How do Gonzalo, Antonio and Sebastian  behave during the storm? What clues to their characters do you get in this scene?

lit24 | Student

In Act I Sc.1 of "The Tempest" we witness a ship caught in the storm and breaking into pieces. The lines spoken by these characters in this life threatening situation just before their ship sinks reveals their true nature and personalities. What these three people have in common is that just like any other ordinary human being they are frightened of death, more so when they have to face it by drowning in the high seas.

Gonzalo is the old councillor who sympathises with Prospero the rightful Duke of Milan.  What is striking about him is that he is very superstitious. In Shakespeare's time it was believed that the complexion of a person would reveal how that particular person would meet his end. Gonzalo looks at the face of the boatswain and intuits that his complexion reveals that he will be hanged at the gallows:

"methinks he
hath no drowning mark upon him; his complexion isperfect gallows. Stand fast, good Fate, to his
hanging: make the rope of his destiny our cable,
for our own doth little advantage. If he be not
born to be hanged, our case is miserable."

Gonzalo hopes against hope that this superstition would be true because only then all of them would be able to reach shore safely. This is also a good example of what is known as 'black humour,' because Gonzalo wants the boatswain to die by hanging so that he could escape death by drowning. Gonzalo is an old and mature person who is able to keep his equanimity by joking even in a life threatening situation. This is revealed when he describes the ship as,

"no stronger than a nutshell and as leaky as an
unstanched wench."

Gonzalo gives vent to his nervous anxiety by his use of the racy metaphor, "unstanched wench" which means a woman who is bleeding heavily during her monthly periods. Finally he goes down to pray along with the King and the Prince, revealing to us that he is also a christian believer.

On the contrary Antonio who is Prospero's brother and who has usurped his rightful position, and Sebastianwho is Alonso's brother-Alonso being the king of Naples who conspired with Antonio to usurp Prospero's kingdom-are frightened out of their wits. Even in such a critical situation the villains arrogantly order the boatswain and disturb him in his task of saving the ship. The captain of the ship has given his orders to the boatswain and he has rushed off to another area of the ship to salvage the situation, but Antonio and Sebastian mistakenly believe that the captain is shirking his duty and angrily demand that they speak to the captain.

Whereas Gonzalo's diction was colourful and racy, Antonio's is downright rude, insulting and abusive: "Hang, cur! hang, you whoreson, insolent noisemaker!" Sebastian is no different when he abuses the industrious boatswain in the following manner: "A pox o' your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!"

Read the study guide:
The Tempest

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