William Shakespeare's "The Tempest". The Origin and Meaning of the Names in the Play

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

16 Pages, Grade: B



Chapter I: Introduction to the work

Chapter II: William Shakespeare – the man and poet

Chapter III: The Tempest - plot overview

Chapter IV: The Characters

Chapter V: The origin and the meaning of the names

Chapter VI: Characters Analysis

Chapter VII: Were the names chosen on purpose?


Chapter I: Introduction to the work

William Shakespeare was a very famous English actor, playwright and poet of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.[1] Shakespeare´s works consist of 37 plays, including 10 tragedies, 10 histories and 17 comedies, and 154 sonnets.[2] Biographers tend to divide Shakespeare´s works into four periods, first called the “sanguine period”, full of “youthful life and imagination”, which lasted until 1595[3], the second period from 1595 to 1601, consisting of plays about the human nature, the third period from 1601 to 1608, consisting mostly of tragedies, and the fourth period from 1608 to 1613, during which “The Tempest”, one of his last plays, was written.[4]

The following work deals with Shakespeare´s play “The Tempest”, which was probably written between 1610 and 1611.[5] The play is set on an island, where Prospero, a magician and the former Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda, watch a ship wreck. The shipwrecked make it ashore, among whom are Antonio, Prospero´s brother, Alonso, King of Naples, his son Ferdinand, the King´s brother Sebastian, the steward Stephano, the jester Trinculo, lord Gonzalo and the minor lords Adrian and Francisco.

I assume that Shakespeare chose all the names in the play on purpose, because the names fit characteristically the personality of the characters.

While reading the play I got the feeling that the names perfectly fit the characters and were chosen on purpose. As I speak Spanish and most names in the play sound Italian, and both languages originate from Latin, I could guess what the names mean. And it seemed to me that the meaning of the names describes the personality of the characters. So after having read the play I did a little research on the origin of the names in the play and found supportive information to my impression.

Additionally I want something else to mention about the decision of my thesis. I write myself and I know how important it is to choose a name for a character. The name always has to fit the personality of the character, otherwise the character could change if given a wrong name.

In this paper I am first going to give a short biography of the writer, following with a plot overview of the play and the description of the characters. Then I am going to give an insight on the origin and the meaning of the names in the play and analyze the reasons, why Shakespeare chose exactly those names.

Chapter II: William Shakespeare – the man and poet

William Shakespeare was supposedly born on April 23, 1564, St. George´s Day, on Henley Street, in a house belonging to his father John and his mother Mary, and was baptized on April 26 in Stratford-upon-Avon.[6] Shakespeare attended King´s New Grammar School in Stratford and learned the basic reading and writing, Latin being the primary language.[7] Although he had some lessons in English he studied mostly Latin authors.[8] In 1582 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway with whom he had three children: Susanna in 1583 and Judith and Hamnet in 1585.[9] Shakespeare began his acting and writing career between 1585 and 1592 in London.[10] In 1592 his first plays were performed on the stages of London.[11] From 1594, his plays were performed by Lord Chamberlain´s Men, a playing company in London[12] and in 1603 it was renamed in King´s Men, after the death of Queen Elizabeth.[13] William Shakespeare retired to Stratford supposedly in 1613 where he died a few years later, on April 23, 1616 and on April 25 he was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church.[14] In 1623, seven years after his death, the First Folio, a collected edition of Shakespeare´s dramatic works, was published by John Hemminge and Henry Condell, both members of the King´s Men.[15]

Chapter III: The Tempest - plot overview


The play opens with a ship, carrying Alonso, the King of Naples, Ferdinand, his son, Sebastian, his brother, Antonio, Gonzalo and other noblemen and servants, is wrecked during a storm near an island, where Prospero and his daughter Miranda are watching the ship from a safe distance. Prospero tells Miranda that he created the tempest, because he wants to punish Alonso and Antonio for what they did to him. He reveals to her that 12 years ago he was the Duke of Milan, but his jealous brother Antonio, with Alonso´s help, usurped him from his position. They left him with the 3-year-old Miranda at sea, but thanks to Gonzalo, who gave them food, water and Prospero´s magic books, they arrived safely on the island. Since then Prospero lives on the island with Miranda and studies his magic.

After arriving on the island Prospero killed the bad witch Sycorax and freed the spirit Ariel from a tree, who is now serving Prospero. Sycorax´s son, a misformed beast called Caliban, is Prospero´s other servant. Caliban once tried to rape Miranda and since then Prospero made him his slave, thus Caliban resents them both. In the last scene of the first act Miranda meets Ferdinand and the immediately fall in love.


Prospero separates the shipwrecked and Ariel puts them to sleep, except for Antonio and Sebastian who start to plan to kill King Alonso. But before they can use their swords Ariel wakens everybody up. They realize that Ferdinand is missing, so King Alonso organizes the group to look for his lost son.

Trinculo, the King´s jester, was separated from the group and meets Caliban. Stephano, who was also separated from the group, wandering through the island drunk, meets his friend Trinculo with Caliban, whom he offers alcohol. Caliban drunk, suggests killing Prospero and making Stephano the king of the island, so the three men start looking for Prospero.


Prospero invisible, observes Miranda and Ferdinand falling in love with each other and realizes that Ferdinand is worthy of his daughter, so he organizes a wedding for the two. Ariel puts Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano into a trance, because he overheard them plotting against Prospero. Then he organizes an illusional banquet for King Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, and the others. When the men realize that it was only an illusion Ariel appears and verbally punishes them for having exiled Prospero 12 years ago.


