The Tempest Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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In act 1, scene 1 of The Tempest, why does Sebastian call the Boatswain an "incharitable dog"?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the opening scene of the play, the men on the ship, which include the Boatswain, sailors, and the royal party, are caught in a violent tempest that threatens everyone aboard. As the Boatswain attempts to organize his men and give them necessary orders in hopes of saving the ship, Alonso, Antonio, Gonzalo, and Sebastian proceed to interrupt his urgent duties by asking him trivial questions. The frustrated Boatswain responds by telling them to get below deck immediately and stop getting in the way of things.

When the Boatswain sees Sebastian, he is completely fed up with the annoying royal party and sarcastically asks if they should all give up and drown. As a member of the royal party, Sebastian is offended by the Boatswain's rude behavior and insolent tone. Sebastian responds by calling the Boatswain an "incharitable dog!" while Antonio proceeds to label him a "whoreson insolent noisemaker!" Essentially, Sebastian calls the Boatswain an "incharitable dog!" because he is offended by the insolent tone and aggressive demeanor of the impatient, frustrated Boatswain.

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Jason Lulos eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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At the beginning of the play, Act 1, Scene 1, the Master, the Boatswain, and the mariners are doing their best to steer the ship through the storm. Alonso and Antonio ask the Boatswain where the Master is. The Boatswain tells them to get back to their cabins. They are not sailors and they are not helping, so at this point they are only interfering with the crew's work. The Boatswain tells Antonio, "Keep your cabins; you do assist the storm." They are only making his and the crew's jobs more difficult. Then he criticizes Gonzalo, saying that he can take over the duties of steering the ship if his authority as a king's councilor gives him the power to control the weather: 

You are a councillor; 

If you can command these elements to silence and work

peace of the present, we will not hand a rope more. (I.i.18-20) 

Sebastian, Gonzalo, and Antonio return. The Boatswain is once again furious because they are just getting in the way. Sebastian, the brother of the king of Naples (Alonso), can not believe that a mere sailor would speak so defiantly to members and councilors of the royal family. This is why he calls the Boatswain an "incharitable cur." Basically, the Boatswain is trying to get things done and doesn't have time to be humble and obliging to the king and his men. 

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