The Tempest Commentary provides a comprehensive description with explanations and translations for all important quotes
William Shakespeare's plays, sonnets and poems at AbsoluteShakespeare.com
Home Plays Sonnets Poems Quotes Summaries Essays Glossary Links Help

HOME > Shakespeare Summaries > The Tempest Commentary - Act I.

The Tempest Commentary - Act I.

Study Guides
Hamlet
Julius Caesar
King Henry IV
King Lear
Macbeth
Merchant of Venice
Othello
Romeo and Juliet
The Tempest
Twelfth Night

Trivia
Authorship
Bard Facts
Bibliography
Biography
FAQ
Films
Globe Theatre
Pictures
Quiz
Timeline

The Tempest Commentary provides a comprehensive description of every act with explanations and translations for all important quotes.

Act I. Scene I. - On a Ship at Sea. A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard.

The Boatswain: "What cares these roarers for the name of king?"

A huge storm batters a ship carrying Alonso, (King of Naples), Sebastian, (Alonso's brother), Ferdinand (Alonso's son), Antonio, Gonzalo and others. Death looks likely...

The play begins to the sound of howling seas, strikes of lightning and the claps of thunder. Drenched in rain and salt, a Shipmaster and a Boatswain (sailor) enter or more likely, stagger into view. The Shipmaster tells the Boatswain to "speak to the mariners:" and ensure they all "fall to't yarely, or we run ourselves aground: bestir, bestir" (work together or we will run aground and be shipwrecked), (Line 3).

The Boatswain orders that the topsails be taken down, and now Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Ferdinand and Gonzalo, go up on deck.

Their presence on deck is not welcomed by the already busy Boatswain who tells Antonio that "You mar our labour: keep your cabins:" (you distract our work, go to your cabins), adding that their distraction helps the storm, not the sailors fighting to save their ship (Line 14).

Gonzalo tells the Boatswain (senior sailor commanding others) to "be patient" (Line 17). The Boatswain has little time for Gonzalo when his ship is so close to sinking and questions his superiors by asking "What cares these roarers [rollers or large waves] for the name of king?" (what cares these huge waves or rollers for the name of king or your positions for that matter?) again telling the gentlemen to retreat to their cabins (Line 19).

Gonzalo reminds the rude Boatswain whom he is shouting to, to which the Boatswain tells Gonzalo that as a counsellor if he cannot calm the seas then he should retire to his cabin (Line 22).

Gonzalo however, says he derives "great comfort from this fellow:" (great comfort from the boatswain) adding that since the Boatswain appears to be a man more likely to die by being hung than by drowning, he will probably live and therefore so will they. Says Gonzalo of the Boatswain, "If he be not born to be hanged, our case is miserable" (if this man was born to die by hanging then our hope of surviving this storm is miserable).

The Boatswain continues to bring down sails and now Sebastian returns on deck along with Antonio.

Sebastian insults the Boatswain, calling him a "bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!" (Line 46).

The Boatswain returns fire, telling Sebastian to work instead.

Antonio now insults the Boatswain as a "whoreson, insolent noisemaker," adding "we are less afraid to be drowned than thou art" (we are less afraid to die by drowning than you are), (Line 50).

The Boatswain ignores them now and a wet Mariner (sailor) exclaims "All lost!" (all is lost / we will die). Gonzalo calls on Sebastian and Antonio to join "The king and prince at prayers!" (praying), (Line 59).

Sebastian and Antonio worry that they will be cheated out of their lives by some lowly drunkards (the sailors) whilst Gonzalo maintains hope, adding that the Boatswain will "be hanged yet, / Though every drop of water swear against it," (the Boatswain will be hanged yet even though every drop of water swears that he will drown), (Line 64).

Fearing the end, Gonzalo, Antonio and Sebastian bid their lives good bye (Line 67 onwards).

Act I. Scene II. - The Island: before the Cell of Prospero.

Prospero: "They are both in either's powers: but this swift business / I must uneasy make, lest too light winning / Make the prize light."

On the island near the storm, Prospero and his daughter Miranda are introduced. We learn that Prospero has created the storm battling Alonso and company's ship. Miranda asks Prospero to stop the storm. We also learn that Prospero was once the Duke of Milan but was banished to this island with Miranda by Antonio, his brother who took over Prospero's dukedom of Milan. We are introduced to Ariel, Prospero's magic fairy who tells us that the men aboard the ship have all made it ashore unharmed as planned. Caliban, a misformed beast also makes his appearance. Ariel leads Ferdinand to Miranda and the two immediately fall in love. Prospero decides to be rude to Ferdinand fearing a rapid courtship.

Prospero and Miranda enter. Miranda knows that her father's magic has conjured up the storm the ship is experiencing and Miranda would like it stopped: "If by your art, my dearest father, you have / Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them" (dearest father, if by your art or magic you have created this storm, please stop it), (Line 1).

Miranda has felt Alonso and company's pain and regrets that these noble men are likely to be dashed or rather bashed to pieces when their ship breaks up: "O! I have suffer'd / With those that I saw suffer: a brave vessel, / Who had, no doubt, some noble creatures in her, / Dash'd all to pieces" (Line 5).

