|Shakespeare’s Tempest – the Story
Before the Tempest
Caliban's mother, the terrible witch Sycorax - 'who with age and envy was grown into a hoop' - was driven out of Algiers by the people there. Prospero explains that the only reason she had not been put to death was because she was pregnant with Caliban. Sycorax had tried to get Ariel to obey her evil orders (and when he would not had shut him up in a in a tree), but had then died, leaving Ariel imprisoned and her young son to grow up as a wild savage.
Prospero had been the Duke of Milan, but he had neglected his government for his books. As a result, he left all the business of government to his brother Antonio - who had plotted with Alonzo the King of Naples and usurped Prospero's position. Antonio had then set Prospero and his three-year old daughter adrift in ‘a rotten carcass of a boat, not rigged, nor tackle, sail, nor mast – the very rats had quit it…’, expecting them to drown. But - thanks to the kind Gonzalo, who gave them food and some magic books - they had managed to get to the island.
There, Prospero had freed Ariel and learned how to do magic. He had also tried to be kind to Caliban, who had, however, repaid him by trying to rape his daughter. As a result, Prospero had made Caliban his slave, and kept him under close control by his magic.
The story begins with Prospero and his daughter Miranda watching a ship sink in a terrible storm that Prospero has sent Ariel to create. Miranda is horrified that he has caused such a disaster.
So Prospero explains to her that she need not worry - nobody has died. However, Antonio and Alonzo were on the boat, and he tells her for the first time what Antonio and Alonzo had done to them. The passing ship, he tells her, had been given to him by ‘bountiful Fortune’ as a once-and-only opportunity to get back his power.
Then he hypnotises her into a sleep.
While Miranda sleeps, Ariel reports back how he has caused the tempest, describing excitedly how he set lighting fires all over the ship, and created such panic that everyone except the sailors had thrown themselves overboard. The hair of the King of Naples's son, Ferdinand, had stood up like reeds, not hair!!! But he had at the same time made sure that they were all close to shore, and he had made their clothes buoyant, so that not only had all been saved, but their clothes looked smarter than before. And he had hidden the ship safe in harbour in a deep nook in the Bahamas, with the sailors all in a trance.
Ariel asks Prospero when he is going to keep his promise to set him free, but Prospero roughly reminds him that he had set Ariel free from the tree, and he threatens to send him back there! If Ariel does everything he tells him, Prospero says, he will set him free in two days. 'Pardon, master,' says Ariel, 'I will be correspondent to command', and he makes himself invisible and goes off to do Prospero's wishes.
Prospero then wakes Miranda, and they go off to visit Caliban. Miranda (perhaps understandably) does not want to do so - 'Tis a villain, sir, I do not love to look on' - but Prospero reminds her that: 'We cannot miss him: he doth make our fire, fetch our wood, and serves in offices that profit us'.
So the two go over to Caliban's lair and Prospero shouts: 'Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself upon thy wicked mother, come forth!'
Caliban's reply is just as nasty, calling down a plague on the two of them - he clearly hates them both - but Prospero and Miranda bully him into fetching firewood., and he obeys, only to avoid the cramps that Prospero threatens to send if he disobeys.
Prospero's Magic works itself out
Prospero has told Ariel to spread the ship's passengers in groups around the island, and now he sends him to the different people to get his way with them by Magic.
First, Ariel uses magical music to bring Ferdinand to Prospero’s cave, where (as Prospero intended all along) he falls in love with Miranda at first sight.
Prospero wants to test that Ferdinand’s love is real, so at first he treats him as a prisoner. But when Ferdinand declares that his father’s death and his own imprisonment ‘are but light to me, might I but through my prison once a day behold this maid’, Prospero sees that his love is real, and agrees to let him marry Miranda.
Meanwhile, Caliban has been getting drunk with two of Alonzo's servants – Trinculo, his jester, and Stephano, his drunken butler – and the three of them decide to kill Prospero and take over the island. Caliban imagines how they will kill Caliban: ‘batter his skull, or stab him with a stake, or cut his throat with your knife…’ Despite this, the three are comic characters in the play, and Prospero is aware of their plot. After a series of silly scenes, he gets Ariel and the other spirits to chase them into a bog.
The third group comprises King Alonzo and two other survivors of the shipwreck – Antonio (Prospero’s brother) and Sebastian (Alonzo’s brother). Antonio and Sebastian are both evil men, and as they wander about with King Alonzo looking for other survivors, they even plot to murder Alonzo and take his crown. Prospero sends Ariel to them, first to offer them a fabulous meal and then, just as they are about to eat it, to appear to them with thunder and lightning and tell them: ‘You are three men of sin’. Alonzo, particularly, is greatly upset by this.
The scene opens with Prospero checking with Ariel how his plot is going, commenting: 'my charms crack not, my spirits obey, and time goes upright with his carriage'. Ariel agrees, and tells him that Alonzo, Antonio and Sebastian are 'all three distracted ... Your charm works so strongly works them that if you now beheld them, your affections would become tender'. Prospero thinks that - if even a spirit could feel sorry for them - he ought to feel sorry for them too, as long as they were penitent: 'The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance'. Prospero promises that - if his plot works, he will break his magic staff and drop his magic books into the deepest sea. Then he makes a magic ring, and tells Ariel to bring into it Alonzo, Antonio, Sebastian and Gonzalo.
Ariel knows that Prospero's success will mean his freedom and he sings as he brings them: 'Where the bee sucks, there suck I'.
As the four men awake from their trance, Prospero reminds the audience about the kindness of Gonzalo, the cruelty of Alonzo, and the treachery of Antonio and Sebastian. Then Prospero embraces the four men to show to them that he is not a dream ... and straight away Alonzo gives him back his Duchy of Milan, and begs his forgiveness. Gonzalo immediately agrees, and Prospero threatens Antonio and Sebastian that he can tell Alonzo about their treason. 'The devil speaks in him', says Sebastian alarmed. 'No', says Prospero to Antonio, 'For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother would infect my mouth, I do forgive'.
The Plays ends happily
And so everything seems to turns out well in the end:
● Prospero returns home as Duke of Milan.
● Alonzo and Ferdinand meet, and are delighted to find that they are each alive.
● Miranda is amazed to meet many more human beings: 'How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in it!'
● Then the ship's master and the boatswain turn up and tell everybody that the boat is OK and they can all go home.
● Ariel gets his freedom.
● Ferdinand and Miranda get married.
● And even Caliban realises what a 'thrice-double ass' he has been 'to take this drunkard [Stephano] for a god' and goes off to work for Prospero's forgiveness.