The Tempest abbreviated

The play opens with a serious storm quickly gaining strength near a remote island in the Mediterranean Sea. The level of fear also quickly gains strength for those on board a sailing ship caught up in the terrible storm.  As the weather conditions deteriorate, the Boatswain yells at the men on board to get below, which causes a man named Gonzalo to respond “remember whom thou hast aboard,” causing the Boatswain to shout back “out of our way, I say.” 

When Gonzalo told the Boatswain “remember whom thou hast aboard” he was referring to Alonso, the king of Naples, the king’s brother (Sebastian) and the king’s son (Ferdinand). Gonzalo is listed as Alonso’s councillor.  Also on board was the duke of Milan, a man named Antonio.  As Sebastian, Antonio and Gonzalo come up from below, the Boatswain cries “Yet again? What do you here? Have you a mind to sink?”  Antonio shouts back “Hang, cur, hang. We are less afraid to be drowned than thou art.”  As the ship sinks a mariner cries “All lost! To prayers, to prayers!”  Inside the ship a voice cries “Mercy on us!  Farewell, my wife and children! We split, we split!”  Gonzalo rather calmly notes that “I would rather die a dry death.”

On the near-by island, at the time the storm is pounding the ship, Prospero and his daughter Miranda are talking when she says “If by your art you have put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.”  Prospero is quite the magician; to say he’s uniquely talented doesn’t quite say it, able as he is to make oceans roar and birds speak.  He tells her “Be collected. No more amazement. No harm. Wipe thou thine eyes, daughter.” (History, Act 1, Scene 2) Through a history lesson for us and his fifteen year old daughter, Prospero lets us all know of events that led to this moment, from the time he was duke of Milan to the present.  He and his daughter for some time have been consigned to this remote island, a place, however, where he gets to freely practice his magic tricks, for what that’s worth. (Resentment, Act 1, Scene 2.1) (Resentment, Act 1, Scene 2.2) (Father to Daughter, Act 1, Scene 2) He has Miranda fall asleep, using the opportunity to have Ariel (his spirit-servant) report to him.  We learn that all on-board the sailing ship have landed on the island and are fine, but that Ferdinand, the prince of Naples, has been separated from the others.  Prospero praises Ariel for his good work. 

We also learn that a woman named Sycorax, purported to be a witch, was banished from Algiers years earlier to this island; exiled along with her son Caliban and Ariel, who was then her spirit-servant.  Referring to Caliban, Prospero says that with Sycorax’s death the island “was not honored with a human shape.”  Prospero then dismisses Ariel, asking him to “disguise himself as a sea nymph.”  Caliban then enters to give us a history of his relationship with Prospero and Miranda. (Resentment, Act 1, Scene 2.3)

Having, as we say, survived the shipwreck and landed on the island, Alonso and his entourage appear on stage.  Gonzalo, a young man who had been loyal to Prospero when years ago they both were in Milan, offers Alonso a very upbeat assessment of their situation; Sebastian being the more skeptical saying “He receives comfort like cold porridge.” (Confidence, Act 2, Scene 1) Alonso says to Gonzalo “Prithee, no more,” fearing his son was lost in the shipwreck, and as well despondent over the thought that he’ll never again see his daughter, she now being a queen, having just married the King of Tunis.  Alonso and his followers had attended his daughter’s wedding in Africa, returning to Italy when their trip home was interrupted with this shipwreck. 

At this point, an invisible-to-the-men Ariel enters the scene and sings to Alonso and some of his associates, most of them falling asleep.  Antonio convinces Sebastian (the two of them not having fallen asleep) that they should use this opportunity to kill the sleeping Alonzo and Gonzalo, which would leave Sebastian, the king’s brother, as heir to the throne of Naples, now that Alonso’s son, the first in line heir, seems to have been lost in the storm, and his daughter, now a queen in Africa.  Sebastian buys into Antonio’s plan. (Ruthlessness, Act 2, Scene 1) Antonio had “supplanted” Prospero, his brother, as duke of Milan in the coup some twelve years earlier.  But Ariel arrives just in time to awaken Gonzalo and Alonso, thwarting Antonio’s dastardly plan. 

