The Tempest opens with a storm at sea. Travelling back from Tunis with Alonso, King of Naples, and Antonio who had previously usurped his brother Prospero's role as Duke of Milan, Gonzalo ('an honest old councillor') attempts to engage the Boatswain in an urgent debate about their prospects of survival:
Boatswain: Keep your cabins! You do assist the storm.
Gonzalo: Nay, good, be patient.
Boatswain: When the sea is. Hence! What cares these
roarers for the name of king? To cabin! Silence!
Trouble us not.
Gonzalo: Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard.
Boatswain: None that I more love than myself. You are
a councillor. If you can command these elements to
silence, and work the peace of the present, we will not
hand a rope more. Use your authority. If you cannot,
give thanks you have lived so long… (1.1.14-25)
This immediately brings into question the nature of authority. The King and his court cannot control the storm. Unknown to the crew, however, Prospero does control it.
His daughter Miranda watches from the shore, and she has her suspicions:
Miranda: If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky it seems would pour down stinking pitch,
But that the sea, mounting to th'welkin's cheek,
Dashes the fire out. O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer! A brave vessel,
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her,
Dashed all to pieces. O, the cry did knock
Against my very heart! Poor souls, they perished.
Had I been any god of power, I would
Have sunk the sea within the earth, or ere
It should the good ship so have swallowed and
The fraughting souls within her.
Prospero: Be collected.
No more amazement. Tell your piteous heart
There's no harm done.
Miranda: O, woe the day!
Prospero: No harm.
I have done nothing but in care of thee,
Of thee, my dear one, thee my daughter, who
Art ignorant of what thou art, naught knowing
Of whence I am, nor that I am more better
Than Prospero, master of a full poor cell,
And thy no greater father. (1.2.1-21)
This passage introduces Miranda as a sensitive and sympathetic figure, and also shows a lack of communication between father and daughter. Miranda finds her suspicions confirmed, and cries out; Prospero tries to calm her (note the repetitions 'of thee'). He then has to embark on an explanation of the 'back-plot'. His explanation is fairly tortuous, and he frequently checks to see if Miranda is following him. He then charms her to sleep, and gets a report on the storm from his spirit Ariel. Ariel wants freedom.
Prospero: The time 'twixt six and now
Must by us both be spent most preciously.
Ariel: Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me...
(The entire section is 1254 words.)
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Essential Passage by Character: Caliban
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes
With words that made them known. But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures
Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock,
Who hadst deserved more than a prison.
You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!
Causing the storm to take advantage of the fate that has brought within his grasp, Prospero explains his past history to his daughter Miranda. She remembers little, since she was only three when their banishment occurred. Since that time, the only beings she has seen are her father, spirits such as Ariel, and the half-breed monster, Caliban, who functions as their slave. Causing Miranda to fall asleep, Prospero summons Ariel to determine the locations of the passengers of the ship. Assured by the spirit that all is well and all prisoners are accounted for and separated, Prospero commands him to bring Ferdinand to the cave where they humans are living.
Awakening Miranda, Prospero continues his tale. He then summons the slave-monster Caliban, who arrives sullenly. Caliban reminds his master that this island home had belonged to him before the arrival of Prospero and Miranda. Caliban had been living there alone, after the death of his mother, the witch Sycorax. Less than human and living like an animal, Caliban had been tamed and “civilized” by Prospero and Miranda.
Prospero castigates Caliban as being ungrateful for the kindness shown to him. Prospero says that he has treated Caliban with only humane care, in return for which Caliban tried to rape Miranda.
Miranda herself enters the conversation, stating that Caliban has resisted any attempt to show him kindness. He has rejected the efforts of the humans to turn him toward goodness. Miranda herself had taught him how to speak. At their arrival on the island, Prospero and Miranda found Caliban gibbering, without any recognizable understanding of language. Through patience and kindness, Miranda gave him words. But despite his now sentient speech, Caliban’s sub-human nature made him impossible to live with. Miranda...
(The entire section is 1138 words.)
Essential Passage by Character: Prospero
My brother and thy uncle, called Antonio—
I pray thee mark me, that a brother should
Be so perfidious—he whom next thyself
Of all the world I loved, and to him put
The manage of my state; as at that time
Through all the signories it was the first,
And Prospero the prime duke, being so reputed
In dignity, and for the liberal arts
Without a parallel; those being all my study,
The government I cast upon my brother,
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies. Thy false uncle—
Dost thou attend me?
Sir, most heedfully.
Being once perfected how to grant suits,
How to deny them, who t'advance and who
To trash for over-topping, new created
The creatures that were mine, I say, or changed ’em,
Or else new formed ’em; having both the key
Of officer and office, set all hearts i'th’ state
To what tune pleased his ear, that now he was
The ivy which had hid my princely trunk,
And sucked my verdure out on't. Thou attend'st not!
O good sir, I do.
I pray thee mark me.
I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated
To closeness and the bettering of my mind
With that which, but by being so retired,
O'er prized all popular rate, in my false brother
Awakened an evil nature; and my trust,
Like a good parent, did beget of him
A falsehood, in its contrary as great
As my trust was, which had indeed no limit,
A confidence sans bound. He being thus lorded,
Not only with what my revenue yielded,
But what my power might else exact, like one
Who having into truth, by telling of it,
Made such a sinner of his memory
To credit his own lie, he did believe
He was indeed the duke; out o'th’ substitution,
And executing the outward face of royalty
With all prerogative; hence his ambition growing—
Dost thou hear?
Your tale, sir, would cure deafness.
To have no screen between this part he played
And him he played it for; he needs will be
Absolute Milan. Me, poor man, my library
Was dukedom large enough: of temporal royalties
He thinks me now incapable; confederates—
So dry he was for sway—with the King of Naples
To give him annual tribute, do him homage,
Subject his coronet to his crown, and bend
The dukedom, yet unbowed alas, poor Milan!—
To most ignoble stooping.
Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 81-134
As Prospero observes the shipwreck of his enemies, his daughter Miranda requests that he at last tell her the history of their past, including their life before being stranded on this island. Many times before she has requested her father to relate to her the story, but he has always balked, stating that there will come a time in which he will be open and honest with her. Now that his brother, along with the other men who were so instrumental in his betrayal and exile from Milan, Prospero concludes that the time is right.
Prospero tells Miranda that, as the Duke...
(The entire section is 1450 words.)
Essential Passage by Theme: Humanity
[to Miranda] The fringèd curtains of thine eye advance
And say what thou seest yond.
What is't? A spirit?
Lord, how it looks about! Believe me, sir,
It carries a brave form. But ’tis a spirit.
No, wench, it eats and sleeps, and hath such senses
As we have, such. This gallant which thou seest
Was in the wreck, and but he's something stained
With grief, that's beauty's canker, thou mightest call him
A goodly person. He hath lost his fellows,
And strays about to find ’em
I might call...
(The entire section is 1272 words.)