The Tempest by William Shakespeare, Act-wise Summary (Act I)

The Tempest is considered one of the last plays written by Shakespeare, and is believed to be written during 1610-1611. It is believed that through this play Shakespeare bid farewell to his audiences and that he has used Prospero’s character to voice some of his interior monologues. Today it is considered as one of the best works of Shakespeare and has been adapted and performed in many forms and styles, including operas, paintings and songs.

Act I - Scene I

A ship is facing great danger on the sea because of a severe storm which has begun to blow. The storm is accompanied by thunder and lightning. The ship carries certain very important personages including Alonso, the king of Naples, and a number of the members of his band of followers. On account of the storm, this ship has got separated from a number of other ships which were escorting it. The Boatswain, the ship’s officer is busily giving instructions to the sailors regarding what they should do to save the ship from foundering.

Some of the passengers come out of their cabins below and appear on the deck in a state of great fear. They want to know from the Boatswain whether the ship is safe, but he is in no mood to listen to them because he is busy and rebukes these men for interrupting his work. One of the lords, whose name is Gonzalo, tries to pacify him. Meanwhile, the storm becomes more furious; and everybody loses all hope. King Alonso and his son Ferdinand start praying to God for the safety of their lives; and the lords accompanying them also think that they would soon perish. Gonzalo, however still maintains that the Boatswain’s destiny would save all of them. What he means is that, if the Boatswain is destined to be hanged on the gallows on the land, the ship would not get wrecked and the passengers would therefore not to be drowned. 


Act I - Scene II

Prospero, his young daughter Miranda and Caliban live in uninhabited island. Prospero is a man who, through his intensive studies and meditation over several years, has been able to acquire supernatural powers. He tells Miranda that the storm blowing upon the sea had been caused by him. Miranda appeals to him to stop the storm because she had seen the ship being shaken by the storm and on the verge of getting wrecked. She says that her heart had been moved to deep pity when she witnessed the plight of the ship’s passengers who were howling helplessly. Prospero assures her that the ship is safe and that the passengers on the ship have also been saved by him through his magic powers.

Prospero tells Miranda about his past that he was originally a ruler, and that he had been driven out of his dominions by his own brother Antonio to whom he had entrusted the administration of his country. He used to be the Duke of Milan, but being more interested in the study of books than in running the country, he had asked his brother to take charge of administration. Being treacherous and ambitious, Antonio gradually appointed his own favourites to position of power and authority in the government.

Antonio had then entered into an agreement with Alonso, the King of Naples to pay annual tribute of money, and was also to accept a position of subordination to him in return for the King of Naples helping him to drive out his brother. The king of Naples, having been Prospero’s enemy over a long period of time, had readily accepted the agreement. Then both had ousted Prospero from power and Antonio became the Duke of Milan. Prospero and Miranda, who was an infant had been put in a frail boat which had no equipment was sent into the sea for a sure wreckage.

They had drifted on the sea for many days and, by sheer fortune landed safely on this island. They had remained safe partly on account of their good luck and a noble lord, Gonzalo had secretly placed essential commodities in the boat and at the same time placed there a large number of books which Prospero needed badly and which he valued most.

Miranda is amazed to hear this and Prospero informs that he had been able to acquire supernatural powers through the study of his books and meditations. Further, he had been teaching Miranda up in a manner in which the daughter of a duke should be brought up. He further replies Miranda’s that Antonio had not killed him merely because the people of Milan had a great love and respect for Prospero; had they been killed people would have risen in a revolt against killers. Now, by a mysterious operation of fate, his enemies have fallen into his hands. Alonso, Antonio and several others were sailing towards Naples and on coming to know of their presence on the sea so near to this island, he had decided to deal with them suitably. He had therefore caused a storm to blow on the sea so that he could have all those men in his power.

At this moment, Miranda falls asleep partly because Prospero wills it, Ariel appears with an account of how he has carried out all Prospero’s instructions. Arial is a spirit of the air who possesses supernatural powers. In accordance with Prospero’s instructions previously given, Ariel has caused a storm to blow by which King Alonso and the others were sailing towards Naples. Ariel reports that all the passengers had jumped into the sea when the ship was about to wreck. They had all landed safely upon the island though Ariel had scattered them on the island in groups, except Ferdinand being all alone. As for the ship, and the sailors on that ship, Ariel had stowed them safely in the harbour. The sailors had fallen into a slumber partly because of their own exertions during the storm and partly because of Arial had casted a spell upon them. The other ships in the fleet, had first been scattered by Ariel and had subsequently assembled together again and were now sailing back to Naples over the Mediterranean Sea. Prospero feels happy to know that Ariel has faithfully carried out all his instructions.

