The Tempest, widely recognised as Shakespeare's final play, is also known to be somewhat of an anomaly in The Bard's works. It and A Midsummer Night's Dream are the only two of his works to heavily feature magic (despite its small appearance in other plays such as 'Macbeth'). Although a break from routine is often refreshing, especially in terms of literature, in The Tempest this may not necessarily be a good thing. Although I'm a big fan of Shakespeare, the unlikeable protagonist found in Prospero, and the unresolved ending leaves the audience with confusion, and an inherent distaste for the play.
The story begins with a storm. Or rather, a tempest, as the title suggests. A boat which holds the King of Naples, and his advisors, is thrust into a dangerous squall—one which looks likely to sink the ship. When all seems lost, the audience are brought to the cave of Prospero, the magician who is seemingly orchestrating this chaos. In an act of exposition, he tells his daughter Miranda the reason for his actions. Several years ago, Prospero was in fact a Duke, who was usurped by his brother. Rather than being killed, both Prospero and Miranda were left for dead on a little boat, which was sent out to sea before arriving on the Island which is now their home. With the help of his magic sprite Ariel, Prospero assures both his daughter, and the audience, that the crew of the ship are safe and sound. Whilst the sailors remain on the ship, the nobles who betrayed Prospero, who include the King's son Ferdinand, are brought to the Island. In a number of vaguely humorous mix ups, the king and his nobles are scared witless by Prospero's magic, before he reveals himself to still be alive, whilst Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love. As always in Shakespeare's comedies, comic relief is offered, this time in the form of Prospero's deformed slave Caliban, and his interactions with jester Trinculo, and drunken butler Stephano, who have also found their way onto the Island. The play ends with promise of Miranda and Ferdinand's wedding, Prospero's re-installation as Duke, and his promise to give up magic.
The most predominant criticism of the character of Prospero is his apparent need to manipulate everyone around him. In order to cause Miranda and Ferdinand to become closer, he expressly forbids them from any kind of relationship. He keeps promising freedom to his servant Ariel, but threatens the spirit when they question it further, only releasing them when it suits him. This is only made worse by the character's almost terrifying amount of power; the sorcerer even claims at one point that he can raise the dead. That much ability placed with a man so manipulative is certainly a recipe for chaos. Prospero's unpredictable nature adds to the 'unfinished' feeling of the play—who's to say he does not change his mind, and begin to study magic again?
Whilst many credit The Tempest a sure sense of finality, it seems far from the truth. Shakespeare's comedies traditionally end with a wedding, yet this is the only one to end with the only the promise of marriage instead. This seems to be the Bard's suggestion that although 'All's well that ends well' (geddit?), the final scene of The Tempest may not end as well as is thought.