This is a very old set of notes on English texts, written for the NSW Higher School Certificate in 1998. It may be useful to students studying the text, but does not reflect any current syllabus.

English literature summaries

Summary of The Tempest (Higher School Certificate 1998)

The Tempest, William Shakespeare, c. 1610–1611.

Act One

Scene One - The deck of a ship, during a raging storm.

The master and the boatswain enter. The master warns to boatswain that the boat is about to run aground and exits. The boatswain instructs the mariners. Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, Gonzalo and court enter. The boatswain tries to convince them to stay in their cabins, that royal blood and little knowledge is of no use to him. He convinces Gonzalo of his authority in the situation. However, Gonzalo returns shortly with Sebastian and Antonio, who verbally attack the boatswain.

News comes that the ship is about to run aground, and the King and Prince are praying for safety. The boatswain leaves amid the curses of Antonio and Sebastian. Antonio and Sebastian go down to the King. Gonzalo longs for a death on land.

"What care these roarers for the name of king?" - Boatswain.
"The wills above be done, but I would fain die a dry death." - Gonzalo.

Scene Two - Before Prospero's cell.

Miranda begs her father Prospero to allay the storm with his powers. She saw a ship go down, and its occupants drown, and she would have helped them. Prospero tells her no harm was done, that everything he did was for her.

He tells her that it is time now to tell her his story, and hers. He reassures her that no one was hurt in the wreck. He tells her that when she was three years old, he was Duke of Milan. he neglected his rule for his studies, and turned his responsibilities over to his brother, Antonio. Antonio gained the favour of the court, and usurped the throne, aided by the King of Naples.

One night they kidnapped Prospero and Miranda, and fearing to kill them outright, put them to sea in a defective boat. Gonzalo secretly gave them food and water, and Prospero's most cherished books. They washed ashore on the island, where Prospero has raised Miranda.

Now, he explains, his enemies were brought near to the island on their ship, and his fortunes are changing.

Prospero, after finishing the tale, puts Miranda to sleep, and summons Ariel. Ariel tells Prospero that the storm followed his command to the letter, and that all on board the ship panicked. Ferdinand was the first to flee. Ariel relates that all on board are perfectly safe. Ferdinand is by himself on the island and the mariners are left asleep on the boat, which is safely in harbour.

Ariel then reminds Prospero of his promised freedom. Ariel was a captive of the witch Sycorax when Prospero came to the island. He was held in a tree, and the witch had died, leaving only Ariel and her son Caliban on the island. Prospero reminds Ariel of his horrible torment, and threatens it again unless Ariel is obedient. Ariel immediately become obedient. Prospero promises him release in two days time. He instructs Ariel to make himself invisible to all other eyes. Ariel leaves.

Miranda wakes and Prospero takes her to visit Caliban. Ariel appears briefly in a water nymph costume. Caliban emerges, cursing Prospero, who in turn curses him to suffer terrible cramps. Caliban accuses Prospero of taking the island unlawfully, it should have been his by inheritance. Prospero was initially friendly to Caliban, teaching him to speak, and garnering in return the secrets of the isle, and now he imprisons him, and uses him as a slave. Prospero replies that he had attempted to rape Miranda. Caliban had hoped to fill the isle with his descendants. Miranda tells him that she had originally pitied him, but now she thinks his punishment is well deserved. Prospero orders him away to seek wood, and Caliban obeys him, because of the strength of his power.

Ferdinand enters. Ariel is singing to him, and Ferdinand cannot see him, he has simply followed it, because it sang to him of his father's death. Miranda thinks he is a spirit, for he is too good-looking to be mortal. This is highly satisfactory to Prospero, and it only improves when Ferdinand reacts similarly to Miranda. He speaks to her of his father's death, and sadly proclaims himself the King of Naples. He declares he will make her his Queen.

Prospero sees his plan working, but declares he will make their courtship difficult, so as to be sure. He promptly accuses Ferdinand of spying. He goads him into raising his sword and then paralyses him. Miranda is horrified. Prospero sneers to her that Ferdinand is nothing compared with other men. Miranda declares she is satisfied.

Released, Ferdinand decides he would gladly suffer his father's death and Prospero's threats for the sight of Miranda. Prospero delightedly commends Ariel's work.

