This painting depicts Ariel, a magical sprite who appears in the William Shakespeare play 'The Tempest'. Ariel must carry out a number of tasks for their master, Propsero, during the play, including causing the sudden storm, or tempest, which the play is named after. They do these tasks in the hope Prospero will eventually grant them their freedom. The painting was originally displayed alongside the following verse from 'The Tempest': "Where the bee sucks there lurks I: In a cowslip's bell I lie; There I couch when owls do cry. On the bat's back I do fly After summer merrily. Merrily merrily, shall I live now Under the blossom that hangs on the bough." Ariel was written by Shakespeare as a male character and would have been played by young male actors originally. This changed during the Restoration period when the role became a female one. Ariei reverted to being a male role in the early 20th century and is usually always played as such today.