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 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...
(The entire section is 1,254 words.)