"O, the cry did knock/Against my very heart!" - Miranda on the shipwreck.
"your piteous heart" - Prospero to Miranda.
"The very virtue of compassion in thee" - Prospero to Miranda.
"What foul play had we that we came from thence/Or blessèd was't we did?" - Miranda, on their exile from Milan.
"that a brother/Should be so perfidious!" - Prospero on Antonio.
"And Prospero the prime duke, being so reputed/In dignity, and for the liberal arts/Without a parallel." - Prospero, describing himself as Duke of Milan.
"an evil nature" - Prospero on Antonio.
"Me (poor man) my library/Was dukedom large enough" - Prospero.
"So dear the love my people bore me" - Prospero.
"I find my zenith doth depend upon/A most auspicious star." - Prospero.
"My liberty." - Ariel.
"Slave! Caliban!" - Prospero.
"Whom stripes may move, not kindness" - Prospero on Caliban.
"But thy vile race... had that in 't which good natures/Could not abide to be with." - Miranda on Caliban.
"The red plague rid you/For learning me your language!" - Caliban to Miranda.
"Full fathom five thy father lies;/Of his bones are coral made;/Those are pearls that were his eyes;/Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea-change/Into something rich and strange." - Ariel singing to Ferdinand.
"But this swift business/I must uneasy make, lest too light winning/Make the prize light." - Prospero on Ferdinand and Miranda.

Act Two

Scene One - Another part of the island.

The royal party is gathered. Gonzalo pleads with Alonso to cheer up, because so many escaped the wreck without harm. Alonso refuses. Sebastian and Antonio goad Gonzalo about his longwindedness. They bet on whether Gonzalo or Adrian will speak first. Adrian speaks - Antonio wins. Adrian says the island seems to have a sweet air, and Sebastian and Antonio disagree, while Gonzago agrees. Furthermore, Gonzago thinks their garments are cleaner than they were at the wedding of Claribel, daughter of Alonso, to the king of Tunis. They call the question to Alonso, who once again asks them to keep quiet. He will never see hi daughter in life again, and he is sure his son is dead.

Sebastian thinks it is lucky Claribel is away, in her forced marriage. Gonzago moves the conversation to the island. He thinks, if he governed it, he would rule a idle utopia, no business, no law, no agriculture - no crime. He feels he would be an excellent king. Antonio and Sebastian laugh.

All then fall asleep except for Sebastian and Antonio. Antonio begins flattering Sebastian, teasing him about the noble appearance of his face. He knows what to do with Sebastian. He assures him that Ferdinand is dead, and furthermore, that Claribel is too far away to ever take the throne of Naples. He thinks that then Sebastian will become his brother Alonso's heir. Antonio reminds Sebastian of his own successful plot against Prospero. They draw their swords to kill the king.

Ariel wakes the sleepers, and Antonio and Sebastian tell them that they heard a monstrous noise, against which they drew their swords. They decide to leave the area.

"Our hint of woe/Is common... but for the miracle... few in millions/Can speak like us." - Gonzalo, on Ferdinand's death, and their survival.
"It must needs be of subtle, tender, and delicate temperance." - Adrian on the island.
"as 'twere perfumed by a fen." - Antonio on the island.
"O thou mine heir/Of Naples and of Milan, what strange fish/Hath made his meal on thee?" - Alonso to the absent Ferdinand.
"My strong imagination sees a crown/Dropping upon thy head." - Antonio to Sebastian.
"This is a strange repose, to be asleep/With eyes wide open: standing, speaking, moving,/And yet so fast asleep." - Sebastian to Antonio.
"Whereof what's past is prologue, what to come,/In yours and my discharge." - Antonio.
"Twenty consciences/That stand 'twixt me and Milan, candied be they/And melt, ere they molest!" - Antonio.

Scene Two - A place near Prospero's cell.

Caliban is carrying wood, and cursing Prospero. He is worried that Prospero is using his spirits to spy on him, and that Prospero will order them to torture him. He sees Trinculo enter, and thinks he is one of the spirits. He lies down and hides under a cloak.

Trinculo senses another storm rising, and wonders where to hide. Stumbling across Caliban, he thinks he has found a peculiar fish, and fantasises about selling it, but then decides it is a lightening-felled islander. He sees the storm is closer, and joins Caliban under the cloak.

Stephano comes along, drunk and singing. Caliban thinks that he too is a torturing spirit. Stephano sees the cloak, and four legs emerging from beneath it. He thinks he has found a monster. When Caliban continues to cry out, he thinks the monster is ill, and having a fit. He thinks his bottle of wine will help, and gives Caliban a drink.

Trinculo recognises Stephano's voice, and speaks of him. Stephano now faces a monster with two mouths, and decides he faces a devil. Trinculo identifies himself, and they are reunited.

