The Tempest was probably written in 1611, when it was first performed. It is a play demonstrating the full maturity of the playwright's craft both in terms of the beauty and complexity of the text and of the ambiguities of the characters and plot. It is unique in the canon in as much as all of the action is controlled by the leading character, Prospero.
Twelve years before the play opens Prospero was overthrown as Duke of Milan and set adrift with his baby daughter, Miranda, in a leaky hulk. Eventually they were cast ashore on an enchanted island where they have since lived. Prospero is a magician and, by his magic art, has established himself as ruler of the island and master of its spirits. His two principal servants/slaves, both of whom crave their freedom, are the airy spirit Ariel and the earth-bound, sensual, Caliban. As the play opens those responsible for Prospero's overthrow are sailing past the island and are shipwrecked there by a storm which he has created. The shipwrecked company become split up and the action witnesses their tribulations as they are manipulated to the final confrontation with Prospero.
The play has the qualities of an enchanted dream, complete with romance, comedy and some of Shakespeare's finest poetry.