Creative-Critical Writing on The Tempest at A-Level
                                                                     Image: George Romney, ‘The Tempest Act I, Scene 1’ (1797)


Creative-Critical Writing on The Tempest at A Level

Harriet Parks, a teacher at Woodhouse College in Barnet, wanted her students to write in the voice of one of the characters in The Tempest as a form of imaginative, critical exploration of the play. To spur them on, and give them a sense of what was possible and what could be learnt about the play in the process, she wrote a monologue of her own in the voice of Miranda who has now returned to Italy with her father and Ferdinand. She also wrote an accompanying commentary explaining her choices and asked her students to do the same. Her monologue and commentary are a wonderful example of how much the creative-critical has to offer, and the student writing is similarly impressive.

Harriet says,

‘The students that I did this exercise with are in year 13 and it was a revision exercise.  The main assessment objective for the OCR syllabus is AO5 which relates to understanding how a text can be interpreted differently through time.  With this in mind the students focused on some of the following critical interpretations including: Postcolonial, Moral, Feminist, Eco, Marxist or New Historicist.

I was keen for them to imaginatively empathise with a character and use their detailed knowledge of the play to create an authentic monologue.  They enjoyed doing it and I enjoyed reading them.  It was a creative alternative to answering exam questions.’

What follows is her monologue and commentary, the task she set for them, and some of the student writing that emerged. These were originally published in emagazine, EMC’s magazine for A Level students of English Literature and English Language, in April 2024.


Miranda’s Monologue

Miranda sits at her dressing table and imagines she is talking to her father, Prospero.

Naples is not a brave new world, father. I cannot live like this. This palazzo is a prison. The corsets, the bodices, the busks, the chemises, the kirtles, the ruffs.  Who invented the ruff? I can’t move my head, I can’t bend over, I can’t run.  And all the women fussing and fumbling.   They exchange sly looks as we sit doing needlework and I am sure they are all whispering about why I am not with child after two years.  I long to be alone.

The dancing makes me laugh, all that jumping and skipping, and I adore the food. Why did you never tell me about the food? Steaming soups with parmigiano cheese, the meat with cinnamon and roasted artichokes, the stuffed fruits. After a lifetime of nuts and berries the melting lamb tastes like a gift from the gods.  I cherish my little dog Juno and, more than anything, I love Ferdinand.  I was terrified that it might have been your art that made me give him my heart so quickly – but no! Even if you did arrange this marriage, it seems you have no power over my affections.

But I miss you.  Milan seems so far away and when we left the island you looked very sad. You took such care of me. Every day for twelve years you taught me alchemy and astrology. We studied Heretic writings and the ‘concord of the world’ as Ficino put it.  I watched you pull down the influence of the stars to the earth and control the spirits on the island.  Then, before we left, I saw you break your staff and bury it, drown your book and renounce your ‘rough art’.

But Sir, I am terrified to say these words out loud: I stole your mantle.  I have hidden it in the woods. I sneak out at night with Juno. By day I appear to be the peerless, perfect princess (you would be proud of your obedient daughter) but at night I find my way through eighteen rooms to the garden. I know the number of steps, the height of every carved panel and hanging, the chill of the brass door handles. My feet touch cold stone and I run to the woods, pull out your robe from a split in an old oak tree and call my spirit, Zephyrus. We chant and sing the songs I heard on the island.  An ecstatic energy ignites my blood.

You won’t want to hear this father. I am going to use my art to right a terrible wrong, just as you did.  I have seen conspiracy at work. Your brother Antonio is at the palazzo, he and Sebastian are together all the time, lurking, whispering, laughing.  I can smell treachery.  You forgave my false uncle, I do not!


Commentary on Miranda’s monologue

There are many precedents for using known texts to inspire new writing.  Shakespeare himself based most of his plays on familiar stories and histories. And, in turn, many writers have created work inspired by Shakespeare’s plays. WH Auden wrote the extended poem ‘The Sea and the Mirror’ and Mariner Warner the novel ‘Indigo’ using The Tempest as inspiration. But it was Carol Ann Duffy’s brilliant collection of poems entitled The World’s Wife, in which she explores the perspective of fictional female counterparts to well-known male figures from myth and history, that gave me the idea of writing a short monologue for Miranda two years after she leaves the island.

When Miranda sees all the nobles together for the first time in Act Five she utters her famous last lines, ‘How beauteous mankind is. O brave new world/That has such people in’t’. I thought about whether her positive affirmation of mankind would come to fruition.  What would happen to Miranda when she became the Princess of Naples?

Miranda is an intriguing mixture of conformity and rebelliousness. On her first entrance we see an impassioned and assertive young woman.  She challenges her father’s brutal actions ‘If by your art my dearest father you have/ Put the wild waters in this roar, ally them’. She is again forthright and unconventional in proposing to Ferdinand, ‘I am your wife if you will have me’ at the same time as affirming conventional Renaissance patriarchal values by prizing her virginity above all else, ‘but by my modesty,/ The jewel in my dower.’  As the play progresses, she says less and less. For this reason I started to wonder what she might have been thinking. Other questions began to materialise: what if she witnessed her father give up his power? Could she perhaps have some of her father’s abilities having been taught by him?  As Prospero forgives Alonso, Antonio and Caliban, in act five she stands in silence, what is going through her head? After Prospero’s impassioned and persuasive portrait of Antonio as evil in act 1 can she forgive her uncle?  She says nothing.

