Act I, Scene 1 Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Tempest begins with the storm at sea that gives the play its title. Amid thunder, lightning, and high waves, the captain (referred to as the "master") endeavors to keep the ship from running around. He shouts orders to the boatswain, who in turn shouts orders to the crew to adjust the sails—in hopes of surviving the storm. The ship is carrying royal and noble passengers and their staff: Alonso, the king of Naples; Sebastian, his brother; Antonio, the duke of Milan; and Gonzalo, Alonso's councilor. They come on deck to see what is happening and argue with the boatswain over the crew's efforts.

Alonso and Antonio voice their concerns that they do not see the master, implying the crew is not trying hard enough to save the ship. Taking offense, the boatswain orders them back into their cabins, as their presence is impeding the crew. He reminds them that their authority does not apply at sea, where the "roarers" (or powerful waves) obey no king's orders. Gonzalo expresses confidence that the boatswain is unlikely to drown—because the way he treats noblemen is likely to get him hanged—and they might be safe if this is his fate. He jokes that the rope that is destined to hang him is the ship's cable that will be their lifeline.

The men eventually go below, but their cries are heard on deck. Sebastian, Antonio, and Gonzalo come back up. When the boatswain rails and asks them if they want the boat to sink, Sebastian curses him as a "bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!" The boatswain then mocks them by telling them that they should try to save the ship themselves. Antonio joins in, saying that the boatswain is the one who wants to drown, calling him "whoreson, insolent noisemaker!"

At this point, the situation turns dire. The wave-soaked mariners rush up, crying that all is lost and it is now time to pray. Gonzalo urges the others to join the king and prince below in prayer and asserts that the boatswain should be hanged. Cries are heard from other parts of the ship—cries that indicate that the ship is splitting open and cries that call out sad farewells to families. Antonio thinks it is best to sink with the king, but Sebastian wants to leave him. The scene ends with Gonzalo's fervent wish for any bit of ground, lamenting that he would rather "die a dry death."

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Act I, Scene 2