Ariel has been in the service of Prospero for a number of years. Ariel now appeals to Prospero to release him from his service. But Prospero replies that Ariel had promised to serve him for a certain number of years, and that stipulated period has not yet ended. When Ariel pleads more, Prospero reminds him of the days when he was a prisoner in a cloven pine tree howling in pain. Ariel had been imprisoned in that tree by witch Sycorax who had been expelled from her own native town of Algiers, and had taken refuge on the island when she was pregnant. Ariel had first been serving her but as a delicate spirit, he refused to perform certain tasks imposed upon by her. Thereupon she confined him within a pine tree. It was Prospero who had emancipated Arial. This island had no other inhabitants except Sycorax, Ariel and the child of Sycorax, Caliban. Subsequently Prospero had been making use of Caliban as a servant.  

Ariel apologizes to Prospero for having demanded his freedom. Prospero thereupon gives Areal a few more orders to carry out. Ariel is to disguise himself as a nymph to execute these orders. Prospero calls Miranda to go and meet Caliban who is their slave though he never talks to them politely. Miranda says that Caliban is a villain whom she does not even like to look at. Prospero says that they cannot do without that villain’s services for Caliban brings fuel-wood for them and lights a fire whenever they need it. Prospero calls Caliban and seeing his reluctance he reminds him also the favours which Prospero had done to him. As he says, Caliban is naturally evil and incapable of receiving any ‘print of goodness.’ It was Prospero taught him human language. Caliban replies that he had certainly learnt the human language to utter curses. Caliban curses: ‘the red plague rid you for learning me your language.’  As he says Prospero had been very kind to him early but later became cruel and went to the extent of making him a prisoner in a rock and disallowing him freely moving over the island. Prospero reminds him that had he not tried to rob the honour of Miranda, he would have still treat him thus. For this he coarsely replies his intention was to have many children with her. Prospero therefore snubs him most harshly and command to perform the tasks imposed upon. Caliban is intelligent enough to know if he fails to obey Prospero would inflict all kinds of torments upon him through the spirits over him whom Prospero has full command.

As desired by Prospero Ariel appears in the proximity of Ferdinand who thinks that he is the only survivor of all those voyaging towards Naples. Ariel stays invisible and sings sweetly making his heart grieved by the supposed deaths of his father Alonso and others. Ariel sings another song mentioning Alonso’s death by drowning. Ferdinand again feels surprised to hear a song being sung by and invisible being.

Ariel then drives Ferdinand to the cell where Prospero and his daughter had been living and Miranda happens to see him. Miranda feels delighted and thinks that he is only a spirit. Prospero assures that the stranger is a real human being escaped from the shipwreck. Miranda says that this stranger looks like a heavenly being, and that she had never seen anything so noble before. Prospero inwardly feels glad of her attraction towards Ferdinand as he wants them to fall in love.

Ferdinand too delighted to see Miranda and first thinks she is a goddess. He asks her if she is still unmarried, she replies as no. He says that he is a king; Prospero tells him that his claim seems to be a false one. He replies that his father has got drowned in the sea and he has now naturally become the king of Naples. Miranda feels sympathetic about the loss of him. To deepen the happiness of Prospero, Ferdinand proposes Miranda and says that he would make her the queen of Naples by marrying her. Prospero calls Ferdinand a traitor for having called himself the king of Naples when there is no certainty that his father has really died and threaten to put him in a prison. Ferdinand says that he would never submit to Prospero’s authority; but Prospero casts a magic spell and renders him powerless. Miranda tries to intervene and Prospero scolds her not to speak a single word on behalf of the fellow.

Ferdinand now says that he can forget all his losses including the death of his father and friends if he could see Miranda just once a day even if he is himself confined to a prison. Prospero privately praises Ariel for his successful task while Miranda tries to console Ferdinand for the harshness of her father saying that her father is a kind-hearted man though he has spoken roughly to him. On this occasion also Prospero bids Miranda not to speak on behalf of Ferdinand.

As this summary is rather long, it is published as Acts separately. This summary is found among my old notes. I could not find the original author, so credit should go to the original authors for providing the sources. If you find this post is useful share it among others. Leave a comment to share your valuable ideas with us.





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