Summary of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest

The Tempest is the play used by Shakespeare to convey the importance of happiness in life and the best way to achieve it is not by taking revenge but by granting forgiveness to your enemies.

Short Summary

The Tempest contains one main plot and three sub-plots, all of which have been woven into the main plot.

The main plot has the story of Prospero’s revenge on his enemies by using his magic powers. Prospero has been deprived of his dukedom by his brother, Antonio, with the support of Alonso, King of Naples. Along with his young daughter, Miranda, he was exposed to the waves of the sea but by the grace of Almighty; he landed safely on an uninhabited island. He uses supernatural powers for taking revenge on his enemies. But the mode of revenge of Prospero is forgiveness. But the evil-doers must not be forgiven too easily. They must be made to realise their guilt and they must be repentant. Through the agency of Ariel, Prospero succeeds in awakening the conscience of Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian. The play ends with a scene of repentance and reconciliation.

There is a sub-plot of conspiracy of Antonio and Sebastian to murder Alonso. Finding Alonso and other members of the group asleep, Antonio instigates Sebastian to murder his brother, Alonso. Sebastian agreed to this suggestion. The plot was upset by Ariel. Just when these two were about to strike their possible victims, Ariel awakens the unsuspecting Gonzalo and Alonso. The sub-plot emphasizes the villainy of Sebastian and Antonio making Prospero’s forgiveness nobler for these two. The subplot serves as an example of parallelism. Just like Antonio betrayed his brother Prospero, similarly Sebastian was betraying his brother, Alonso.

There is another sub-plot of the intrigue of Caliban against Prospero. It is a comic sub-plot of the play. Inspite of Prospero’s efforts to civilize Caliban, the latter remains a beast. This monster tried to play mischief with Miranda. He curses Prospero. When he meets the drunken Stephano and Trinculo, he hatches a plan for murder of Prospero. The plot is upset by Ariel and all of these conspirators are chased away by Prospero’s spirits appearing in the form of dogs and hounds. Caliban’s intrigue is not closely connected with the main plot. This sub-plot provides a comic relief to the play and relaxes the tension of the viewer caused by the conspiracy of Antonio and Sebastian against Alonso.

The third sub-plot is of love between Ferdinand and Miranda. This sub-plot is directly interconnected with the main plot. Miranda, the daughter of Prospero and Ferdinand, the son of Prospero’s enemy Alonso fall in love with each other. The falling of love of these two emphasizes the reconciliation, which is the main theme of the play. The union of Ferdinand and Miranda not only sets the seal upon forgiveness of Antonio and Alonso by Prospero, but also bind Prospero and Alonso into a closer tie. The sub-plot also provides a romantic angle to the play. It appears to be an inseparable part of the main plot of the play.


Act 1, Scene 1

The play opens in the midst of a fierce storm. The location is a ship at sea, with a royal party on board. As the sailors fight to save the ship, several of the royal passengers enter and Alonso, the King, demands to know where the master is to be found. The boatswain is worried that the passengers will interfere and orders them to go the lower deck. The King’s Councilor, Gonzalo, reminds the boatswain that he is speaking to the King. At this, the boatswain remarks that if the King really has so much power, then he must try and subdue the storm. If he lacks this power, then the royal party must go the lower deck as per the order of the boatswain. The royal party exits to take shelter at the lower deck.

The lords go the lower decks. To add to the chaos, the three of the lords – Antonio, Sebastian and Gonzalo return to the scene. Sebastian and Antonio curse the boatswain for his fruitless labour, masking their fear with vulgarity. Some mariners enter wet and crying and the viewers are given idea about the identity of passengers who are on-board. Gonzalo orders the mariners to pray for the King and the Prince.

There comes a strange noise – on account of splitting of wood, roaring of water or sound of thunder – over the cry of the mariners. Antonio, Gonzalo and Sebastian go in search of the King preparing to sink to a watery grave.

