In his play The Tempest, why did William Shakespeare begin Scene 1 with a storm?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare’s The Tempest is the story of Prospero, the Duke of Milan whose position was usurped by his brother Antonio.  Living in exile on an isolated island with this daughter, Miranda, Prospero utilizes the magical powers he has acquired for his and Miranda’s benefit and to scheme against Antonio.  Having taken control of the island and all its inhabitants, including Caliban, a monster born of the witch Sycorax, Prospero seeks revenge against Antonio.  Toward this end, he conjures a storm that delivers Antonio and his ally, King Alonso, to the island so that Prospero can carry out his plans for his and Miranda’s redemption.

Shakespeare begins his play with a storm – Act I, Scene 1:  “On a ship at sea: a tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard” – in which is caught Antonio’s ship.  The crew struggles mightily to control the vessel, but all is for naught as the ship is doomed.  The scene ends with Gonzalo praying for land:

“Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, any thing.  The wills above be done! But I would fain die a dry death.”

Scene II then opens with Prospero and Miranda discussing the storm that the former has created through his sorcery.  The title The Tempest serves multiple purposes for Shakespeare.  It refers to the storms at sea the Prospero creates, and to the political and emotional blows that the play’s characters rain down upon each other.  The play opens with a storm, however, because Prospero’s ability to conjure up such “a tempest” is at the center of his, and the play’s focus on the role of sorcery in the former duke’s plans to regain his position and see to Miranda’s proper future.  The storm is necessary to Shakespeare’s plot, as it is used to place Antonio, King Alonso, Gonzolo, and the other characters on Prospero’s island.  The storm’s meaning becomes clearer as the story progresses, but as a plot devise to place all the characters in a central location, it serves its purpose well.  

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The Tempest

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