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'The Tempest' Act 1

Summary for 'The Tempest' Act 1

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The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 1: Shipwreck!

Thunder is heard. Enter a Shipmaster and a Boatswain. The Shipmaster implores the Boatswain to stir the mariners for fear they will run aground.

Enter Alonso the King, Antonio The Duke of Milan, Gonzalo and Sebastian. The Boatswain warns the men to stay below deck. Gonzalo puts his trust in the Boatswain and leaves but the Mariners are struggling and the men return to help. Some of the Mariners have gone overboard and the storm does not abate.

When the boat seems to be sinking, Gonzalo and the other men resolve to go down with the King and prey for dry land.

The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2: A Magical Island

We are introduced to The Tempest's main character, Prospero, with his magic staff and Miranda. Miranda asks her father if he created the storm and, if so, to stop it.

She saw a ship “dashed all to pieces” and lamented the valiant lives of the no-doubt noble men within. She tells her father that if she could she would save them. Prospero assures her that no harm was done and that he has done it for her, in order that she learns about who she is and indeed who her father is.

The Backstory

Prospero asks Miranda if she remembers life before the island when she was just three years old; she recalls being attended to by many women. Prospero explains that this was because he was the Duke of Milan and a powerful man. She asks how they managed to end up on the island, suspecting foul play. Prospero explains that his brother, her uncle Antonio usurped him and cruelly sent him and Miranda away. Miranda inquires why he did not just kill them and Prospero explains that he was too loved by his people and that they would not accept Antonio as duke if he had done that.

Prospero goes on to explain that he and Miranda were put on a ship with no food or sails and sent away never to be seen again but a kind man, Gonzalo, charged with carrying out the plan, made sure that Prospero had his beloved books and clothing for which he was very grateful.

Prospero explains that since then, he has been her teacher. Prospero then hints that he would like to see his enemies again but does not fully explain about the storm as Miranda is tired and falls to sleep.

Ariel’s Plan

The spirit Ariel enters and Prospero asks him if he performed the duties asked of him. Ariel explains how he destroyed the ship with fire and thunder. He explains that the King’s son Ferdinand was the first to jump ship. Ariel explains that they are all safe as requested and that he has distributed them throughout the island – the King is on his own.

Ariel explains that some of the fleet have returned to Naples, having believed to have seen the King’s ship destroyed.

Ariel then asks if he can be granted the liberty promised to him if he performed all of his duties without grumbling. Ariel says that Prospero promised to free him after a year of service. Prospero gets angry and accuses Ariel of being ungrateful; asking if he has forgotten about what it was like before he came.

Prospero talks of the previous ruler of the island, the witch Sycorax, who had been born in Algiers but was banished with her child to this island. Ariel had been her slave and when he refused to carry out her wrong-doings she imprisoned him for a dozen years and he would scream out but no one would help him and she died and left him until Prospero arrived on the island and freed him. If he dares to speak of this again he would “rend an oak and peg thee in his knotty entrails”.

Prospero then says if Ariel does what he says he will set him free in two days. He then orders Ariel to spy on the ship wreckers.

Introducing Caliban

Prospero suggests to Miranda that they go and visit Caliban. Miranda doesn’t want to and seems afraid. Prospero explains that they need Caliban – he is useful to them – and conducts many domestic chores like wood gathering.

Prospero orders Caliban out of his cave, but Caliban replies that there is enough wood. Prospero tells him it isn’t for that and insults him: “poisonous slave!”

Eventually Caliban comes out and protests that when they first came Prospero and Miranda were nice to him; they stroked him and he loved them and he showed them the island. As soon as they knew enough, they turned on him and treated him like a slave.

Prospero agrees that they were nice to him at first, teaching him their language and letting him live with them until he attempted to violate Miranda’s honour. Caliban replies that he wanted to “people the island with Caliban’s”. Prospero orders him to get wood and he agrees acknowledging Prospero’s powerful magic.

Love

Ariel enters playing and singing but invisible to Ferdinand, who is following. Prospero and Miranda stand aside. Ferdinand can hear the music but can’t fathom the source. He believes the music reminds him of his father who he believes is drowned.

Miranda having never seen a real man is in awe of Ferdinand. Ferdinand sees Miranda and asks her if she is a maid she says that she is. They have a brief exchange and swiftly fall for one another. Prospero, seeing the lovers falling for one another, tries to intervene believing Ferdinand to be a traitor. Miranda does not yet know that Ferdinand was on the ship or indeed that he is related to the current King and defends him.

Prospero casts a spell on Ferdinand to stop him resisting his efforts to take him off. Prospero then orders Ariel to follow his commands and Miranda not to speak of Ferdinand.

Continue the story with our The Tempest Act 2 Summary

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