Home Upcoming Shows HSC Venues Past Productions Articles HSC Programs Shakespeare Library Actor Resources About Us/Contact Us Site Map Links




Scene by Scene Synopsis

Scene:  A ship at sea; an island

Act I, Scene 1:  On a storm-wracked ship, the Boatswain exchanges curses with two arrogant passengers, Antonio and Sebastian, who are traveling with King Alonso of Naples. The king's counselor Gonzalo remains calm, however, as the ship goes down.

Act I, Scene 2:  On a nearby island Miranda is upset by the shipwreck, but her father Prospero, a magician, assures her that the seamen will be safe. He reveals to her that he was once the Duke of Milan. He studied magic in preference to governing and was deposed by his brother, Antonio, who was aided by King Alonso. The conspirators put Prospero and Miranda, then two years old, in a small boat and abandoned them at sea, but the kindly Gonzalo had given them supplies, including Prospero's books of magic. They then found the island and have lived there since. Through magic, Prospero has raised the storm to bring his old enemies to the island. He magically puts Miranda to sleep and summons his servant, a sprite named Ariel. Ariel reports that he has entranced the vessel's passengers and dispersed the people around the island, taking particular care, as instructed, with Ferdinand, the son of King Alonso. When he complains about his tasks, the magician sternly reminds him that he must work in exchange for his rescue from magical imprisonment in a tree trunk, imposed by the now-dead witch who formerly occupied the island. Prospero promises that if his present scheme is successful, he will release the sprite.  He then instructs Ariel to wear a cloak of invisibility, so that he can be seen only by Prospero, and report for further duty. After Ariel leaves, Miranda awakes and Prospero summons Caliban, his half-human slave, son of the late witch. Ariel returns, invisible to Miranda, and is sent away again with whispered orders. The surly Caliban reluctantly appears and complains of his slavery, but Prospero declares that he has earned it, for after being taken in and educated by the magician, he attempted to rape Miranda. Caliban is sent to gather wood. Ariel returns, leading Ferdinand by singing fairy songs. Miranda is amazed and delighted by this the first young man she has ever seen. Ferdinand is equally charmed to encounter her. Prospero observes in an aside that they are already in love, as he has planned. However, to ensure that Ferdinand will not take Miranda lightly, he adopts a stern attitude and pretends to distrust the young man. Despite Miranda's pleas, he imprisons him.

Act II, Scene 1:  Gonzalo attempts to cheer King Alonso with assurances that Ferdinand has survived, but he is mocked by Antonio and Sebastian. Ariel appears, invisible to the men, and puts Gonzalo and the king to sleep.  Antonio suggests to Sebastian, who is the king's brother, that they should kill the sleeping men and make Sebastian king. Sebastian agrees, but as they draw their swords, Ariel reappears and awakens Gonzalo and the king. The four men go off in search of Ferdinand.

Act II, Scene 2:  Caliban tries to hide from Trinculo, a Fool who has survived the shipwreck, but Trinculo sees him.  Frightened by thunder, Trinculo takes refuge under Caliban's cloak. Another survivor, Stephano, appears, drunk on salvaged wine. Seeing Trinculo and Caliban, he decides they are a single, two-headed, four-legged monster. He feeds Caliban wine, hoping to tame the monster. Trinculo identifies himself, and the two friends rejoice at their reunion. Caliban is delighted with his first taste of wine and tipsily volunteers to serve the two men as though they were gods, if they will give him more. They agree and leave with him. Caliban sings drunkenly of his pleasure at leaving Prospero.

Act III, Scene 1 Ferdinand, forced by Prospero to move a large pile of logs, reflects that though his princely nature rebels against such labor, the work seems joyous because he knows his master's daughter sympathizes with him.  Miranda appears, and they confess their love for each other, agreeing that they will marry. Prospero, overhearing them, is pleased.

Act III, Scene 2 Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo are drunk and squabble comically. Caliban proposes that Stephano kill Prospero, stealing his magic books and taking possession of Miranda. Stephano decides to do so, envisioning himself as king of the island, with Caliban and Trinculo as viceroys. Ariel leads them away with fairy music.

Act III, Scene 3:  Prospero causes a magical banquet to appear. Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio step greedily forward, but the banquet disappears. Ariel, disguised as a Harpy, declares that they are evil men and that destiny has therefore stranded them on this island and taken Alonso's son. They shall be tormented until they atone and adopt a sin-free life. Alonso leaves, declaring that he will find his dead son and die beside him. Sebastian and Antonio go with him, angrily intent on fighting the spirits of the island. Gonzalo, believing that their guilt has made them crazy, follows them, to keep them from harming themselves.

Act IV, Scene 1 Prospero consents to the engagement of Miranda and Ferdinand. He calls on Ariel to provide entertainment to celebrate the betrothal, and several sprites impersonate the goddesses Iris, Ceres, and Juno in a Masque. Prospero, recalling Caliban and Stephan's plot, sends Ariel to gather some fine clothes he has prepared, which are hung in full view. Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo arrive, still drunk. Trinculo and Stephano, seeing the fine clothes, cannot resist trying them on, despite Caliban's warnings that Prospero will catch them. Spirits disguised as hunting dogs chase the comical villains away. Prospero reflects that his enemies are now all at his mercy. Soon his task will be complete, and Ariel can be freed.

Act V, Scene 1:  Ariel reports that the captive Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio are insane, while Gonzalo is grief-stricken.  Ariel says he feels sorry for them, and Prospero declares that he will be merciful to them, despite the losses he has suffered at their hands. After sending Ariel to fetch them, he asserts in a soliloquy that he will renounce magic once he has cured his victims. He exchanges his magician's robes for the garments he wore as Duke of Milan, and as the victims recover their senses they recognize him. He forgives their offences, and they concede him his duchy. Alonso still mourns the loss of his son, and Prospero reveals Ferdinand and Miranda. Miranda is delighted to see so many humans, Ferdinand is reunited with his father, and the future succession of the engaged couple to the throne of Naples is proclaimed. Ariel appears with the Boatswain and Master of the king's ship; they report that the vessel has been miraculously restored to shipshape condition. Ariel fetches Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo—still drunk—and Prospero sends them to restore the stolen clothes to his closet. He then invites the king and his followers indoors, to hear the story of his time on the island. He gives Ariel a last order—to prepare auspicious winds and weather for the return to Milan—and sets him free.


To view other The Tempest sections:

Main Play Page      Play Text     Scene by Scene Synopsis     Character Directory     Commentary  


To view the other Plays click below:

By  Comedies    Histories    Romances    Tragedies

All's Well the Ends Well Antony & Cleopatra As You Like It Cardenio Comedy of Errors Coriolanus
Cymbeline Edward III Hamlet Henry IV, Part 1 Henry IV, Part 2 Henry V
Henry VI, Part 1 Henry VI, Part 2 Henry VI, Part 3 Henry VIII Julius Caesar King John
King Lear Love's Labours Lost Love's Labours Wonne Macbeth Measure for Measure Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor A Mid Summer Night's Dream  Much Ado About Nothing Othello Pericles Richard II
Richard III Romeo & Juliet Sir Thomas More Taming of the Shrew The Tempest Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus Troilus & Cressida Twelfth Night Two Gentlemen of Verona The Two Noble Kinsman The Winter's Tale


To view other Shakespeare Library sections:

Biography     Plays     Poems     Sonnets     Theaters     Shake Links 

Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site.
[Home]  [Upcoming Shows]  [HSC Venues]  [Past Productions]  [Articles] [HSC Programs]
 [Shakespeare Library] [Actor Resources]   [Contact Us]  [Links]  [Site Map]