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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Tempest

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From all the TV you watch in what little spare time you have, you know how difficult it is to pull off a series finale. From Lost to the Sopranos, mixed reactions are the name of the game.

The Tempest is basically Shakespeare's series finale, and we're here to help make sure it doesn't get a mixed reaction—we're shooting for a standing ovation.

In this guide you will find

  • discussion questions prompting students to analyze the play's rich assortment of characters.
  • pop culture connections that modernize The Tempest with the help of Helen Mirren.
  • an activity exploring compassion and forgiveness through The Tempest being performed in prison.

Our teaching guide + you = the perfect storm of learning for your classroom.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: The Tempest is all about compassion and forgiveness. As you can imagine, that theme takes on even greater meaning when the play is performed by prison inmates who are, themselves, seeking mercy and redemption. 

In this activity, your students will listen to NPR's podcast, "Dramatic Redemption: Shakespeare Behind Bars" (6:58), and learn about how one Kentucky prison's production of The Tempest focuses on the play's theme of "Compassion and Forgiveness."

Length of Lesson: 1-2 class periods

Materials Needed:

Step 1: Begin by having your students review Shmoop's discussion of "Compassion and Forgiveness" in The Tempest.

Step 2: In class, play the NPR Podcast "Dramatic Redemption: Shakespeare Behind Bars." While students listen, they should jot down answers to the questions below. Encourage them to use their books to find support as necessary. 

  1. According to NPR what do the prisoners/actors at LLC Correctional Complex have in common with the play's characters?
  2. At the beginning of the podcast, NPR refers to Duke Ferdinand's party as a group of "hardened criminals" who "find themselves trapped on a deserted island [and] fight to survive, find meaning in their lives and look for forgiveness from the people they have wronged." Do you think this is an accurate description of the characters who are shipwrecked on Prospero's island? Why or why not?
  3. Why did director Curt Toftleland want to stage The Tempest behind bars? What makes the play so inspiring and/or meaningful when it's played by inmates?
  4. Actor/inmate Hal Cobb says that Prospero never has any intention of forgiving his brother, but is prompted to do so by Ariel. Do you agree with Cobb's assessment? (Psst. Check out Shmoop's Character Analysis of Ariel for some more ideas about this.)
  5. Do you think the theme of "Compassion and Forgiveness" takes on new meaning when The Tempest is staged by prison inmates?
  6. Did the podcast alter the way you interpret or understand the play? Why or why not?

Psst! If you want to learn more about the documentary film Shakespeare Behind Bars, look here.

Step 3: Give your students a few more minutes to finish jotting down their answers, and then lead them in a class discussion, encouraging everyone to share their thoughts. 

NOTE: You can always play the podcast a second time if students feel like they missed some of the information the first time around. 

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 11th and 12th grade Reading 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.14, 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

Anybody who has ever read The Tempest knows that Shakespeare is all about compassion and forgiveness. Well, after everyone's been shipwrecked and had their minds sufficiently messed with, that is. 

Still, according to the producers of the documentary film Shakespeare Behind Bars, the play's exploration of this theme takes on a whole new meaning when it's performed by prison inmates. In this activity, you'll learn about one Kentucky prison's production of The Tempest and why the play is so compelling when it's played by actors who are, themselves, seeking mercy and redemption.

Step 1: Check out our brief summary of "Compassion and Forgiveness" in The Tempest.

Step 2: In class, listen to the NPR podcast, "Dramatic Redemption: Shakespeare Behind Bars," and answer this short set of study questions. Oh, and don't be afraid to flip through your book to find support for your answers.

  1. According to NPR what do the prisoners/actors at LLC Correctional Complex have in common with the play's characters?
  2. At the beginning of the podcast, NPR refers to Duke Ferdinand's party as a group of "hardened criminals" who "find themselves trapped on a deserted island [and] fight to survive, find meaning in their lives and look for forgiveness from the people they have wronged." Do you think this is an accurate description of the characters who are shipwrecked on Prospero's island? Why or why not?
  3. Why did director Curt Toftleland want to stage The Tempest behind bars? What makes the play so inspiring and/or meaningful when it's played by inmates?
  4. Actor/inmate Hal Cobb says that Prospero never has any intention of forgiving his brother, but is prompted to do so by Ariel. Do you agree with Cobb's assessment? (Psst. Check out Shmoop's Character Analysis of Ariel for some more ideas about this.)
  5. Do you think the theme of "Compassion and Forgiveness" takes on new meaning when The Tempest is staged by prison inmates?
  6. Did the podcast alter the way you interpret or understand the play? Why or why not?

Step 3: Now that everyone has had time to process the information individually, take some time to go over these questions in class and see what your classmates—and your teacher—think. 

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WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE TEMPEST?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Photos    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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