How does Shakespeare create dramatic tension in Act One, Scene One of The Tempest?

Expert Answers
poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Act One, Scene One of Shakespeare's The Tempest opens with the greatest spectacle one could create on the page or stage: that of an enormous storm which puts all the lives of the characters aboard the ship at immediate stake.

Shakespeare methodically paces this tension in order to allow it to build. At the beginning of this scene, the master of the ship is calling for the mariners to "fall to't, barely, / or we run ourselves aground..." There's still hope here that the ship might make it through the storm, and the crew rushes about, with the boatswain screaming orders ("Down with the topmast," "Lay her a-hold, a-hold," etc.) in between the frantic talk of the noblemen on board.

As the scene progresses, the noblemen are ordered to get out of the way and go below deck, but they are there only briefly before crew members begin to descend with them, screaming, "All lost! to prayers, to prayers! all lost!" The ruckus escalates, and the noblemen realize that they are about to die at sea, with the last moment of the scene (and the culminating point of dramatic tension) containing "[a] confused noise within" as the doomed ship sinks to its grave. 

renelane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The storm at sea, with the vivid descriptions of lightning and thunder, combined with the shouts and orders of the ship's officers create the tension in this first act.