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Free Study Guide-The Tempest by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes
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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

ACT II, SCENE 1

Summary

In another part of the island, the king of Naples is lamenting the death of his son, Ferdinand. As the audience knows, Ferdinand is not dead; but none of the other members of the royal party realize he is alive or that the island is inhabited. Gonzalo, the wise and kind counselor who long ago stocked Prospero and Miranda's boat with provisions, tries to console the King over his loss and rally the spirit of the survivors by pointing out that the island is beautiful and may be kind to them. Gonzalo is sure that he could govern such an island and keep it as innocent as in the golden age. Sebastian and Antonio tease Gonzalo for his simplicity and good will.

With the exception of Sebastian and Antonio, the whole company is lulled to sleep by Ariel's solemn music. While the others sleep, Antonio points out how easy it would be for Sebastian to murder his brother, the sleeping king of Naples, and take over his kingdom; Gonzalo could also be killed. As for the rest of the courtiers, they are weak enough to take orders from anyone.


The two conspirators agree on the plan and draw their swords to commit murder. Just then the invisible Ariel returns, and realizing the danger to Gonzalo, he sings in the Counselor's ear that "open- eyed conspiracy" is about to strike. Gonzalo and Alonso wake up. Sebastian explains away the drawn swords by saying that they heard lions roaring in the distance. Then, with Alonso leading the way, they all set off in search of Ferdinand, hoping he might still be alive.

Notes

This scene exposes the wicked nature of Prospero's rivals. Antonio is pictured as the most vile amongst the royal party. Once he stole Prospero's dukedom and set him assail to die; now he persuades Sebastian to kill his brother Alonso, the King of Naples, and steal his kingdom. The hunger for power is shown by Shakespeare to be strong and corrupting.

From the conversation of Adrian, Gonzalo, and Alonso, it is learned that prior to the storm and shipwreck, the passengers had been returning to Naples from Africa. In Africa, Alonso's daughter Claribel had unwillingly married the King of Tunis; it was a politically arranged marriage to resolve a power struggle, similar to the marriage of Mary Tudor to Philip II of Spain or of James's daughter to the Protestant prince Frederick.

Shakespeare structures the entire play in such a way that he creates pattern and continuity by means of parallelism and contrast. Situations are repeated and events in one plot are reflected in another subplot. Claribel's wedding foreshadows the marriage between Ferdinand and Miranda. Prospero has been supplanted by his brother Antonio, and he now suggests that Sebastian do the same to Alonso. Such repetition, seen throughout the play, binds the plot into a tight unity.

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