The Tempest – the Plot
They took away his lands, but they could not take away his power.
Now fate and sorcery will conspire to maroon them in his domain.
"The Tempest": It's an ill wind that blows...
The sorcerer Prospero (rightful Duke of Milan) and his daughter, Miranda, have been
stranded for twelve years on an island, after Prospero's jealous brother Antonio—
helped by Alonso, the King of Naples—deposed him and set him adrift with the three-
year-old Miranda. Possessed of magic powers due to his great learning and prodigious
library, Prospero is reluctantly served by a sprite, Ariel, whom he had rescued from
imprisonment in a tree. Ariel was trapped therein by the African witch Sycorax, who
had been exiled to the island years before and died prior to Prospero's arrival.
Prospero maintains Ariel's loyalty by repeatedly promising to release the "airy spirit"
from servitude, but continually defers that promise to a future date, namely at the end
of the play. The witch's son Caliban, a deformed monster and the only non-spiritual
inhabitant before the arrival of Prospero, was initially adopted and raised by the
Milanese sorcerer. He taught Prospero how to survive on the island, while Prospero
and Miranda taught Caliban religion and their own language.
Following Caliban's attempted rape of Miranda, he had been compelled by Prospero
to serve as the sorcerer's slave, carrying wood and gathering pig nuts. In slavery
Caliban has come to view Prospero as an usurper, and grown to resent both the magus
and his daughter for what he believed to be their betrayal of his trust; Prospero and
Miranda in turn view Caliban with contempt and disgust.
The play opens as Prospero, having divined that his brother, Antonio, is on a ship
passing close by the island (having returned from the nuptials of Alonso's daughter
Claribel with the King of Tunis), has raised a storm (the tempest of the title) which
causes the ship to run aground. Also on the ship are Antonio's friend and fellow
conspirator, King Alonso, Alonso's brother Sebastian, Alonso's royal advisor
Gonzalo, and Alonso's son, Ferdinand. Prospero, by his spells, contrives to separate
the survivors of the wreck into several groups and Alonso and Ferdinand are
separated, and believe one another dead.
Three plots then alternate through the play:
In one, Caliban falls in with Stephano and Trinculo, two drunken crew members,
whom he believes to have come from the moon, and drunkenly attempts to raise a
rebellion against Prospero (which ultimately fails).
In another, Prospero works to establish a romantic relationship between Ferdinand
and Miranda; the two fall immediately in love, but Prospero worries that "too light
winning [may] make the prize light", and so compels Ferdinand to become his servant
so that his affection for Miranda will be confirmed. He also decides that after his plan
to exact vengeance on his betrayers has come to fruition, he will break and bury his
staff, and "drown" his book of magic.
In the third subplot, Antonio and Sebastian conspire to kill Alonso and his advisor
Gonzalo, so that Sebastian can become King. They are thwarted by Ariel, at
Prospero's command. Ariel appears to the three "men of sin" as a harpy, reprimanding
them for their betrayal of Prospero. Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio are deeply
affected while Gonzalo is unruffled. Prospero manipulates the course of his enemies'
path through the island, drawing them closer and closer to him.
In the conclusion, all the main characters are brought together before Prospero, who
forgives Alonso (neglecting to mention his brother's betrayal of him or Sebastian's
attempted betrayal of Alonso) and finally uses his magic to ensure that everyone
returns to Italy.
The play draws heavily from the tradition of the Romance, which featured a fictitious
narrative set far away from ordinary life. Romances were typically based around
themes such as the supernatural, wandering, exploration and discovery. Romances
were often set in coastal regions, and typically featured exotic, fantastical locations;
they featured themes of transgression and redemption, loss and retrieval, exile and
The overall form of the play is modelled heavily on traditional Italian commedia
dell'arte performances, which sometimes featured a magus and his daughter, their
supernatural attendants, and a number of rustics. The commedia often featured a
clown-figure known as "Arlecchino" (or his predecessor, "Zanni") and his partner
"Brighella," who bear a striking resemblance to Stephano and Trinculo; a lecherous
Napolese hunch-back named "Pulcinella," who corresponds to Caliban; and the clever
and beautiful "Isabella," whose wealthy and manipulative father, "Pantalone,"
constantly seeks a suitor for her, thus mirroring the relationship between Miranda and