Caliban then emerges and, on the basis of the liquor, swears himself to be Stephano's servant. Trinculo merely asks for another drink. Caliban asks Stephano if he has dropped from heaven, and Stephano tells him that he was the Man in the Moon. Trinculo laughs heartily at Caliban.

Caliban swears to give the island, and all his knowledge of it to Stephano. Believing the king dead, they leave to take possession of the island, Caliban singing of freedom.

"For every trifle are they set upon me." - Caliban, on Prospero's spirits.
"What have we here? A man or a fish? A fish: he smells like a fish; a very ancient and fishlike smell... A strange fish!" - Trinculo, on first seeing Caliban.
"Where the devil should he learn our language?" - Stephano, when Caliban speaks.
"a very shallow monster... a very weak monster... a most poor credulous monster... this puppy-headed monster... a most scurvy monster... an abominable monster... a most ridiculous monster... a howling monster... a drunken monster" - Trinculo on Caliban.
"I prithee be my god." - Caliban to Stephano.
"A plague upon the tyrant that I serve!" - Caliban to Stephano, on Prospero.
"Freedom, high-day! high-day, freedom! freedom, high-day, freedom!" - Caliban

Act Three

Scene One - Before Prospero's cell.

Ferdinand enters, carrying wood for Prospero. He declares that he shall not complain for Miranda's sake. She weeps to see him set to work, and wonders at her father. Prospero and Miranda appear, and Miranda begs him to rest, as her father will study for three hours. He replies that he will not get it all done by sunset. She offers to replace him, and Prospero, unseen by the two, declares she is 'infected' with love.

Miranda breaks her father's instructions and tells Ferdinand her name. He tells her that all her qualities are of the best. Miranda tells him some of her history, and her ignorance of the world, but declares he is enough for her. Ferdinand declares himself a prince, and perhaps unhappily a king, and tells her this dishonour is all for her. He declares his love for her, and Prospero prays for their affection to grow. Miranda, however feels unworthy, unable to give him what he deserves. She offers herself to him as his wife, or if not, his loyal servant. He accepts her first offer, but they part for half an hour.

Prospero is taken by surprise, but is glad of this development. he returns to his plans.

"some kinds of baseness/Are nobly undergone, and most poor matters/Point to rich ends." - Ferdinand.
"So perfect and so peerless, are created/Of every creature's best." - Ferdinand, on Miranda.
"The very instant I saw you, did/My heart fly to your service" - Ferdinand to Miranda.
"Fair encounter/Of two most rare affections! Heavens rain grace/On that which breeds between 'em!" - Prospero.
"Hence, bashful cunning,/And prompt me, plain and holy innocence!" - Miranda.
"Much business appertaining." - Prospero.

Scene Two - Another part of the island.

Stephano, Caliban and Trinculo are drinking. Stephano and Caliban are joyful, but Trinculo is reflecting on their foolishness. Stephano is boasting about his feat in swimming ashore from the wrecked boat. Caliban swears obedience to Stephano again, and Trinculo laughs. At Caliban's request, Stephano asks Trinculo to cease and desist.

Caliban kneels to repeat his oaths, and Ariel enters and calls him a liar. Thinking Ariel's voice is that of Trinculo, Stephano hits him, and sends him out of hearing distance. Caliban talks of Prospero's great sorcery and wrongdoing in taking the isle from its rightful owner. Caliban says he will take Stephano to Prospero, where Stephano may kill him and take possession of the isle, taking care first to take his books of magic. Caliban also tells Stephano of the beauty of Miranda, and suggests she will be his wife.

Forgiving Trinculo, Stephano joyful acknowledges the plan. Ariel decides to tell Prospero. Stephano begins singing a song that Caliban taught him, but misses the tune. Ariel plays the tune on a tabor and pipe. Caliban reassures the other two that the isle is full of invisible music and beautiful dreams. Stephano exults that the isle will be his. The two men decide to follower the musician and afterwards kill Prospero.

"The folly of this island." - Trinculo.
"thou deboshed fish thou" - Trinculo to Caliban.
"That a monster should be such a natural" - Trinculo, on Caliban. Note the word 'natural' means 'fool'.
"The poor monster's my subject and he shall not suffer indignity." - Stephano, on Caliban.
"They all do hate him. As rootedly as do I." - Caliban, on Prospero's spirits.
"Thought is free." - Stephano, singing Caliban's song.
"the isle is full of noises/Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not./Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments/Will hum about mine ears: and sometime voices/That, if I had then waked after long sleep,/Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,/The clouds methought would open and show riches/Ready to drop upon me, that, when I waked,/I cried to dream again."

Scene Three - Another part of the island.