Act 1, Scene 2

The scene opens on the island with Prospero and Miranda watching the ship wreck. Miranda knows that the storm has been created by her father. She begs her to end the torment of the ship as well as her own which is created by watching the misery of the people on-board. Prospero reassures Miranda that his actions are to protect her and not to torment her. He tells Miranda that she is ignorant of her lineage and heritage. He then explains the story of her birth right and of their lives before they came to be on the island. Prospero begins his story with the news that he is the Duke of Milan and Miranda is a princess. He also narrates that he had abdicated day-to-day administration of the Kingdom to Antonio, his brother. Prospero admits that the books held more attraction than his duties and unknowingly but willingly, he gave opportunity to Antonio to grasp the reins of the Kingdom. Antonio used his power to undermine Prospero and plot a conspiracy against him. Prospero’s trust in his brother proved unwise, when Antonio formed alliance with King of Naples to oust Prospero. Prospero and his three-year old daughter were placed in a small, breaking-down boat and put on sea. Gonzalo, a sympathetic courtier, provided them with rich garments, lines and other necessities. He also provided Prospero with books from his library. Eventually, Prospero and Miranda arrived on the uninhabited island and have been there since then.

After finishing his story, Prospero uses his magic to put Miranda to sleep. The spirit, Ariel, appears as soon as Miranda falls asleep and reports on the storm, the ship and the passengers. Ariel forces everyone, except the crew, to abandon the ship. Ariel tells Prospero that the passengers have been separated into smaller groups and are on different parts of that island. He also tells that the ship, along with its sleeping crew, has been safely hidden in the harbor. The remainder of the fleet has sailed home thinking that the King and the prince have drowned. Ariel requests Prospero to free him as he had been promised. However, Prospero needs Ariel and declares that his freedom must be delayed by a few more days.

When Ariel leaves, Prospero awakens Miranda and beckons Caliban, the illegitimate son of the witch, Sycorax. Caliban has been Prospero’s slave but he is rude and rebellious and can be controlled only through the use of magic. Caliban claims that the island belongs to him and says that Prospero has taken control of the island by tricking him in the past. Prospero remains unmoved claiming that Caliban is corrupt having tried to play with the modesty of Miranda. Prospero threatens and wheedles the obedience of Caliban, but his presence makes Miranda uneasy.

When Caliban leaves, Ariel enters with Ferdinand who sees Miranda and both of them fall in love with each other at the first sight. Although this is the true wish and plan of Prospero, he does not want it to appear too easy for Ferdinand. So, he accuses Ferdinand of being a spy. When Prospero uses magic to control Ferdinand, Miranda begs him to stop.

Act 2, Scene 1

The ship that carried the royal passengers is wrecked due to the furious storm at sea, but the courtiers have landed on the island. Gonzalo, a courtier, tries to console Alonso, who is aggrieved by the supposed death of his son, Ferdinand. But, Alonso desires to be left alone. Sebastian and Antonio try to lessen the grief of Alonso by making fun of Gonzalo. Sebastian remarks that it is the fault of the King to marry his daughter to the King of Tunis. Had there been no such marriage, there had been no need to undertake such a hard journey. Gonzalo does not relish Sebastian’s remarks and criticizes him of being insensitive to the situation. Alonso shows no interest in their conversation. Gonzalo passes on by saying that if he were the ruler of the island, he would not allow money, commerce, learning, laws, servants, masters, farming, work, technology or weapons to intrude into the island. Sebastian and Antonio make fun of him and his strange vision. Ariel enters the scene and makes everyone asleep except Sebastian and Antonio.

Antonio provokes Sebastian to kill Alonso, his brother and seize the Kingdom from him. Sebastian entertains this idea because he thinks that as Ferdinand has drowned and Alonso’s daughter is married off to a distant place, he could easily become the King. He remembers that Antonio also overthrew his brother and asks if his conscience bothers him about this. Antonio answers him that his conscience never pricks him. They agree to execute the plan. They decide to take out their swords and kill sleeping Alonso and Gonzalo. The Ariel awakens the sleeping Gonzalo who awakens Alonso and the others. All get up and see the two – Sebastian and Antonio – standing with their swords out. Sebastian gives a false excuse that a roar in some distance made them draw their sword to meet any contingencies.

