wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
search bar left
search bar right

Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing ChangeShakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change


The Tempest


Key characters

Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, living in exile on an island.

Caliban, Prospero’s servant and native of the island.

Ariel, a magical spirit serving Prospero.

Miranda, Prospero’s 15-year-old daughter.

Antonio, the new Duke of Milan and Prospero’s brother.

Alonso, king of Naples.

Sebastian, Alonso’s brother.

Ferdinand, Alonso’s son.

Gonzalo, an old wise man from Naples.

 Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

Fun facts

  • Prospero was played many times by the great English actor, John Gielgud.
  • Coined the phrase “brave new world”, used by Aldous Huxley (pictured right) as the title of his book.


The story

Shipwrecked in a violent storm (or tempest) are:Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

  • Antonio (Duke of Milan).
  • Alonso (king of Naples).
  • Ferdinand (Alonso's son).
  • Gonzalo
  • Sebastian (Alonso's brother). 


Landing on an island, they are unaware that the storm has been created by the magical spirit, Ariel, the servant of Prospero, the vengeful ruler of the island. 

Prospero arrived there with his daughter, Miranda, 12 years earlier after his brother Antonio had overthrown him as the Duke of Milan with the help of Alonso.Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

(John William Waterhouse's 1916 painting of Miranda seeing the shipwreck is pictured right)

Prospero has another servant, Caliban, whom he deposed as ruler of the island.

To murder Prospero, Caliban gains the assistance of:

  • Trinculo (Alonso's jester).
  • Stephano (Alonso's butler) .

But they are thwarted by Ariel, who also stops three attempted murders of Alonso by 

  • Antonio (twice). Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change
  • Sebastian.

Ferdinand and Miranda (Elisabeth Hopper, pictured right, in a 2011 production):

  • meet and fall in love.
  • agree to marry.

Then Antonio, Alonso and Sebastian are looking for Ferdinand when Ariel makes a banquet:

  • magically appear.
  • vanish (before they can eat as punishment for deposing Prospero). Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

Ariel then leads them to Prospero (Ralph Fiennes, pictured right, in a 2011 production) who:

  • reveals his true identity.
  • forgives Antonio and Alonso (who apologizes).

Ferdinand and Miranda join them, and they are all reunited and reconciled.

Ariel and Caliban (forgiven after repenting) are given their freedom, and Prospero is reinstated as the Duke of Milan.


Lessons for managing change

 Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

1. Change can be exaggerated

Prospero creates the storm only to get Alonso and his companions onto the island. None of them are injured, or ever in danger.

Prospero’s cruellest trick is to make Alonso temporarily believe that his son, Ferdinand, has died in the shipwreck.

But ,even here, Prospero is being cruel to be kind, because Alonso’s grief makes him sorry for deposing Prospero, leading to their final reconciliation.

 Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

2. Unity is strength

At the end of the play, everyone is happier after their reconciliation.

Prospero seeks revenge against his brother, Alonso, but finally realizes that forgiveness and reconciliation are much better alternatives.

So he gives up manipulating people by magic.

Crisis brings people together.

In the storm Trinculo says:

“Misery acquaints a man with strange bed-fellows”.

 Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

3. Good leadership is essential

The ship’s captain:

  • acts calmly under pressure in the storm.
  • orders his panicking passengers to go down below deck.

Prospero is also a good leader:

  • tough enough (to ask Antonio, Alonso and Caliban for their repentance).
  • kind enough (to forgive them).

 Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

4. Integrity is important

Even when things are changing and difficult, the leading characters’ best actions come from sticking to their principles ,particularly

  • love and forgiveness.
  • repentance and humility.

 Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

5. Learn from experience

Miranda falls for Ferdinand, only the third man she has ever seen (after her father and Caliban).

She rashly declares the arrival of a “brave new world”

The wiser and more experienced Prospero reflects that the world can hardly be brave (or wonderful) with potentially evil people like Sebastian, Alonso and Antonio in it.

 Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

6. People can transform themselves

Ariel observes that the storm has made Alonso a better person.

To achieve such a transformation, you must have:


a) ambitious aimsShakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

Prospero says:

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on. 


b) effective time management

This is because

“Our little life is rounded with sleep [i.e. death]  , Prospero says.Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change


c) freedom 

Ariel and Caliban both suffer from being slaves until the end of the play.

Caliban’s only solace is dreaming of freedom.

He also suffers the degradation of hearing Trinculo and Stephano’s plan to show him off for money in Europe.


7. Control your own destinyShakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

  • take positive action
  • don’t let other people and events dictate what you should do.
  • concentrate on what needs to be done to improve (not on what has happened, Antonio tells Sebastian)
  • don’t dwell on the past but look to the future.

“Let us not burden our remembrance with a heaviness that's gone”, says Prospero.


8. Face reality

Prospero is successful because he bases his dreams on an honest assessment of his;

  • strengths. Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change
  • opportunities.
  • problems.

The play continually shows the difference between illusion and reality - for example, the:

  • violent storm that appears to be dangerous but isn’t. 
  • vanishing banquet (to punish the hungry Antonio, Alonso and Sebastian).

Prospero also says that the permanence of material things is an illusion unlike the eternal truths of love and forgiveness.

“The great globe itself, yea, all which it inherits, shall dissolve”, he comments.Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change


9. Be prepared for the unexpected

The guilty Antonio and Alonso were surprised by:

  • the storm.
  • seeing the person they wronged (Prospero).

 Shakespeare's The Tempest - Managing Change

10. Humour helps

In the storm Gonzalo, an old man from Naples, jokes that the ship cannot sink, because its captain looks as though he was born to be hanged and so cannot die from drowning!


Key quote on objectives and vision

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, Prospero.


Key quotes on happiness

Misery acquaints a man with strange bed-fellows, Trinculo.

He receives comfort like cold porridge, Sebastian.


Key quote on learning

Thought is free, Stephano (in a song).


Key quote on society

How beautiful mankind is! O brave new world that hath such people in ’t!, Miranda (the origin of the title of Aldous Huxley’s book, Brave New World).


Key quote on stress and pain

Let us not burden our remembrance with a heaviness that's gone, Prospero.


Key quote on ethics

The rarer action is in virtue, than in vengeance, Prospero.

Free Newsletter
Enter your name and e-mail address to receive our free newsletter with analysis of business issues and new business books