The royal party is walking, and soon sit down to rest. Antonio and Sebastian decide that the night will be an excellent opportunity to kill Alonso, as the watch will be bad.

Spirits enter, with an invisible Prospero, and set a feast for the King. They wonder at it, and Gonzalo declares that the islanders are of better quality than most men. They decide to eat. Ariel, however, summons a storm, and the food vanishes, and declares that he will make Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian mad, for they are sinners. They draw their swords. Ariel laughs, and declares himself invulnerable to the elements. Reminding them of their actions against Prospero and Miranda, he declares that Fate has taken the Prince, and will slowly destroy Alonso. Prospero congratulates Ariel on his performance, and leaves to return to Ferdinand and Miranda.

Gonzalo anxiously asks Alonso what is the matter, and Alonso stares into space, and replies that the elements are singing the name of Prosper. Sebastian and Antonio rush off to fight the 'fiends'. Gonzalo decides guilt is destroying their minds, and orders the others to look after them.

"the sea mocks. Our frustrate search on land." - Alonso.
"though they are of monstrous shape, yet note,/Their manners are more gentle, kind, than of/Our human generation." - Gonzalo, on the 'islanders' - Prospero's spirits.
"the never surfeited sea... exposed unto the sea" - Ariel.
"Ling'ring perdition (worse than any death/Can be at once) shall step by step attend/You and your ways." - Ariel to Alonso.
"A grace it had, devouring" - Prospero, to Ariel.
"these, mine enemies, are all knit up/In their distractions: they now are in my power." - Prospero.
"Methought the billows spoke and told me of it;/The winds did sing it to me; and the thunder,/That deep and dreadful organ pipe,/Pronounced the name of Prosper; it did bass my trespass." - Alonso.
"their great guilt,/Like poison given to work a great time after,/Now gins to bite the spirits." - Gonzalo.

Act Four

Scene 1 - Before Prospero's cell.

Prospero tells Ferdinand that he has made him amends for his punishment, for Miranda is a third of life to him. It is strange to Prospero that Ferdinand passed the tests. He tells Ferdinand that Miranda is beyond praise. He then gives Miranda to Ferdinand, warning him not to have sex with her before they are married, or all the blessings of the marriage will sour. Ferdinand replies that his honour will always overcome his lust.

Prospero summons Ariel to perform another vision, for he has promised the two some demonstration of his power. Ariel leaves, after extracting a declaration of love from Prospero.

The masque begins.

Iris is praising Ceres, the goddess of growth, and summons her to entertain. Ceres enters, and greets Iris. Iris tells her they are to celebrate 'a contract of true love'. Ceres is assured that Venus and her son, Cupid, are not present. (They masterminded Pluto's abduction of Ceres' daughter Prosperine.) They had thought to inspire sinful lust in the young couple, but failed, and Cupid has sworn off his former pursuits, and returned to childhood. Juno arrives, and greets Ceres, her sister. They sing to the couple, blessing them with happiness and riches, and images of beautiful nature.

Ferdinand praises the vision, and Prospero's art and power. Prospero tells him to be quiet, or the spell will break.

Iris calls water nymphs, and reapers, to celebrate. They dance, and the dance does not quite finish.

Prospero cries out, and the masque vanishes suddenly. The hour for the planned murder by Stephano has come. Ferdinand and Miranda do not know what is happening, and Miranda has never seen him so angry. Prospero tells Ferdinand to cheer up, that he had told him it was a vision. However, like the vision, they themselves will some day vanish. The two leave, and Ariel arrives.

Ariel says he would have reminded him sooner, but he feared his anger. Ariel tells him how he found them, and that he led them by his music, charmed, and led them near to where he is now, fallen in a filthy pool. Prospero orders Ariel to bring the beautiful robes from his cell. He then bemoans Caliban's nature.

The three plotters enter. Trinculo and Stephano are threatening Caliban, as he told them the music was harmless. Caliban warns them to be quiet, and points out the cell. Stephano is ready to enter, when Trinculo spies the robes, and they rush over and begin trying them on, hailing each other King and viceroy. Caliban curses their stupidity.

The spirits enter and drive them off. Prospero curses them. All of Prospero's enemies are now in his power.