The roar of the animal in the distance frightens the courtiers and forces them to move away from that spot to another part of the island in search of Ferdinand.

Act 2, Scene 2

Caliban hates Prospero for upsetting his island. He curses him for making him do menial jobs. Then he sees Trinculo coming in his wild costume and thinks that he is another spirit sent by Prospero to torture him. To escape torture, he lies down on the ground to hide. Trinculo hears the noise of thunder and thinks that it is going to rain soon. He crawls under Caliban’s loose garments to avoid getting wet in rain.

A clownish character, Stephano enters the scene. He is described as a drunken butler. He has been wandering about the island in a drunken state. At this time also, he is quite drunk. On seeing Caliban, he is unable to make out what this strange looking character is! When he notices the two legs of Trinculo and two legs of Caliban, he thinks that this creature has four legs. Caliban thinks that he is being tortured by a spirit sent by Prospero. Stephano pours drinks into the mouth of Caliban and the latter starts feeling elated. Then Trinculo makes some remarks. After a humourous conversation, Stephano pulls him out from under the cloak of Caliban. They feel happy in company of each other and discuss how both of them escaped drowning.

Caliban too becomes tipsy after the drinks and tells Stephano that he will show him the island and catch food for him. All three – Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo – get more drunk and move away in a drunken condition.

Act 3, Scene 1

At Prospero’s cell, Ferdinand enters carrying a log, which he claims would be a detestable task except that he carries it to serve Miranda. His carrying of logs is a punishment but he willingly accepts because thoughts of Miranda make the work seem effortless. When he is least occupied with his task, he is most busy in thoughts about Miranda.

As Ferdinand works and thinks of Miranda, she enters and after her, unseen by either of them, Prospero enters. Miranda tells Ferdinand to take a break from his work or to let her work for him, thinking that her father is away. Ferdinand refuses to let her work for him but takes break from his work and asks Miranda her name. She gives her name as Miranda, saying at the same time that her disclosure of her name would offend her father. Ferdinand, for his part, has known other beautiful women, but he admits to having never known one as perfect as Miranda. He titles Miranda as an epitome of beauty and gentleness. Miranda confesses that she has known no other woman, nor any other man, except her father. Now, she would want no other man except for Ferdinand.

At this, Miranda remembers that she has been instructed not to speak to their guest and momentarily falls silent. When Ferdinand declares that he would gladly serve her, Miranda asks if he loves her. Ferdinand calls heaven and earth to witness that he loves her truly and that he values and honours her beyond anything else in this world.

Hearing these words, Miranda begins to weep. When Ferdinand asks her why she is weeping, she replies that she is unworthy of him, but will marry him if he wants her. He quickly agrees saying that he would always remain her devoted lover and servant. Finally, the couple touches each other’s hand and pledges their love. Prospero has been silently listening to all this hiding from both of them. He acknowledges the natural match of Ferdinand and Miranda as of two most rare affections. He has some other plans also that need his immediate attention, so he turns to his books and other waiting business.

Act 3, Scene 2

Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano continue to drink and wander about the island. Stephano, already dreaming of the lordship of the island, declared Caliban to be his lieutenant. Caliban, helplessly muddled with drink, offers to lick his shoes. However, he never forgets the thought of taking revenge from Prospero. In the meantime, Caliban and Trinculo, each being unable to stand the other, fall out and Stephano has to intervene. Ariel enters invisibly when Caliban is telling the men that he is subject to a tyrant and a sorcerer thereby provoking Stephano against Prospero. Ariel begins to stir up trouble, calling out “Thou liest” meaning ‘you lie’. None of them can see the invisible Ariel, so, Caliban thinks that Trinculo said these. He threatens Trinculo and Stephano tells Trinculo not to interrupt them. Trinculo protests that he said nothing. Drunkenly, they continue talking and Caliban tells them of his desire to get revenge against Prospero. Ariel continues to interrupt now and then with the same words. Ariel’s ventriloquizing ultimately results in Stephano hitting Trinculo.