The relationship between father and daughter is also intriguing.  We witness her father’s affection for her when he starts to tell his story in act 1, ‘I have done nothing but in care of thee,/Of thee dear one.’ but also his command over her, ‘Obey, and be attentive,’. Having had no maternal influence and only her father, Caliban, and spirits for company how would she react to the busy world of court life? Would she be lonely without her father, having been with him for twelve years?

The other big question is whether the instantaneous love she feels for Ferdinand is genuine or a product of Prospero’s art? In my interpretation it is the former.  There is a sense of tension in Prospero as he watches the love scenes which seems to imply that he is not in total control of the outcome.

Finally, Miranda is educated but not familiar with courtly ways. She is used to the freedom of the island and not the restrictions of Renaissance dress and etiquette. I could imagine that there would be internal conflict between fulfilling the very public role of princess with her wilder nature.  It was these and other questions that led me to attempt to give Miranda a voice.


Student Task

Choose one of the main characters from The Tempest and write a monologue for them set two years after the end of the play. Write a short commentary explaining your choices and providing evidence from the play.

Student Writing

1. Caliban

Alone upon my Isle, once again King on’t. No longer stied within the rocks, but my mind is now a fortress of entrapment. The language they taught me is a snare, and I can no longer exist without its running commentary. Where my eyes once roamed over my kingdom, its natural wonders, its sublime, peaceful chaos with freedom, it now falters when it cannot find the word to describe what they see. Even when I cover my ears, and cower in caves to find silence and darkness, I cannot escape from the language that fills in the gaps for my senses.


Caliban famously says, ‘You taught me language, and my profit on’t Is I know how to curse.’ Which subverts Kipling’s concept of ‘white man’s burden,’ and aligns with Montaigne’s ideas on colonialism, presenting a less common perspective on indigenous people, who were largely viewed as primal savages, lacking law and society. Where the common wisdom of the Renaissance period assumed that European culture was inherently superior to so-called ‘savages,’ Montaigne challenged this view, contrastingly praising the ‘pure simplicity’ and ‘natural innocence’ of the indigenous people.


2. Prospero

Oh, I cannot sleep at night, I am kept up by my worries. I beg each night that God shall grant me forgiveness for the blasphemous ways I used by magic, raising the sleeping from their graves, placing myself above God as a minister of fate, but a deep fear within me tells me he cannot. This deep fear makes me dread my death and what awaits me beyond. I used to believe I was the innocent wronged Duke of Milan, a morally righteous magus, but now I know not what to believe and know not how God will judge me.


Through the monologue I have written for Prospero, I wanted to show his conflicting feelings after renouncing his magic. In his soliloquy in act 5, he lists things he has accomplished with his magic such as ‘Called forth the mutinous winds’ and ‘to the dread rattling thunder have I given fire’. The listing of his experiences emphasises the significance when he finally gives up his magic, his magic has been the source of his downfall, but it has also become his identity.


3. Caliban

Prospero’s expedition hath given me

Dominion o’er the isle of my mother,

O’er all its balmy fruits and its wondrous spirits,

Oh, the scent of freedom tickles my nostrils!

This newfound liberty arrives at the latest of hours,

But I welcome such a tardy guest with

The widest of arms, ….

Drunk on fear was I when thou showed kind mercy.

Such kind mercy – ‘twas merely a false act,

One that giveth an illusion of holiness.


My main inspiration for the monologue came from a post-colonial perspective of The Tempest, one which suggests that Caliban is a victim of the ruthless imperialism embarked upon by European states. Caliban’s hatred of Prospero throughout much of the play mimics the relationship held between coloniser and the colonised, who are powerless despite having lived and known about the land they live on far before those who seized it by force.



4. Caliban

Two turns of the seasons have passed, and the island is at peace. With no mortal master to serve I discovered my true purpose; to serve the land. The spirits of the island have settled now. After the tyrant left, they continued their sadistic games, they would bite and hiss, thriving off the chaos they caused. But as the trees turned from deep green to varying shades of tawny and amber, they ceased their abuse. As if they too began to realise that they now belonged to no master, that they were now free to slip back into the earth they came from.


Caliban is shown to have a deep love and respect for the island through his frequent use of natural imagery ‘the fresh springs, brine pits barren place and fertile’. However, his extensive knowledge of the island is used against him by Prospero, who in a postcolonial reading, can be seen to reflect the way American natives were treated by European settlers in both the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. In act five Caliban is still commodified by the nobles as he is described as being ‘no doubt marketable’. This suggests that Caliban’s ability to regain his identity and autonomy is a slow process that can only be completely achieved once the other characters have left the island.


5. Ariel

You taught me how to forgive and I forgave Caliban. You would be proud. The pair of us are now closer (the only reason for my distance is his foul odour). Occasionally, we sing songs, hunt, and fish together and bond over our time with you.

Sir, do you still love me? Despite the torment you made me endure, part of me still misses you.


At the end of the play, order and identity are restored and so I imagine the island has been restored to its natural state before human occupation. After being granted his ‘liberty’ Ariel would use his magic to preserve the island and its beauty as its original occupant. I imagine Caliban would help protect the island and in doing so, he and Ariel became closer since they would be the only two on the island together.



Students at Woodhouse College in North London.