The Tempest by William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) The Tempest by William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) Type of Work: Romantic fantasy Setting A remote island; fifteenth century Principal Characters Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, cast away on an island in the sea Miranda, his beautiful daughter Alonso, King of Naples Ferdinand, Alonso’s son Antonio, Prospero’s wicked brother, and false Duke of Milan Sebastian, Alonso’s brother Gonzalo, a kind philosopher Trinculo and Stephano, two drunken courtiers Ariel, Prospero’s spirit servant Caliban, Propero’s grotesque slave-monster Story Overveiw A great tempest arose that drove a certain ship, bound to Naples from Tunis, off its course and onto an uncharted island. The storm had been magically called up by Prospero, one of the two human inhabitants of the island, in order to bring the vessel to shore. Prospero had once been the mighty Duke of Milan, and had reigned justly. But he had grown so absorbed in his intellectual pursuits – most o them relating to the supernatural – that he turned over the tedious reins of government to his “trusted” brother Antonio, freeing himself to devote his time to the library and the studies he loved. But, sadly, his ambitious brother, taking advantage of Prospero’s naivete, usurped his power – a plan he was only able to carry out with the help of Alonso, the King of Naples and sworn enemy of Milan. Antonio and Alonso cruelly captured Prospero and his infant daughter Miranda, and set them adrift at sea in a small, rotting craft.
They would have been drowned – Antonio’s wish had not a counselor on the ship, Gonzalo, provided them with food and drink, and with those volumes from Prospero’s collection that contained his magic spells. When Prospero and Miranda washed ashore on their remote island, they found two rather unusual inhabitants. The first was a fairy spirit named Ariel, who had been imprisoned within a tree by her former master, a witch named Sycorax. Prospero freed Ariel from the tree and thus became her new master. The other creature, Caliban, son of Sycorax, was a lumbering, deformed, half-savage figure.
He hated Prospero – and everyone and everything else, for that matter – but was also forced to acknowledge him as master. For twelve years Prospero had kindly ruled over the other three islanders, all the while practicing a form of benevolent sorcery. Why, then, did Prospero incite the elements to cause this ship to be tossed aground on his island? Because he knew, as it turned out, that the ship bore the very people who had usurped him ofhispowersomaiiyyearsbefore Antonio, Alonso, and their courtiers. The kind, wise Gonzalo was also aboard, along with Ferdinand, Alonso’s honorable son. Prospero’s plan was to magically scatter the passengers about the island in three groups, put them through a series of trials and adventures by which the bad would be chastised and the good rewarded, and then bring them all together to make peace once and for all. Alonso, together with Antonio, Sebastian, Gonzalo, and others, found themselves together on the beach.
They were astonished to discover that not only had they survived the shipwreck, but that their clothes were clean, dry and pressed (one of Prospero’s many bits of magic). However, Alonso did not see Ferdinand among the survivors, and supposing his son had drowned, cried out in grief. Still the good-hearted counselor, old Gonzalo tried to cheer the distraught Alonso, but Sebastian joined Antonio in mocking his efforts at optimism. At this time, the invisible Ariel came on the scene. By playing her tilting music she caused a deep sleep to come upon everyone except Sebastian and Antonio. The situation prompted Antonio to tempt Sebastian with a proposition: , My strong imagination sees a crown dropping upon thy head,” he began.
He went on to say, in effect, “You remember how simple it was for me to seize the entire rule of Milan by overthrowing my brother? Well, by killing your brother Alonso as he sleeps, you could become King of Naples. No one would ever know how you ascended to the thronc.” Sebastian succumbed to the temptation, and was just about to strike off his brother’s head when Ariel awakened the company. Antonio’s plot had been frustrated. As the men tramped awkwardly around the island in hopes of finding Ferdinand alive, Sebastian and Antonio looked forward to a second opportunity to murder Alonso. But suddenly the group was beset by a miraculous vision, sent by Prospero: a numerous troupe of fairies and sprites, dancing about a table laden with rich foods.
The hungry company, invited to eat, was just about to partake, when suddenly lightning , struck and thunder rolled; Ariel appeared in the form of a Harpy (a greedy monster, part woman and part bird). As quickly as it had appeared, the banquet table vanished. Then Ariel rebuked Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian for the crimes they had committed – or had intended to commit – and led them all, guilt-stricken and humbled, to Prospero. Ferdinand had landed on another part of the island. As he inourned the father he believed to have drowned, he found himself helplessly guided by Ariel’s music to Prospero and Miranda. No sooner had Ferdinand set eyes on Prospero’s unspoiled, tender-hearted daughter, than he fell in love with her, and she with him.
