Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT IV, SCENE 1
Prospero explains to Ferdinand and Miranda that the prince's servitude was only a test of his character and love for Miranda. He then offers his blessing on their marriage. As the two lovers converse, Prospero summons Ariel and instructs him to prepare an elaborate wedding masque, or celebration, in honor of Ferdinand and Miranda. At the ceremony, Prospero promises to give a magnificent display of his magic powers. He summons three Greek goddesses, Ceres, Juno, and Iris, who quickly descend to earth on a strain of soft music. The have come to aid in the celebration. Ferdinand is so entranced by the magical proceedings that he is anxious to live forever on the island. Because he now has a rare wife and a wise father-in-law, he feels he has found a sort of paradise here.
Suddenly remembering Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano and their plot to kill him, Prospero dismisses the spirits and addresses the young lovers. He asks them to see the contrast between his little pageant that they have just witnessed and the great pageant of life. He then departs to find the three schemers. Ariel informs Prospero that Caliban and his allies have been so charmed by his music that they followed him through thorn bushes and sharp hedges and into a filthy pool near the cave, where they remain. Prospero declares that all his efforts to reform Caliban have failed, and he resolves to make him and his allies penitent. Ariel is instructed to hang some rich-looking garments in front of the cave. Then he and Prospero fall back to watch what unfolds.
Stephano and Trinculo are angry with Caliban because of their present wet and muddy condition. As they approach Prospero's cave, they see the rich garments. Stephano and Trinculo are fascinated with the clothes and forget about the murder plans. Caliban, however, is still anxious to be rid of Prospero, and tries to persuade them to forget the fine clothes. They ignore him and begin to try on the garments. Suddenly Prospero and Ariel send spirits in the form of hounds to frighten them. As a result, the three plotters are chased away in confusion and fear.
This scene is occupied principally by the elaborate masque to celebrate the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda. Some critics believe that Shakespeare has included such detail because he supposedly wrote The Tempest to celebrate the wedding of the Elector Palatine and Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King James. In the masque, Iris, as goddess of the rainbow and messenger of the gods, gives a detailed catalogue of country products and scenes. Juno, the patroness of marriage, grants happiness to the couple. Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, bestows wealth and prosperity on the wedded pair. The emphasis on the fruitfulness of nature is to bestow fruitfulness on Ferdinand and Miranda.
The Prospero of this scene is kind, gentle, and even affectionate. All the business of disposing of conspirators is momentarily forgotten as the father celebrates the happy union of his daughter to a worthy man. When he does remember the more unpleasant work that needs to be accomplished, he takes a moment before he departs to emphasize to the couple the fleeting pleasures of real life: "the cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, / the solemn temples, yea the great globe itself, / Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve." It seems Prospero's exile from the great things of civilized society has made him realize none of these things are really important in the end. What matters is the kind of character a person has. Prospero has lost his noble title, but he has remained a totally noble person.
The second part of this scene shows the collapse of the conspiracy against Prospero. Caliban proves his superiority to his "confederates" by remaining firm to the original aim of the murderous plot. His companions, however, allow themselves to be diverted by the prospect of some paltry plunder--a few pretty pieces of clothing. Although his nature is evil and crude, there is greater potential in the nature of Caliban than in the two courtiers. Once again, the beast speaks in verse and the civilized men speak in prose, showing that Caliban is a higher creature. As their murderous plan falls apart, Prospero adds insult to injury and frightens them all off with some imaginary dogs.