Ariel then leads the very-much-alive-but-separated-from-the-others Ferdinand to Miranda, the two young people immediately falling for each other. (Love, Act 3, Scene 1.1) Witnessing their meeting from afar, a happy Prospero says “At the first sight they have changed eyes. Delicate Ariel, I’ll set thee free for this.” With class and style, Ferdinand charms Miranda.  With a master plan in mind, Prospero tells Ferdinand that he will be chained and must follow his instructions, while Miranda, doing her best to defend her father yet trying to protect Ferdinand, says “My father’s of a better nature, sir, then he appears by speech.” 

Separately, Trinculo and Stephano (Alonso’s servant and butler), also separated from the others at the time of the shipwreck, run into each other by happenstance, believing they are the sole survivors of the shipwreck.  They meet Caliban under unusual circumstances, Caliban willingly becoming Stephano’s servant, Stephano plying him with wine, Stephano having made it to shore “upon a barrel of sack.”  Trinculo becomes the odd-man-out, not having wine to gain Caliban’s favor. Caliban suggests Stephano “knock a hole in Prospero’s head” and tells him of Prospero’s beautiful daughter, Miranda.  Stephano responds, “Monster, I will kill this man. His daughter and I will be king and queen, and Trinculo and thyself shall be viceroys.”  They exit to visit the supposedly sleeping Prospero.  However, ever alert Ariel, having overheard them, says aside “This will I tell my master.”    

Prospero requires Ferdinand to “remove some thousands of logs upon a sore injunction.” Miranda is upset with his hard labor; he all along telling her how much he cares for her and that “for your sake am I this patient log-man.” (Love, Act 3, Scene 1.2) She eventually says “I am your wife if you will marry me.” He accepts her offer saying “Here’s my hand.”

Meanwhile shipwrecked Alonso and his associates find themselves practically starved and certainly exhausted.  But Ariel and other spirits, Ariel now transformed into a Harpy, a talking bird with a human head, the spirits being ones never to miss an opportunity, prepare a banquet table with appropriate food and drinks before the worn-out and famished men.  But just as Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio enthusiastically sit down to the table, the Harpy jumps onto the table and causes the food and drink to vanish. (Threat, Act 3, Scene 3) He proceeds to scare the daylights out of the men, saying “You are three men of sin” and “remember that you three from Milan did supplant good Prospero, exposed unto the sea, for which foul deed, the powers have incensed the seas and shores against your peace.”  Gonzalo enters saying to Alonso as the Harpy vanishes “Why stand you in this strange stare?”   From a distance Prospero tells us “My high charms work. They now are in my power; and in these fits I leave them while I visit young Ferdinand, whom they suppose is drowned, and his and mine loved darling.”

As he apologizes to Ferdinand for the harsh treatment he’s imposed on him; imposed as a test of character, Prospero welcomes him into his narrow family saying “She is thine own.”  To “bestow my magic powers” Prospero instructs Ariel to have his spirits put on a show for Ferdinand.  But Prospero quickly interrupts the show, saying “I had forgot that foul conspiracy of the beast Caliban and his confederates against my life.”  He then offers Ferdinand (and us) some of Shakespeare’s most interesting thoughts on mortality, this play purported to be Shakespeare’s last. (Father to Son, Act 4, Scene 1) As Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo try to sneak up on Prospero, Prospero scatters them with the frightening howls of hounds, as “spirits in the shape of dogs” chase them away, Prospero having, as we’ve seen, quite the inventory of magic tricks. 

Ariel reports to Prospero, telling him “All prisoners cannot budge till your release.”  Prospero responds “Go, release them, Ariel.  My charms I’ll break.”  Prospero is present the moment his spell over Alonso and his followers ends.  He and Alonso embrace, each apologizing to the other for past actions.  Alonso bemoans the apparent loss of his son Ferdinand; Prospero wryly saying “I have lost my daughter.”  He quickly welcomes Alonso into his home where Ferdinand and Miranda are playing chess.  A jubilant Alonso says “Is she the goddess that hath severed us and brought us thus together?”  (Honor, Act 5, Scene 1)

Ariel, having been so instructed, returns with the ship’s Master and Boatswain in tow, both having remained with the ship.  The Boatswain reports to an astonished Alonso and the others that the ship is “seaworthy and bravely rigged.”  As Prospero praises Ariel, Alonso says “these are not natural events.  They strengthen from strange to stranger.” With Prospero and the shipwrecked men together in his home, Prospero tells them “of my time on this isle” and how he hopes to join them on their voyage to Naples, hoping to return to “my Milan” and “see the nuptial of these our dear-beloved solemnized.” Prospero grants Ariel his freedom. (Chivalry, Act 5, Scene 1)

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