Ferdinand and Miranda marry with Prospero´s approval and Ariel distracts Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban with clothes after being promised by Prospero to get his freedom soon.


Prospero steps in front of King Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian and the others and verbally punishes them for what they did to him. Then he forgives Alonso for having exiled him and Antonio for his betrayal. He also forgives Antonio and Sebastian for planning to kill King Alonso. Lastly he forgives Stephano and Trinculo and gives Caliban his freedom. Miranda and Ferdinand appear and King Alonso is happy to have his disappeared son back. Prospero throws away his magic books and thus his ability to do magic. He frees Ariel, who as his last task prepares the ship for its sail to Naples where Prospero will be restored as the Duke of Milan.

Chapter IV: The Characters

There are fifteen characters in the play, two of them not mentioned by name – the Boatswain and the Master of the ship, which are irrelevant for my analysis. Also Adrian and Francisco, two minor lords, are irrelevant for my analysis as they only shortly appear and their character is not fully expressed. The others are:

- Prospero is the main character in the play. He was once the Duke of Milan, but was usurped and exiled by his brother Antonio with King Alonso´s help. Lord Gonzalo helped Prospero by providing him and his daughter with food, water and magic books. They arrived safely on the island and lived there since then. Prospero studied his books and refined his magic during 12 years.
- Miranda is Prospero´s daughter. She grew up on the island and has never seen any other men, besides Caliban and her father.
- Ariel is Prospero´s serving spirit, whom he freed from a tree, after he was captured there by the bad witch Sycorax.
- Ferdinand is King Alonso´s son and heir.
- Alonso is the King of Naples and Ferdinand´s father. 12 years ago he helped Antonio in usurping Prospero from his position as Duke of Milan.
- Sebastian is King Alonso´s brother.
- Antonio is Prospero´s brother.
- Gonzalo is an old lord and the King´s courtier.
- Trinculo is the King´s jester.
- Stephano is the King´s steward.
- Caliban is a misformed beast, Sycorax´s son, who Prospero adopted, but when he tried to rape Miranda, Prospero enslaved him.

Chapter V: The origin and the meaning of the names

All names in the play have a long standing origin, a meaning, and a long history. Even the names of the small characters were chosen on purpose, considering their meaning.

- Prospero is a masculine name which is the Italian and Spanish form of Prosper and pronounced as pro-SPE-ro.[16] It derives from the ancient Roman word “prosperus” which means fortunate or successful.[17] It was the name of a fifth century saint and of the protagonist in Shakespeare´s play “The Tempest”, but it never became a common English name.[18]
- Miranda is a feminine name which is usually used in English speaking countries and is pronounced as ma-RAN-da.[19] The name Miranda derives from the ancient Roman word “mirandus” which means admirable or wonderful, but it only became a real name for people after Shakespeare used it in his play for the female protagonist.[20] Only in the 20th century it became a common English name with variants as Marinda or Myranda and diminutives as Randy or Randi,[21] which nowadays are also used as masculine names. One of the moons of Uranus is also named Miranda.[22]
- Ariel is a very widely used name and can be both masculine and feminine.[23] It is used in English, French, Hebrew and also in Biblical Greek and in the Bible.[24] In English it can be pronounced differently as AR-ee-əl, ER-ee-əl or Ay-ree-əl.[25] The name means in Hebrew lion of God[26] and was the name of an angel in Judaism. It was used as another name for the city of Jerusalem in the Old Testament.[27] Shakespeare used it in his play “The Tempest” to name the spirit.[28] In the 1980s it became a female common name in English and it also the name of one of the moons of Uranus.[29]


[1] AbsoluteShakespeare.com (2005) (a)

[2] AbsoluteShakespeare.com (2005) (c)

[3] Halleck, R.P. (1913)

[4] Halleck, R.P. (1913)

[5] SparkNotes Editors. (2012) (a)

[6] Mabillard, A. (2000) (a)

[7] Mabillard, A. (2000) (b)

[8] Mabillard, A. (2000) (b)

[9] Mabillard, A. (2000) (c)

[10] Mabillard, A. (2000) (d)

[11] Mabillard, A. (2000) (d)

[12] Mabillard, A. (2000) (d)

[13] Mabillard, A. (2000) (e)

[14] Mabillard, A. (2000) (e)

[15] Mabillard, A. (2000) (f)

[16] Campbell, M. (2012) (a)

[17] Campbell, M. (2012) (b)

[18] Campbell, M. (2012) (b)

[19] Campbell, M. (2012) (c)

[20] Campbell, M. (2012) (c)

[21] Campbell, M. (2012) (c)

[22] Campbell, M. (2012) (c)

[23] Campbell, M. (2012) (d)

[24] Campbell, M. (2012) (d)

[25] Campbell, M. (2012) (d)

[26] Campbell, M. (2012) (d)

[27] Campbell, M. (2012) (d)

[28] Campbell, M. (2012) (d)

[29] Campbell, M. (2012) (d)

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William Shakespeare's "The Tempest". The Origin and Meaning of the Names in the Play
University of Hildesheim  (Linguistics)
Linguistics and Intercultural Communication
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the tempest, shakespeare, play, english literature, analysis, characters, names, william shakespeare, origin, meaning, island, act, caliban, prospero, plot, stephano, trinculo, gonzalo, antonio, sebastian, king alonso, ferdinand, ariel, miranda, english, culture, intercultural
Quote paper
Yevgeniya Marmer (Author), 2012, William Shakespeare's "The Tempest". The Origin and Meaning of the Names in the Play, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/314434


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