Here is a brief plot summary of The Tempest:

Alonso, the king of Naples, is returning from his daughter’s wedding in Tunis. He is accompanied by his son, Ferdinand, his brother, Sebastain, and Antonio, the Duke of Milan. An old Milanese courtier, Gonzalo, is also on board. The ship is wrecked in a storm and all the passengers and crew are thrown into the furious sea.

Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, and his fifteen year-old daughter, Miranda, are watching the shipwreck from an island. He tells her, for the first time, how they came to be on the island. Twelve years before, when he had been Duke of Milan, his brother Antonio, had usurped him, but with Gonzalo’s help he had escaped in a small boat with his baby daughter, Miranda, and his library of books about magic. They had ended up on the island and Prospero had turned the only inhabitant, Caliban, a deformed and savage creature, into his slave. There are also spirits on the island. One of them, Ariel, had been imprisoned in a tree trunk by Caliban’s mother, the witch, Sycorax, who had then died. Prospero used his magic abilities to rescue him and he made the spirit swear to serve him.

The ship’s passengers are cast up on the island unharmed, and even their clothes are not wet or damaged. Alonso believes his son to be dead but Ferdinand has landed on another part of the island. He encounters Miranda and they fall in love at first sight. He is the first man, apart from her father and Caliban that she has ever seen. Prospero puts Ferdinand to work manually, controlling all his movements with magic. Ariel pesters Prospero for his freedom and Prospero promises it once he has done some things for him, regarding the newcomers.

Ariel leads the party towards Prospero’s cell. During this journey Antonio and Sebastian plan to kill Alonso so that Sebastian can be king. Two other members of the party, Trinculo, the court jester, and Stephano, a boisterous butler, are also wandering about on the island. Caliban recruits them to help him overthrow Prospero. They all get drunk then set off for Prospero’s cell. Ariel reports the plot to Prospero.

Prospero has released Ferdinand and given his blessing to the marriage of the two young people. When the three would-be usurpers arrive at his cell they are distracted by some brightly coloured clothes that have been hung out for them, then they are chased away by a band of spirits who have taken on the form of dogs.

Ariel brings the party to the cell. Prospero renounces his magic and reveals himself. He forgives his brother and prepares to return to Milan to resume his dukedom. Miranda and Ferdinand are betrothed. Sailors arrive and announce that the ship hasn’t been wrecked after all, and is safely anchored off the island. Ariel is set free. Caliban and the drunken servants are also forgiven. There is a final celebration of their reunion.

 

See The Tempest translated to modern English >>

See summaries of Shakespeare’s other plays >>

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