"Your compensation makes amends" - Prospero.
"thou shalt find she will outstrip all praise/And make it halt behind her." - Ferdinand.
"No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall/To make this contract grow; but barren hate,/Sour-eyed disdain, and discord shall bestrew/The union of your bed with weeds so loathly/That you shall hate it both." - Prospero, to Miranda and Ferdinand.
"shall never melt/Mine honour into lust." - Ferdinand.
"my potent master" - Ariel, to Prospero.
"the rabble/O'er whom I give thee pow'r" - Prospero, to Ariel, on the other spirits.
"the strongest oaths are straw/To th' fire i' th' blood." - Prospero.
"Honour, riches, marriage blessing" - Juno, to Ferdinand and Miranda.
"Spring come to you at the farthest/In the very end of harvest." - Ceres, to Ferdinand and Miranda.
"This is a most majestic vision" - Ferdinand.
"Our revels now are ended. These our actors,/As I foretold you, were all spirits and/Are melted into air, into thin air;/And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,/The cloud-capped tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,/The solemn temples, the great globe itself,/Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,/And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,/Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff/As dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep." - Prospero.
"A devil, a born devil, on whose nature/Nurture can never stick: on whom my pains,/Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost!" - Prospero, on Caliban.
"What do you mean/To dote thus on such luggage?" - Caliban, to Stephano.

Act Five

Scene 1 - Before Prospero's cell.

Ariel tells Prospero that it is the sixth hour of the day, at which time their work should end. The Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian remain mad, and the others mourn for them, especially Gonzalo. Ariel thinks that if he were human, he would feel most sorry for them. Prospero anticipates his feelings will become tender. Ariel goes to fetch them.

Prospero, alone, talks of his magic, and the spirits through whom he has worked. However, he determines to resign his magic as soon as this last project is done, to break his staff and drown his book.

The royal party enters in a trance. Prospero observes them. First thinking of Gonzalo, he praises his kindness and loyalty. He then condemns Alonso's, and Sebastian's, part in the usurpation. He speaks of his forgiveness for Antonio, though not his understanding, as their minds begin to return. He orders Ariel to fetch his royal garments, promising him freedom soon. Ariel sings in delight.

Ariel goes to the ship to fetch the captain and boatswain. Gonzalo speaks, and Prospero announces himself. Alonso wonders if he is a vision, offers him his dukedom back, and finally wonders at his story. Quietly, Prospero makes Antonio and Sebastian aware that he knew of their plot, but will not tell at this time.

Alonso then speaks of his 'lost' son, and Prospero sympathises, on the basis of having just lost a daughter. Alonso wishes that he had died in Ferdinand's stead. Prospero takes them to his cell, and there they are reunited with Ferdinand, who is playing chess with Miranda. Alonso doubts it is him, and then joyfully realises his son lives.

Miranda exclaims at the beauty of mankind, and Prospero wirily tells her that she misunderstands them. Ferdinand presents her to his father. Gonzalo exclaims at the wonder of Prospero's fate working for him so well - that his descendants shall be rulers of Naples.

The master and boatswain bring the news that the ship is safe and Ariel tells Prospero that was his work. Prospero refuses to answer the puzzled queries of the onlookers.

Finally, Prospero releases Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban. He returns Stephano and Trinculo to thir master, Alonso. Stephano moans in pain. Prospero sends the three to his cell, ordering them to scrub it well if they look for forgiveness. Caliban berates himself for taking Stephano as a god, and vows to strive for grace.

Prospero invites them all to spend a night on the isle being entertained by his story. he assures them he will give them good weather for their journey. He then sets Ariel free.

"the good old lord Gonzalo" - Ariel.
"if you now beheld them, your affections/Would become tender" - Ariel.
"The rarer action is/In virtue than in vengeance" - Prospero.
"But this rough magic/I here abjure; and when I have required/Some heavenly music (and even now I do)/To work mine end upon their senses that/This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,/Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,/And deeper than did ever plummet sound/I'll drown my book." - Prospero.
"the ignorant fumes that mantle/Their clearer reason." - Prospero.
"You, brother mine, that entertained ambition;/Expelled remorse and nature... I do forgive thee,/Unnatural though thou art." - Prospero.
"Their understanding/Begins to swell, and the approaching tide/Will shortly fill the reasonable shore,/That now lies foul and muddy." - Prospero.
"Merrily, merrily shall I live now/Under the blossom that hangs on the bough." - Ariel.
"I wish/Myself were muddled in that oozy bed/Where my son lies." - Alonso.
"Though the seas threaten, they are merciful." - Ferdinand.
"this demi-devil/(For he's a bastard one)" - Prospero, on Caliban.
"this thing of darkness/I acknowledge mine." - Prospero, on Caliban,
"I'll be wise hereafter,/And seek for grace." - Caliban.
"retire me to my Milan, where/Every third thought shall be my grave." - Prospero.
"Then to the elements/Be free, and fare thou well!" - Prospero.



Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint. Now 'tis true
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.