Detailed Scene Analysis & Summary of The Tempest by Shakespeare

Act 1, Scene 1

On board a ship caught in a violent storm are:

  • Alonso, the King of Naples
  • Ferdinand, his son
  • Sebastian, his brother
  • Gonzalo, his counsellor
  • Antonio, the Duke of Milan
  • Adrian and Francisco, two lords

The noblemen are returning to Italy after Alonso’s daughter's wedding in Tunisia. The storm threatens to sink the ship while sailors and noblemen clash over control.

What do we learn?

  • The power dynamics among the noblemen and sailors during a crisis
  • The imminent danger to the ship and its passengers

Act 1, Scene 2

Miranda witnesses the storm and expresses concern for the ship and its passengers. Prospero, her father and a sorcerer, reassures her and tells her their history:

  • Prospero was the Duke of Milan until betrayed by his brother Antonio with Alonso's help.
  • They were cast adrift but arrived on the island by divine providence.

Prospero uses magic to calm Miranda and summons Ariel, his spirit servant, who created the storm. The ship is safe, and Prospero tasks Ariel with more work, promising freedom in two days.

Prospero introduces Miranda to Caliban, his slave, who curses them for enslaving him on the island. Prospero dismisses Caliban and magically brings Ferdinand, Alonso's son, to Miranda, who instantly falls in love with him.

Things to Notice in Act 1:

  • Character revelations and past events explained through dialogue
  • Exploration of themes like betrayal, power, and magic
  • Introduction of Ferdinand as a potential lover for Miranda, contrasting with Caliban


  • Power dynamics and betrayal: "Thy false uncle" (1.2.66)
  • Magic and control: "My art is of such power" (1.2.369)
  • Love and relationships: "At the first sight / They have changed eyes" (1.2.450-451)

Act 2, Scene 1

Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, Gonzalo, Adrian, and Francisco find themselves washed up on the island after the shipwreck. Alonso is distraught over the loss of his son Ferdinand. Ariel, invisible to them, causes them to fall asleep except for Antonio and Sebastian. Antonio persuades Sebastian to betray Alonso and take the throne of Naples. As they prepare to kill Alonso and Gonzalo in their sleep, Ariel intervenes and wakes them up, thwarting the conspiracy.

What do we learn?

  • Antonio's manipulative nature and desire for power
  • Sebastian's willingness to betray his own brother for gain
  • The tension and power struggles among the nobles stranded on the island

Act 2, Scene 2

Caliban complains about Prospero's spirits tormenting him for small offenses. He encounters Trinculo, who seeks shelter from an approaching storm. Mistaking Trinculo for a spirit, Caliban hides under his cloak. Stephano, drunk and carrying wine, joins them. Caliban, intrigued by Stephano's alcohol, quickly becomes drunk. Trinculo and Stephano recognize each other and rejoice. Caliban, seeing Stephano as a god, pledges to serve him.

What do we learn?

  • Caliban's desire for freedom from Prospero and his willingness to serve a new master
  • The introduction of Stephano and Trinculo as comedic characters and potential allies for Caliban

Things to Notice in Act 2

In Scene 1, Antonio's manipulation of Sebastian echoes his betrayal of Prospero. Lines such as "My strong imagination sees a crown / Dropping upon thy head" (2.1.207-208) reveal Antonio's ambition and ruthlessness, consistent with Prospero's description of him.

In Scene 2, Caliban's eagerness to serve Stephano reflects his discontent under Prospero's rule. He hopes Stephano will help him overthrow Prospero and gain control of the island.

Key moments in Act 2 highlight the power dynamics among the nobles and Caliban's quest for freedom and a new alliance. These scenes deepen our understanding of characters' motives and relationships.

Act 3, Scene 1

Ferdinand enters, carrying logs and thinking about Miranda, praising her gentle nature compared to her father's harshness. Miranda interrupts his work, expressing concern for him and revealing Prospero's intense focus on his studies. Miranda and Ferdinand profess their love for each other and decide to marry. Prospero, observing them, comments on their happiness and leaves to continue with his plans.

What do we learn?

  • Ferdinand's deep love for Miranda and his willingness to endure hardship for her sake
  • Miranda's defiance of her father's authority in expressing her feelings for Ferdinand
  • Prospero's manipulation of their relationship as part of his larger plan

Act 3, Scene 2

Stephano, still drunk, enjoys the attention and authority Caliban grants him as his master. Trinculo mocks Caliban, calling him names, but Stephano defends him. Caliban complains about Prospero's tyranny and convinces Stephano to kill Prospero, marry Miranda, and rule the island together. They are interrupted by Ariel's magical music, which Caliban reassures them is harmless.

What do we learn?

  • Caliban's desperation to be free from Prospero's control and his willingness to plot against him
  • Stephano and Trinculo's willingness to ally with Caliban for their own gain, driven by alcohol and the promise of power

Act 3, Scene 3

Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, Adrian, and Francisco, exhausted from searching for Ferdinand, pause to rest. Sebastian and Antonio plan to kill Alonso that night. Strange music and creatures set a banquet before them, then disappear, leaving them bewildered. Ariel appears as a harpy, accusing them of betraying Prospero and causing their current misfortunes. Prospero revels in his enemies' confusion, confident in his control over them.

