The Tempest: Magic

Lesson rationale

This activity encourages students to explore Shakespeare’s presentation of Prospero and his arts in the light of attitudes to magic in the Elizabethan and early Jacobean period. Students will learn about the intriguing John Dee, mathematician and magician, who calculated horoscopes for Queen Elizabeth I and advised navigators voyaging to the New World. Students will consider comparisons between John Dee and the character of Prospero.

Through their study of sources, students will also develop their understanding of the portrayal of fantastical creatures in performances of the play.

Key questions in this lesson:

  • How was magic viewed by society at the time Shakespeare was writing?
  • How does learning about John Dee influence our understanding of the character of Prospero?
  • What was Shakespeare’s attitude to the art of the magician and his work as a dramatist? How does this vary from our attitudes today?