A short summary of the play “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare

The Tempest is a romantic drama by William Shakespeare probably written in 1611, when it was performed before James I at Whitehall; in 1613 it was included in the wedding celebrations for Princess Elizabeth and the elector palatine. It was not printed until 1623 when it appeared as the first play in the first folio. It is usually taken to be his last play that Shakespeare wrote alone.

Prospero, the Duke of Milan, is expelled by his brother Antonio and turned adrift on the sea with his child Miranda. He is a castaway on a lonely island, once the place of banishment of the witch Sycorax. Prospero uses his knowledge of magic to release various spirits (including Ariel) imprisoned by the witch, and these now obey his orders. He also keeps in service the witch’s son Caliban, a misshapen monster, formerly the sole inhabitant of the island. Prospero and Miranda have lived in this way for twelve years. When the play begins a ship carrying the usurper, his confederate Alonso, king of Naples, Alonso’s brother Sebastian and son Ferdinand, is by Prospero‘s art wrecked on the island. The passengers are saved, but Ferdinand is thought by the rest to be drowned, and he thinks this is their fate. According to Prospero’s plan, Ferdinand and Miranda are thrown together and fall in love. Prospero appears to distrust Ferdinand and sets him to carrying logs. On another part of the island Sebastian and Antonio plot to kill Alonso and Gonzalo, an old councilor who had helped Prospero in his banishment. Caliban offers his services to Stefano, a drunken butler, and Trinculo, a jester, and persuades them to try to murder Prospero. As the conspirators approach, Prospero breaks off the masque of Iris, Juno, and Ceres, which Ariel has presented to Ferdinand and Miranda. Caliban, Stefano, and Trinculo are driven off and Ariel brings the king and his courtiers to Prospero’s cell. There he greets ‘My true preserver’ Gonzalo, forgives his brother, Antonio, on the condition that he restores his dukedom to him, and reunites Alonso with his son Ferdinand, who is discovered playing chess with Miranda. While Alonso repents for what he has done, Antonio and Sebastian do not speak directly to Prospero, but exchange ironic and cynical comments with each other. The boatswain and master of the ship appear to say that it has been magically repaired and that the crew is safe. Before all embark for Italy Prospero frees Ariel from his service, renounces his magic, and leaves Caliban once more alone on the island.

The Tempest has inspired numerous works of art, including Milton’s Comus, P. B. Shelley’s ‘Ariel to Miranda’,  Robert Browning’s ‘Caliban upon Setebos’, W. H. Auden’s series of poetic meditations The Sea and the Mirror, a science fiction film, Forbidden Planet (1954), Marina Warner’s novel Indigo (1992).

Also read: Significance of the comic subplot of “The Tempest” by Shakespeare