When Ariel looks on, Caliban plots against Prospero. He suggests to Stephano that in order to become the King of this island, he needs to put Prospero to death. Caliban says that originally he used to be the owner of this island but that Prospero had subsequently deprived him of the ownership and had himself become the Monarch here. Caliban further says that he has at present to serve Prospero who possesses supernatural powers and who commands everything on this island. Caliban offers to serve Stephano faithfully and devotedly in case Stephano manages to kill Prospero. Caliban then supplies some more information to Stephano in order to make it easier for Stephano to kill Prospero. He tells him that Prospero is in the habit of going to sleep in the afternoons and that Stephano should knock out Prospero’s brains when Prospero lies asleep. But, first, Stephano must seize Prospero’s books because without those books, Prospero would become utterly helpless. It is with the help of these books that Prospero is able to perform his magic and to command the service of the invisible spirits who dwell on this island.

Caliban then tempts Stephano by talking about the beauty of Prospero’s daughter, Miranda whom Stephano can win as his wife after he has put Prospero to death. Stephano then declares that he would certainly kill Prospero and take his daughter as the Queen. At this point, Ariel plays a tune on his flute and drum. Stephano and Trinculo wonder at this noise, but Caliban tells them it is nothing to be afraid of. Stephano relishes the thought of possessing this island Kingdom. Then the men decide to follow the music and later on to kill Prospero.

Act 3, Scene 3

Alonso, the King of Naples and his courtiers roam about on the island in search of Ferdinand. They all get tired. Gonzalo, the old courtier, gets tired first and request others to take some rest. All of them stop to take rest. Alonso has given up all hopes about the survival of Ferdinand, his son. Antonio and Sebastian feel happy and they whisper to each other that others are so tired that they will not be alert and watchful. So, they plan to kill Alonso and Gonzalo later in the evening.

At that very time, they hear strange music and then Prospero enters invisibly alongwith several spirits. They carry food, perform a graceful dance and invite them to have food. Then the spirits disappear. Everyone is surprised to see all this. But before they begin to eat, there is a thunderclap and Ariel enters in the form of a harpy. The banquet vanishes through some antiquated device. Ariel makes a speech which only Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio could hear. In his speech, he accuses these three men as sinners. They try to take out their swords against Ariel but he tells them that they may use them against the wind or try to hit the waves, but that will be of no use. They have to suffer for their evil deeds of driving out Prospero on the sea. Ariel says that Alonso’s son is dead, and then disappears.

Prospero praises Ariel for doing a good job. Meanwhile these three courtiers are upset by this revelation and run away. Gonzalo feels that guilt has overtaken all the three of them and ask remaining courtiers to stop them from doing anything rash.

Act 4, Scene 1

Prospero, being satisfied with Ferdinand, who has well stood the test, formally engages his daughter to him. Prospero, warns him to be careful to preserve sanctity of love until they are married. Ferdinand promises to comply. Prospero then calls in Ariel and asks him to summon spirits to perform a masque for Ferdinand and Miranda. Soon, three spirits appear in the shapes of mythological figures of Iris (Juno’s messenger and Goddess of Rainbow), Juno (Queen of the Gods) and Ceres (Goddess of Agriculture). This trio performs a masque celebrating the engagement of the lovers. First, Iris enters and asks Ceres to appear at Juno’s wish, to celebrate a contract of true love. Ceres appears and then Juno enters. Juno and Ceres together bless the couple, with Juno wishing them honour and riches and Ceres wishing them natural prosperity and abundance. Ferdinand is awed by the spectacle and says that he would like to live on the island forever with Prospero as his father and Miranda as his wife. Juno and Ceres send Iris to fetch some nymphs and reapers to perform a country dance. Just as this dance begins, however, Prospero startles suddenly and then sends the spirits away. Prospero had forgotten about Caliban’s plot against him and suddenly remembers that the hour has nearly come for Caliban and other conspirators to make attempt on Prospero’s life.

Prospero shows signs of anger that alarms Ferdinand and Miranda. However, Prospero assures the couple that his anxiety is mainly due to his age. He says that a walk will soothe him. Prospero makes a short speech about the masque, saying that the actors, who performed the various roles in this masque, were all spirits who have now melted into thin air. Prospero further says that in course of time, this whole world including the grand buildings, temples, palaces, and the great globe itself would melt away in the same manner, leaving not a trace behind. Then, Prospero says that the human beings are such stuff as dreams are made of and their little life is rounded with a sleep. Prospero tells Ferdinand that he wants to be alone to calm himself. Ferdinand and Miranda leave Prospero to himself.

Prospero now summons Ariel who seem to have made a mistake by not reminding Prospero of Caliban’s plot before the beginning of the masque. Prospero now asks Ariel to tell him again what the three conspirators are upto. Ariel tells him of the drunken men’s scheme to steal Prospero’s books and kill him. Ariel reports that he used his music to lead these men through rough and prickly paths and then into a filthy pond. Prospero thanks his trustworthy spirit and the two set up a trap for the three potential assassins.

On a clothes line in Prospero’s cell, Prospero and Ariel hang an array of fine apparel for the men to attempt to steal, after which they render themselves. Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano enter wet from the filthy pond. The fine clothing immediately distracts Stephano and Trinculo. They want to steal it. They pay no heed to the protests of Caliban who wants to stick to the plan and kill Prospero. They altogether ignore him. Soon after they touch the clothing, there is a noise of hunters. A pack of spirits in the shapes of hounds, set on by Ariel and Prospero, drive out the thieves.

Act 5, Scene 1

The last scene of the play opens with Ariel telling Prospero that Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio are remorseful and desperate. Gonzalo is worried and grief-stricken at his King’s pain. Prospero reassures Ariel that he will be compassionate in dealing with his enemies and asks Ariel to bring the group to him. While he is waiting for the King and his party to appear, Prospero ponders over what he has accomplished with magic and at the end promises that he will now give up his magic, bury his magic staff and throw away his magic books at sea.

Immediately after this, Ariel enters with the royal party who appear to be in a trance and places them within the magic circle that Prospero had earlier drawn. With a few enchanted words, the spell is removed. Prospero, clothed in the garments of Duke of Milan – his rightful position – appears before them. In a gesture of reconciliation, Prospero embraces Alonso, who is filled with remorse and immediately gives up Prospero’s dukedom. Gonzalo is also embraced in turn and then Prospero turns to Sebastian and Antonio. Prospero tells them that he will not charge them as traitors, at this time. Antonio is forgiven and required to renounce his claims on Prospero’s dukedom.

Alonso continues to mourn the loss of his son. At this, Prospero declares that he too has lost his daughter. But, he means that he has lost her in marriage. He then pulls back a curtain to reveal Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess. Ferdinand explains to his father that he is engaged to Miranda and that this event occurred while he thought his father was dead. Alonso quickly welcomes Miranda and says he will be a second father to his son’s love. At the sight of the couple, Gonzalo begins to cry and thanks God for having worked such a miracle.

Ariel enters with the Master of the boat and the boatswain. They tell that the ship lays in the harbor safely but fails to explain how any of this occurred. Alonso is also puzzled but Prospero tells him not to trouble his mind with such matters.

After this, Ariel leads in Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo. They are still drunk. Prospero explains that these men plotted to murder him. Caliban repents and promises to seek grace. These three conspirators started becoming somber and were sent to decorate the cell of Prospero. Prospero invites his guests to spend the night in his cell where he will tell him some adventures of his past twelve years of being on this island. Ariel’s last duty to Prospero is to provide calm seas when they sail the next morning.


Prospero tells the audience that since he has no magic power, he must be allowed to leave the island and go back to Naples. He has got back his dukedom and pardoned the treacherous enemies, so he must not be kept in this lonely island by their influence. He should be set free from his captivity. They should give a parting applause. He wishes to be pardoned for all his sins by them. They should show their compassion for him.

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