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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1254

The Tempest opens with a storm at sea. Travelling back from Tunis with Alonso, King of Naples, and Antonio who had previously usurped his brother Prospero's role as Duke of Milan, Gonzalo ('an honest old councillor') attempts to engage the Boatswain in an urgent debate about their prospects of survival:

Boatswain: Keep your cabins! You do assist the storm. Gonzalo: Nay, good, be patient. Boatswain: When the sea is. Hence! What cares these roarers for the name of king? To cabin! Silence! Trouble us not. Gonzalo: Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard. Boatswain: None that I more love than myself. You are a councillor. If you can command these elements to silence, and work the peace of the present, we will not hand a rope more. Use your authority. If you cannot, give thanks you have lived so long… (1.1.14-25)

This immediately brings into question the nature of authority. The King and his court cannot control the storm. Unknown to the crew, however, Prospero does control it. His daughter Miranda watches from the shore, and she has her suspicions:

Miranda: If by your art, my dearest father, you have Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them. The sky it seems would pour down stinking pitch, But that the sea, mounting to th'welkin's cheek, Dashes the fire out. O, I have suffered With those that I saw suffer! A brave vessel, Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her, Dashed all to pieces. O, the cry did knock Against my very heart! Poor souls, they perished. Had I been any god of power, I would Have sunk the sea within the earth, or ere It should the good ship so have swallowed and The fraughting souls within her. Prospero: Be collected. No more amazement. Tell your piteous heart There's no harm done. Miranda: O, woe the day! Prospero: No harm. I have done nothing but in care of thee, Of thee, my dear one, thee my daughter, who Art ignorant of what thou art, naught knowing Of whence I am, nor that I am more better Than Prospero, master of a full poor cell, And thy no greater father. (1.2.1-21)

This passage introduces Miranda as a sensitive and sympathetic figure, and also shows a lack of communication between father and daughter. Miranda finds her suspicions confirmed, and cries out; Prospero tries to calm her (note the repetitions 'of thee'). He then has to embark on an explanation of the 'back-plot'. His explanation is fairly tortuous, and he frequently checks to see if Miranda is following him. He then charms her to sleep, and gets a report on the storm from his spirit Ariel. Ariel wants freedom.

Prospero: The time 'twixt six and now Must by us both be spent most preciously. Ariel: Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains, Let me remember thee what thou hast promised, Which is not yet performed me. Prospero: How now? Moody? What is't thou can demand? Ariel: My liberty. Prospero: Before the time be out? No more. (1.2.240-246)

Prospero bullies Ariel (who has created the storm) into renewed submission.

Prospero: If thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak, And peg thee in his knotty entrails, till Thou hast howled away twelve winters. Ariel: Pardon, master. I will be correspondent to command, And do my spriting gently. Prospero: Do so, and after two days I will discharge thee. Ariel: That's my noble master! What shall I do? Say what! What shall I do? (1.2.294-300)

This is not the end of Prospero's difficulties, however. After Miranda and Ariel have...

(This entire section contains 1254 words.)

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been controlled, we are introduced to the recalcitrant Caliban, son of Sycorax.

Caliban: I must eat my dinner. This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother, Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first Thou strok'st me, and made much of me; would'st give me Water with berries in't; and teach me how To name the bigger light, and how the less, That burn by day and night: and then I loved thee And show'd thee all the qualities o'th'isle, The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile: Curs'd be that I did so! All the charms Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you! For I am all the subjects that you have, Which first was mine own King: and here you sty me In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me The rest o'th'island. (1.2.332-346)

Caliban was himself usurped, by Prospero. He is not grateful.

Caliban: You taught me language; and my profit on't Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you For learning me your language! (1.2.365-367)

When Miranda first sees Ferdinand (son of Alonso, King of Naples) she is impressed.

Miranda: I might call him A thing divine, for nothing natural I ever saw so noble. (1.2.418-420) Miranda: There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple. If the ill spirit have so fair a house Good things will strive to dwell with't. (1.2.458-460)

This shows the Neo-Platonic notion that beauty equals virtue. Caliban repeats his error when he meets the servants Stephano and Trinculo, enslaving himself, and hoping they will overthrow Prospero. In Act 3 he gives this lovely speech.

Caliban: Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs that give delight, and hurt not Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices, That, if I had then wak'd after long sleep, Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open, and show riches Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak'd, I cried to dream again. (3.2.133-141)

When Caliban's futile rebellion interrupts the betrothal Masque for Ferdinand and Miranda, Prospero relates his theatrical illusion (within the play) to the larger world:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a wrack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vexed; Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled. (4.1.148-159)

Prospero shows signs of exhaustion here. He becomes unnecessarily angry about Caliban's plot, and not until Act 5, with everyone under his control, does he relax.

Ariel: if you now beheld them your affections Would become tender. Prospero: Dost thou think so, spirit? Ariel: Mine would, sir, were I human. Prospero: And mine shall. (5.1.17-20)

He is persuaded to sympathy by a spirit who has no human feelings.

Prospero: Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury Do I take part. The rarer action is In virtue than in vengeance. (5.1.26-28) He then bids farewell to magic: Prospero: graves at my command Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth By my so potent art. But this rough magic I here abjure, (5.1.48-51)

Ferdinand gives his summation of events on discovering his father is alive.

Ferdinand: Though the seas threaten, they are merciful; I have curs'd them without cause. (5.1.178-179)

Miranda, seeing the Court gathered, is impressed. Her father is not so sure.

Miranda: O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't. Prospero: 'Tis new to thee. (5.1.181-184)


Character and Theme Quotes