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Act III, Scene 3 Summary

Alonso and his men stumble across an unspecified part of the island. Alonso is now thoroughly convinced that Ferdinand drowned in the storm.

Gonzalo, who is elderly, stops to rub his legs and claims he can go no further. As the weary men rest, Antonio and Sebastian quietly conspire to carry out their plot to murder the king. They agree that they will slay Alonso during the night, taking advantage of the exhaustion of their companions.

The scheming noblemen's conversation is interrupted by the sound of "solemn and strange music." This is revealed to be Prospero's doing; the magician floats invisibly above the noblemen and orchestrates an elaborate vision of a magical banquet—attended by spirits who invite the men to sit and eat their fill. As the noblemen debate over whether or not to devour the magical food, Prospero interjects bitter asides (unbeknownst to the other men) about Alonso's and Antonio's devilish characters.

After some deliberation, Alonso decides that he has nothing to lose and tries to eat the food. In a flash of lightning and thunder, the spectral feast vanishes and is replaced by Ariel in the monstrous form of a harpy. The harpy lambasts Alonso and Antonio at length and claims that "Destiny" has brought them to this uninhabited island as a punishment for their past sins. Ariel, in harpy form, reminds the men of how they usurped Prospero as the duke of Milan.

When the vision vanishes in smoke and peals of thunder, the stunned noblemen are left pondering their past deeds. Prospero, still unseen by the nobles below, commends Ariel's performance as the harpy and rejoices that the magical performance went exactly as planned.

As the scene closes, Alonso seems genuinely moved by the vision of the harpy and exits to wander the island alone, contemplating his punishment. The plotting Sebastian and Antonio, however, state that they will find the source of these visions and fight them, and they also exit.

The wise Gonzalo then sends men to follow Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio, commanding them to prevent the trio from doing anything rash after witnessing the distressing vision.