What do we learn?

  • The continued plotting and betrayal among Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio
  • Prospero's use of Ariel to manipulate and confront his enemies with their past actions
  • The theme of vengeance and justice as Prospero begins to confront those who wronged him

Things to Notice in Act 3

In Scene 1, Miranda's defiance of Prospero shows her strong feelings for Ferdinand, contrasting sharply with her father's control over her life.

In Scene 2, Caliban's resentment towards Prospero and hope for a better life under Stephano's rule are evident in his desperate plea for freedom.

In Scene 3, Ariel's harpy speech reflects Prospero's anger and desire for retribution against his enemies, highlighting his complex emotions and motivations.

Act 3 reveals Prospero's use of magic to manipulate events and characters, showcasing his control over the unfolding drama on the island. It raises questions about the ethics of Prospero's actions and the consequences of wielding such power over others.

Act 4, Scene 1

Prospero releases Ferdinand from his labor, acknowledging that he may have been too harsh but that Ferdinand's love for Miranda compensates for any punishment. He blesses Miranda and Ferdinand's union with a magical show performed by spirits portraying Iris, Ceres, Juno, and others. Prospero abruptly interrupts the revelry, remembering Caliban's plot against him.

He dismisses Ferdinand and Miranda, reminding them of the seriousness of their relationship. Ariel reports that Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo are intoxicated and distracted by the fine clothes in Prospero's cell. Spirits scare them away, and Prospero orders Ariel to ensure they are punished.

What do we learn?

  • Prospero's complex emotions towards Ferdinand and Miranda's relationship, balancing punishment with approval
  • Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo's ongoing plot against Prospero and their susceptibility to distraction
  • Prospero's continued control over the events on the island through Ariel's interventions

Things to Notice in Act 4

Prospero insists that Ferdinand and Miranda refrain from consummating their relationship before marriage, emphasizing the importance of chastity and honor. This reflects his desire to maintain control over their union and protect Miranda's virtue.

The masque performed by the spirits mirrors the elaborate theatrical spectacles popular in Shakespeare's time, incorporating symbolic images associated with goddesses like Ceres and Juno. These images could be visually stunning and add depth to the scene's design.

The humor provided by Stephano and Trinculo lightens the tense atmosphere of Prospero's conflict with Caliban. Moments such as their drunken antics and reactions to the spirits' intervention suggest that the play's resolution may not end in tragedy but rather in comic relief.

Key moments in Act 4 reveal the hopes and fears of each character:

  • Prospero's willingness to forgive Ferdinand and Miranda, showing his paternal concern and desire for their happiness
  • Caliban's continued resentment towards Prospero and his eagerness to overthrow him, driven by his desire for freedom and power
  • Stephano and Trinculo's comic relief and their naive attempts at power and influence on the island

Act 5, Scene 1

Prospero declares that his plans are finally coming to fruition. Ariel informs him that all the nobles are now his prisoners. Despite feeling deeply wounded by their past actions, Prospero decides to forgive them if they show remorse. He sends Ariel to release them and contemplates giving up his magic, symbolized by breaking his staff and drowning his book.

Ariel brings in the nobles, and Prospero forgives them, restoring them to their normal state. He instructs Ariel to fetch his hat and rapier to appear as he did in Milan. Prospero reveals himself to Alonso as the Duke of Milan, explaining his survival and mourning the loss of his daughter, just as Alonso mourns Ferdinand. He offers to return Alonso's dukedom and reveals Miranda and Ferdinand happily together. Alonso joyfully accepts, expressing his happiness for them.

The Master and Boatswain report that the ship miraculously appears in perfect condition. Prospero instructs Ariel to release Caliban and his companions. Alonso is surprised by Stephano and Trinculo's sorry state and dismisses them to find their belongings. Caliban repents for his actions and promises to be wiser in the future.

Prospero invites the nobles to spend the night in his cell, promising to tell them his life story before they return to Naples the next day. He asks Ariel to ensure their safe journey and then bids farewell to his magical powers, asking the audience for their applause to set him free.

What do we learn?

  • Prospero's final resolution to forgive his enemies and relinquish his magic
  • The reconciliation between Prospero and Alonso, and the joyous reunion of Miranda and Ferdinand
  • Caliban's repentance and his future intentions to seek redemption

Things to Notice in Act 5

In Prospero's soliloquy, his imagery of breaking his staff and drowning his book symbolizes his liberation from magic. The powerful imagery reflects his conflicted feelings about giving up his powers, which have defined his life.

Alonso's quick apology to Prospero and acceptance of Miranda and Ferdinand's engagement contrast with Antonio's silence. Antonio's behavior suggests lingering guilt or remorse, hinting at his complex feelings about the events of the play.

Prospero's description of Caliban as a repentant figure who promises to seek grace adds depth to their relationship. It suggests a potential for Caliban's future redemption and growth beyond his previous actions.

Act 5 is crucial as it resolves the conflicts and brings closure to the characters' arcs. Consider each character's response to Prospero's orchestrated reconciliation and anticipate how their experiences on the island might influence their lives upon returning to Naples.

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