The Tempest – Illustration

  • Share on Tumblr
This is part of a series of blogs on Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, blogs will be posted both here and at on Fridays.

The wonderful thing about illustration is that you can portray the things you can only imagine in Shakespeare’s plays. Unlike stage sets or even television, illustration is not constrained to the practical, the possible or the performable. This engraving of 1707 (Inspired by the Davenant and Dryden version of The Tempest shows all kids of impossible sprites caught up in the storm. Whilst Shakespeare’s play only invites us to imagine the storm, via illustration we can actually see it.

The same is true of character.


This painting by John William Waterhouse, a late pre-Raphaelite painter, shows Miranda watching the storm. Like many illustrations this is a moment we never actually see in the play, it takes place before the start of the play as Miranda watches the storm her father created and feels great empathy for the drowning sailors. Waterhouse considerably downplays the violence of the storm compared to the engraving above, presumably because his subject is really the mysterious and beautiful Miranda.

Miranda though she may be portrayed as beautiful maiden or rough edged castaway is at least generally female and human. Caliban on the other hand is much more of a mystery.


This engraving from 1820 (based on a painting of 1775) shows Caliban with large puppy like ears and huge mournful eyes. I figure who despite his long nails, it would be hard to be scared of. Again the moment is only glanced at in the play when we are told Caliban must bring logs for Prospero’s fire.

This Caliban however looks much more menacing. This is from a Play Bill from 1916 for a play based on The Tempest but focussing on Caliban. His sly expression here makes him look both potentially vulnerable but also somewhat sinister. Once again the artist imagines details of the character which are never specified by Shakespeare.

But this is my favourite illustration of Caliban

The painting is by Charles A. Buchel, it shows Herbert Beerbohm Tree. As Caliban from about 1904. This image is a curious juxtaposition for me. It has something of the beauty and mystery of Waterhouse’s Miranda, The long hair, the reflective pose. But it is also sinister with the uneven teeth and the feral crouch. This is an interpretation of Shakespeare’s Caliban I  would like to have seen on stage.

Illustration is fascinating, it invites us to flesh out Shakespeare’s characters with details we are forced to imagine. The details we choose, Miranda’s long hair, Caliban’s sad eyes, tell us a multitude of things about how we interpret that particular character.

Why not have a go yourself? Or perhaps you already have? If you have a drawing of a character or scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays send it to me at and you may find it on our web pages or on a blog someday.

Tags: , , , ,

Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT

Download a free book written by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells about Shakespeare, Conspiracy & Authorship. Download the Book.


24 brilliant poems, inspired by Shakespeare's life and art, bound in an artisan stitched chapbook

get your copy now