:

Thou art inclined to sleep: ’tis a good dullness,
And give it way: I know thou canst not choose.

  • Does this mean that Prospero has made Miranda fall asleep, or does it mean that he sees that Miranda needs to go to sleep, and lets her go to sleep? What difference would it make to the production if Miranda chooses one of these options?
  • It seems as if Miranda never sees Ariel, though she sees Caliban. Why that difference?



Now you’ve thought about the questions, why don’t you read the scene again, and see if it changes how you say the lines.


And now, why don’t you play the scene with a friend playing first Miranda, and then you can change roles and play the scene again. You’ll find a script for the scene for both players at: A1S2 Prospero tells Miranda their history.,



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Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’


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2 Responses to "Let’s explore: Prospero’s back-story in The Tempest"

  • Tess Banham
    January 5, 2018 - 2:40 pm Reply

    This is a fantastic educational resource

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