Discuss two acts of deception in William Shakespeare's play The Tempest.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Magic, illusions, mistaken identities, ghosts, an imaginary banquet, and all manner of deceptions are found in Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Gonzalo put it succinctly towards the end of the play:

GONZALO: All torment, trouble, wonder, and amazement
Inhabits here. (5.1.112–113)

There are two major deceptions in the play. The first is that the play itself begins with a deception. A ship is caught in a violent storm at sea. The King of Naples and the sailors on the ship fear for their lives but somehow manage to make their way to shore on an unknown island. Prospero's daughter, Miranda, watches the storm from shore and sees the ship "Dashed all to pieces!" (1.2.8) She is distraught about the "The poor souls, the perished." (1.2.9)

Prospero tells Miranda not to be concerned, because he caused the storm with his magical powers and explains that everything she saw was an illusion:

PROSPERO: The direful spectacle of the wreck, which touched
The very virtue of compassion in thee,
I have with such provision in mine art
So safely ordered that there is no soul—
No, not so much perdition as an hair
Betid to any creature in the vessel
Which thou heard'st cry, which though saw'st sink. (1.2.31-37)

We learn in act 5 that the men were never in any danger from the raging tempest. The ship was safe and sound, hidden away, and the Master and Boatswain have been sleeping:

PROSPERO: To the King's ship, invisible as thou art!
There shalt thou find the mariners asleep
Under the hatches. The Master and the Boatswain
Being awake, enforce them to this place (5.1.105–108)

BOATSWAIN: . . . We were awaked; straightaway at liberty;
Where we, in all her trim, freshly beheld
Our royal, good and gallant ship, our Master. (5.1.273–275)

The second major deception is that Prospero himself is a deception. None of the men on the ship, including Prospero's brother, know who he is. Prospero leads them to believe that he was a magician and the ruler of the island—nothing more.

It's not until the beginning of act 5 when Prospero vows to surrender his magic powers that he removes his magician's robes and reveals to the King, his brother, and the other shipwrecked men who he really is:

PROSPERO: Behold, sir king,
The wronged Duke of Milan (5.1.115–116)

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are many instances of deception in William Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, and much of the play's theme revolves around restoration of the rightful order via gradual revelation of truth and reconciliation of opposing factions and individuals.

First deception: Ariel deceives the young prince Ferdinand, luring him further onto the island, and telling him that his father is dead.

Second: Ariel magically causes Alonso and Gonzalo to fall into a deep slumber. Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill Alonso and Gonzalo, but Ariel causes Gonzalo to wake up. Antonio and Sebastian deceive the King as to their intentions by claiming that they actually were defending him and themselves from wild animals.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial