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Free Study Guide-The Tempest by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes
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SHORT PLOT/SCENE SUMMARY (Synopsis)

Alonso, King of Naples, is on his way from Tunis to Naples after the wedding of his daughter. He is accompanied by Sebastian (his brother), Antonio (the Duke of Milan), and other gentlemen of the Court. Their ship is caught in a bad storm. As the tempest grows fiercer, the ship appears to be floundering. The travelers are forced to abandon ship and flee to a nearby island, which is enchanted. The storm has been caused by Prospero, who lives with his daughter on the island and possesses magical powers. Prospero tells his anxious daughter he has gathered his rivals to the island for a special purpose.

Twelve years ago Prospero was the Duke of Milan. His wicked brother, Antonio, joined hands with Alonso, the King of Naples, to conspire against Prospero. Antonio usurped the dukedom, and Prospero and his baby daughter were put in an open boat to drift in the sea until they died. However, the kind counselor Gonzalo provided them with food, drink, and books on magic, and the boat found its way to the enchanted island where the two have lived ever since. Prospero has used his years of exile to learn magic and controls the enchanted island.

Now, twelve years later, the King of Naples and the Duke of Milan have been forced on to the island where Prospero lives with his daughter, Miranda. The only others inhabitants of the island are Prospero's fairy servant, Ariel, and his slave, Caliban. Ariel had been imprisoned in a cleft pine tree by the witch Sycorax. When Prospero freed him, Ariel became his servant. Caliban is the witch's son, whom Prospero sought to educate. Cruelly and unwisely, Caliban tried to rape Miranda; as a result, Prospero will never again trust him. He is kept as a slave to perform menial jobs, like carrying wood and water.


Ferdinand, King Alonso's brave son, is drawn to Prospero's cave by Ariel's song. Miranda, who has seen no human being except her father, instantly falls in love with this handsome, young prince. Ferdinand, too, falls for her. Prospero, as part of his plan, pretends to disapprove of their love. To test Ferdinand's character, he makes the young prince perform menial tasks.

On another part of the island, Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, and Gonzalo believe that Ferdinand is dead. The invisible Ariel lulls Alonso and Gonzalo to sleep. Sebastian and Antonio conspire together to kill the king and his old counselor so that Sebastian can become the king of Naples. The watchful Ariel awakens the intended victims just in time to frustrate this conspiracy. In the meantime the King's jester, fully drunk, meets Caliban somewhere on the island. Later, they are joined by Stephano, a drunken butler. They offer a drink to Caliban who, in gratitude and foolishness, swears his allegiance to them.

Prince Ferdinand is forced by Prospero to carry and stack logs. When Prospero is in his study, Miranda offers to help the young Prince. However, neither of them does any carrying of wood. Instead, they exchange vows of love and talk of marriage. Prospero watches them from a distance and secretly rejoices. Meanwhile, Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano are engaged in a ridiculous plot to kill Prospero. They want to become rulers of the island with Stephano as the king.

Prospero and Ariel present a supernatural banquet to Alonso and his followers. But it disappears before the hungry castaways can taste the rich delicacies. Ariel, disguised as a harpy, rebukes them for their treatment of Prospero, revealing the wickedness that twelve years earlier sent Prospero to the island. Alonso, supposing his son to be dead, looks upon the supposed death of Ferdinand as a punishment for his past misdeeds. He is moved to remorse for his sins.

Prospero releases Ferdinand from his drudgery and blesses his marriage to Miranda. The magician presents a pre-nuptial pageant to the young couple. It is enacted by spirits in the guise of Iris, Ceres, and Juno, accompanied by dancing nymphs and reapers. In the midst of this revelry, Prospero suddenly recalls the plot devised by the drunken trio of fools. He sends Ariel to punish them. Ariel tempts them with a display of rich garments. He then sets upon them fellow spirits in the guise of hunting dogs. The conspirators are driven away through bogs and brier patches.

After ensuring that his enemies feel repentant for their past misdeeds, Prospero orders Ariel to bring the major conspirators into a charmed circle in front of his cell. Prospero, now dressed as the Duke of Milan, discloses his identity to his enemies. He sternly warns Sebastian against devising further plots. To the remorseful Alonso, he reveals a very much alive Ferdinand playing chess with Miranda. A joyful reunion between father and son happens. Ariel reappears with the master of the ship and the boatswain. They report that the ship is undamaged and ready for voyage. Prospero releases the minor conspirators from his spell, forgiving and pardoning them all. He then orders Caliban to prepare food for the guests and grants freedom to Ariel. He gives up his use of magic, prepares for his own voyage back to Milan to resume charge of his newly restored dukedom, and solemnizes the marriage of his daughter Miranda to Ferdinand.

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