Prospero, however, concealed his pleasure in seeing these two youngsters so much enthralled by one another, and refused to allow Ferdinand to take Miranda as his queen until he had undergone an ordeal to prove his devotion. The wise magician then ordered the young prince to spend the day lugging and stacking a pile of huge logs, menial labor unbefitting royalty. But Ferdinand gladly accepted the task. He toiled, even through the pleadings of his beloved: “. .
Pray you, work not so hard! My father is hard at study. He’s safe for these three hours.” Now Prospero was indeed at study; not the study of books, but of hearts. As he watched the two lovers, he smiled at his innocent daughter’s conspiracy, and sighed with joy at Ferdinand’s refusal to slacken his work. When Prospero was satisfied with Ferdinand’s probation, he gave him Miranda’s hand and instructed the pair to wait with him until the other castaways should arrive. Stephano and Trinculo, one a butler and the other a jester, had turned up on still another stretch of the island. They had managed to rescue several bottles of liquor from the ship and were lumbering about on the sand, blind drunk, when they had the misfortune of bumping into hideous Caliban, lying on the beach under a stinking cloak.
After accepting a drink from the staggering courtiers, Caliban, now tipsy himself, promised to help them obtain sovereignty over the island – if they would help him murder the present ruler, Prospero. The drunkards agreed, and the three set off in a comical daze to seek out the magician. Ariel overheard their conspiracy and intervened to thwart their plan by placing diversions in their path – attacking hounds; rich, tempting raiment dangling on elusive clotheslines; and many other such conjurations. Later, Ariel drove the pathetic trio through filthy ditches, swamps, and brier patches, until they finally reached Prospero’s cave. Now, with the entire ship’s population reunited – minus Ferdinand, who was playing chess with Miranda inside the cave – Prospero gathered everyone into an enchanted circle and revealed his true identity.
All were astonished, as they had thought the duke was long dead. Prospero mildly rebuked all the schemers of evil: First Alonso and Antonio, for overthrowing his dukedom and leaving him to perish; then Sebastian, for plotting to kill Alonso; and lastly Trinculo and Stephano, for conniving with Caliban to murder him. Then, assured that the company had repented of their evil deeds and intentions, he granted his full, sovereign forgiveness to all. Prospero next warmly commended his benefactor Gonzalo for his “saintly” character and behavior. Finally, he beckoned penitent Alonso to enter the cave.
There, the father tearfully embraced the son he had thought dead. When introduced to Miranda, Ferdinand’s cherished bride-to-be, Alonso was equally captivated by her. And now, with joy and reconciliation reigning, Ariel reported to Prospero that the beached vessel was repaired and ready for a return voyage to Milan. Before departing the island, however, the old magician, in a final act of kindness, freed Ariel from her servitude. He then took his books and staff and cast them into the sea, openly vowing to give up his long-held practice of sorcery.
Prospero sailed with the company back to Italy – to begin life anew, to reign once more in Milan, and to witness the marriage of his daughter to faithful Ferdinand. Commentary This unusual play – full of music, sorcery, conspiracy, romance, comedy, and pathos belongs to the last period of Shakespeare’s career. The odd, bitter-sweet drama embodies qualities of both tragedy and comedy, though this and others of the final plays are usually classified as romances. In The Tempest, everybody, as Gonzalo notes, leaves the island in a changed state: Alonso finally suffers the pangs of guilt and begs forgiveness for his crimes against Prospero; Antonio eventually humbles himself. These two villains are mirrored in a kind of comic relief by Trinculo and Stephano, who are also led to repentance. Since The Tempest is considered Shakespeare’s final great play, many critics have suggested that Prospero represents Shakespeare himself at the end of his work, that the magician’s final speech, in which he renounces magic, is meant to symbolize the Bard’s farewell to the theater before retiring to his Stratford home.
The entire allegorical plot, beginning with an oceangoing peril and subsequently spanning the breadth of human emotions, ending in a scene of serenity and joy, may indeed reflect and symbolize the writer’s reflections on his life. At any rate, the play stands as one of Shakespeare’s greatest works, possessing a strange, undefinable, composite quality that sets it apart from all others.