Prospero tells his daughter not to worry. "Tell your piteous heart / There's no harm done" he says (Line 14).

Now Prospero decides it is time for his daughter to know the truth; how she and her father came to this island: "I should inform thee [you] further" (Line 23).

Asking his daughter to take off his magic garment and laying down his mantle, he tells his daughter to "Wipe thou thine eyes;" (wipe away those tearful eyes of yours) which have obviously been crying for the men aboard the previously doomed ship (Line 25).

Miranda explains that many a time she was about to learn her past, but her father hesitated from telling her. Prospero asks Miranda about her earliest memories as a child. She remembers that four or five women once tended to her which Prospero confirms (Line 47).

Prospero explains to Miranda that she has been on this island for twelve years (Line 53) adding that her father (Prospero) was the Duke of Milan, her mother, "a piece of virtue," (had great virtue), (Line 56). Miranda now asks how if she were once a princess, why she should now live on an island in exile.

Prospero explains that he entrusted the matters of his state to his brother Antonio whilst he followed his love of art and in particular reading. Unfortunately, his brother turned his subordinates against him and had him exiled (Lines 65-116).

Seeking to replace Prospero completely, Antonio made a pact with the King of Naples to "Subject his coronet to his [the King's] crown," (be loyal to King Alonso), (Line 114).

Now allied with the King of Naples, Prospero and daughter were evicted from Milan (Lines 120-132). Ministers (agents) of Antonio's dark purpose, rushed Prospero and daughter onto a boat so decrepit, "the very rats / Instinctively have quit it:" (the very rats aboard it, left the boat as they instinctively thought it was unsafe for them), (Line 148).

Only "A noble Neapolitan [a person living in Naples], Gonzalo," helped them, charitably providing Prospero with "Rich garments, linens, stuffs," (clothes, supplies), (Line 164), and crucially, books from Prospero's own private library (Lines 163-168).

Now knowing the truth, Miranda asks about the necessity of the storm (Line 177). Prospero explains that it was good luck that his enemy's ship had come within his powers and having already picked up his mantle, Prospero uses his magic to cast Miranda asleep.

Ariel is now introduced. A spirit or fairy, Ariel explains that he has performed all that was asked of him. He created a great storm, but not a man was hurt and now the rest of the fleet have sailed on fearing this ship lost. The ship itself is now safely moored in one of the island's coves (Lines 188-236).

Ariel now brings up the issue of his freedom. Specifically he has none as a servant to Prospero. Prospero now reminds Ariel of the fate he found him in when he first landed on the island.

Prospero recounts how a cruel witch called Sycorax imprisoned Ariel for refusing to obey her, encasing him in a cloven pine. Sycorax died and Ariel remained imprisoned.

Now Prospero makes an important decision; Ariel will be free in two days if he does as commanded of him (Lines 249-301). He now bids Ariel away telling him to be invisible.

Miranda awakes and Prospero decides to visit his slave Caliban, son of the witch Sycorax. Caliban is gathering wood for Prospero. He insults his master, and Prospero commands a spell of aches and pains upon him as punishment.

Caliban curses Prospero for teaching him to speak and regrets telling Prospero of the entire island's charms (places to find food, fresh springs and so forth), (Line 340).

Prospero explains that he treated Caliban well. This only changed because Caliban overstepped the mark. He attempted to rape or as Prospero says, "violate / The honour of my child [Miranda]" in Prospero's own cell or home (Line 348) adding that Caliban deserves much more punishment than he presently receives (Lines 328-352).

Ferdinand now awakes from his sleep and his memories of the storm. He is alive, yet he hears music, beautiful music. Following the melody he cannot make sense of his actions, yet compelled, he follows the mesmerizing tune nonetheless.

Miranda, who has seen few men save her father, sees Ferdinand, asking "What is 't? a spirit? Lord, how it looks about! Believe me, sir, / It carries a brave form:" (what is it? a spirit. Lord, how it looks around! Believe me, it carries a brave, striking appearance), (Line 408).

Miranda is clearly impressed, "I might call him / A thing divine; for nothing natural / I ever saw so noble" (I might call this sight divine for I have never seen anything quite so noble), (Line 414).

Ferdinand is also bewitched, surprised that Miranda can speak the same language and asking if Miranda is a maid (women), (Lines 425-426).

Worried that Ariel's plan to get the two lovebirds together may be proceeding too fast, Prospero is now quite rude to Ferdinand. Ferdinand's wish to make Miranda his "Queen of Naples" intensifies this (Line 445).

Prospero decides that he must now slow things down between the two lovebirds: "They are both in either's powers: but this swift business / I must uneasy make, lest too light winning / Make the prize light" (they are both entranced by each other or in love but I must move quickly now to slow things down since a prize like my daughter's heart that is too easily won is less prized in its winning), (Lines 448-449).

Threatened with being manacled and chained, Ferdinand attempts to draw his sword in defense against Prospero but is charmed out of doing it.

Miranda begs her father for mercy. Now spellbound by Prospero, Ferdinand yields, and does Prospero's bidding.

< PREVIOUS
Copyright 2000-2005 AbsoluteShakespeare.com. All rights reserved.  Contact Us  Privacy  Awards