Synopsis of The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Plot Construction of The Tempest

The plot of  'The Tempest' revolves around a shipwreck, magically contrived. The events, throughout the play, trace back to the past while focuses on the present with equal ease. The Three Unities—Time, Place and Action are kept intact. All the characters are brought to the same place through the shipwreck. Except for the first scene, all actions take place on the island. The background of the play is revealed through dialogues.

Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan masterminds the shipwreck to take revenge against his enemies. He tells Miranda, his daughter, how they were put on a flimsy ship to perish in the sea by his own brother Antonio in assistance with the King of Naples, Alonso. But were miraculously saved as Gonzalo, a kind old man who was in charge of the whole process, played a significant role by keeping the essentials, and Prospero's precious magic books in the boat. Prospero took refuge on the island and brought the spirits under his control with his magic. It is with the help of Ariel, the airy spirit that he wrought the storm and the rest of the events to make his enemies suffer, get his daughter married and above all fulfil his desire to make his enemies realize the magnitude of their crime.

Three sub-plots are masterly woven into the main plot that deals with revenge and forgiveness. The love story of Miranda and Ferdinand, the plot against the life of Alonso and the comic interlude involving three minor characters seamlessly merge with the main plot to make the play a compact and harmonious whole.

Critical Appreciation of The Tempest

'The Tempest' is a widely acclaimed play that has enthralled many an audience all over the world. Its popularity is due to its theme, the splendour of the magic environment, and the supernatural elements that add drama and excitement to the story. A critical analysis brings out several aspects that lead to its universal appeal.
The play involves multiple themes conveying multiple meanings. It primarily deals with power, temporal as well as spiritual. A profound insight into the power of self, juxtaposed to the outer world gives scope for philosophical exploration. The world of Nature is also contrasted with the supernatural world that gives another fascinating angle to the play.

Prospero was a powerful ruler of Milan. He ruled his country with justice and love. After his banishment, he is devoid of worldly power but soon becomes the master of an uninhabited island with the help of his magic. The spirits obey him and respect his power. The theme of power is reinstated by Ferdinand accepting his kingly status under the misconception of his father's absence. It is for power that Antonio and Sebastian turn against their brothers. Even Gonzalo, despite his grand conception of the commonwealth, considers himself as its ruler. Prospero's invasion of the island is often compared to the colonization of other countries by imperialistic rulers and exploiting their resources. The play seems to be a justification for such forces.

Another theme is that of Nature and Nurture. Caliban is intrinsically evil and no training or advice improves his dark character. But Miranda brought up under the care of her parent is a paragon of virtues, in whom nature and nurture find its fulfilment. On a philosophical plane, the play deals with the transient nature of life which is emphasized through the masque which disappears in a trice. Prospero's speech on the same theme tells us that his materialistic world with all its great buildings and pomp and show is impermanent. The same is the case with Ariel impersonating various forms like that of a nymph, a harpy, and a flame.

Apart from the major themes, the correspondent meanings also make the play profound. Revenge that turns instantly to forgiveness and granting of freedom is a major interpretation that many critics find. Cheerfulness in misfortune is another idea that can be pondered upon. Apart from that, Prospero is seen as the replica of Shakespeare, a man of genius who can wield power over others by the sheer dint of talent. Supernaturalism is a striking feature of the play. The storm, the gathering of the good and the evil, the banquet, the music, the punishment of the three comic characters, even the love of Miranda and Ferdinand are achieved through magic and supernatural forces. Without these events, the tempest would have lost half of its charm and vitality.

The spectacular extravaganza, which the tempest offers is rarely outdone by other literary works. One seems to be awestruck by the fierce storm that comes from nowhere, the appearance of fierce Harpy with its sharp admonition, the opulent pageant put up by the spirits; the music and the dance contribute to its entertainment quotient. Apart from that, there is a comic element that adds to its appeal. The witty remarks of Gonzalo, Antonio, and Sebastian amuse us, along with the tomfoolery of Caliban and his friends.

'The Tempest' is a romantic play. Its very atmosphere is steeped in romance. The magic, the supernatural elements, the masque, the adventure in the sea, along with the youthful love of Miranda and Ferdinand all cater to the romantic feeling. At the same time, its characterization and the emotions undergone by the characters make it realistic too. There is good and the bad, beauty and ugliness, sweet songs and fearful noises representing the different forces in the play. The tenderness and the grotesque mingle presenting the reality of life.

Brief Characters Summary from The Tempest

Prospero : The ousted Duke of Milan and a powerful wizard.
Miranda: Daughter of Prospero.
Antonio: Brother of Prospero and usurping Duke of Milan.
Gonzalo: An honest old councillor.
Alonzo: King of Naples.
Ferdinand: Son of Alonso.
Sebastian: Brother of Alonso.
Ariel: An airy spirit.
Caliban: A savage and deformed slave and son of a demi-devil and a witch, Sycorax.
Iris: Messenger of Gods.
Ceres: Goddess of Agriculture.
Juno: Queen of the gods and wife of the chief god, Jupiter.
Trinculo: A jester
Stephano: A drunken butler
Boatswain: Chief Officer of the ship
Adrian/Francisco: Lords
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