'Whose (Is)land is This?': Topics in Immigration and The Tempest
Julia Perlowski teaches English at Pompano Beach High School in Pompano Beach, Florida.
The Tempest, 1.2, 2.1, and 3.2
What’s On for Today and Why
Students will work on their own and in groups to compare ways The Tempest treats the subject of immigration with patterns in American history and/or current events. Three separate lesson topics explore the reasons behind immigration to America, the dreams and plans of new immigrants, and the denial of access to new immigrants by established immigrants.
Each of the three major topics here will take one to two class periods. Each topic may be pulled out and taught individually as well.
What to Do
1. As an introductory activity, mark a space on the floor to represent a world map; indicate the location of the school and mark North, South, East, and West. Have students identify roughly where the major continents are.
2. Ask students to move to the area on the floor where their parents came from. Then, ask them to move to the area where their grandparents came from. Finally, ask them to move to the area where their great-grandparents came from.
3. Quickly debrief this activity as a group: how much has immigration been responsible for the make-up of today’s America?
4. Assign students a particular historical period of immigration to research, which may include current events. Most likely you will want to use the period of each student’s ancestors’ own immigration, although if you are studying another historical period in class, you may wish to use that period.
5. The first topic for investigation is immigrants’ reasons for coming to America. In groups, direct students to The Tempest, 1.2.1–450 and 2.2.18–194. Ask students to identify the reasons that Prospero, Miranda, Sycorax, Stephano, and Trinculo came to the island (see links to worksheets for this lesson under What You Need).
6. Using the web resources listed below or an interview with a friend or relative, have students start to research the history of immigration in their chosen time period. They should attempt to answer the same questions: why did these people choose to come to America?
7. As an optional extension for this lesson topic, students could rewrite the oral history of an actual immigrant in Shakespearean language, in an effort to understand Shakespeare’s process of turning travel literature into drama.
8. The second topic for investigation is immigrants’ plans and dreams when coming to America. In groups, direct students to 2.1.131–201 and 3.2.1–166. Ask them to ascertain the dreams of Gonzalo, Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban. What do each of them have planned for the future?
9. Again, have students use web resources or interviews to research historical plans and dreams that American immigrants have had. Make sure students can identify similarities and differences with the characters in The Tempest.
10. As an optional extension for this lesson topic, students may draw or create tableaux of immigrants’ imagined futures. How would the results of this exercise differ for the play’s characters and the researched historical immigrants?
11. The third topic for investigation is the denial of access to resources by established immigrants to new arrivals. Direct students to 1.2.223–450 and ask them to identify how this pattern has worked in the relationships of Caliban, Sycorax, and Prospero.
12. Once again, have students use web resources or an interview to research historical ways in which immigrants have been denied access to resources by more established immigrants. Make sure that students compare and contrast these with The Tempest.
13. As an optional extension for this topic, ask students to write a paper explaining how they would solve the immigration tensions on the island setting of The Tempest.
14. Regardless of how many of these individual topics you have covered, conclude with a discussion or writing topic that asks students to apply the lessons they have learned to the world of The Tempest. In what ways can the play act as a warning to modern audiences? Are there other ways in which its age makes it not germane to modern audiences?
What You Need
Folger edition of The Tempest
To find oral histories of existing immigrants:
To find news about American attitudes toward the arrival of new groups:
To learn how to conduct interviews with immigrants:
How Did It Go?
Were students able to compare the tensions over immigration on the island setting of The Tempest to the tensions that have occurred throughout history and today?