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The Tempest

The Tempest Summary


Here you will find a The Tempest summary (William Shakespeare's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Tempest Summary Overview

A ship carrying a group of nobles and sailors, including Alonso, Ferdinand, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, Stephano, and Trinculo, encounters a violent storm at sea, and those on board fear for their lives as lightning strikes the ship. Safely observing from the shore of a nearby island are Miranda and her father Prospero. She implores him to use his abilities to save the crew, to which he assures her everyone is safe. He then shares with her a long-held secret; he has magical abilities and was once the Duke of Milan until his brother Antonio and Alonso, King of Naples, overthrew him. Left to perish on a raft at sea, Prospero and Miranda survived thanks to supplies left by Gonzalo, including Prospero's books. These books were the source of his magic that brought them to the island, where they have lived for twelve years. The shipwreck was Prospero's doing, a plan to correct past wrongs. Prospero magically sends Miranda to sleep and summons his spirit servant Ariel, who is revealed to have caused the storm and ensured the ship's passengers safely reached the island, albeit in scattered groups. Ariel mentions Prospero's earlier promise of freedom in exchange for his service, which Prospero retorts by reminding him of his rescue from a witch's curse. Upon Miranda's awakening, they encounter Caliban, the son of the witch who had enslaved Ariel, and Prospero's servant. Ferdinand, who was guided by the still invisible Ariel, meets and falls in love with Miranda, and Prospero, happy about this development, manipulates events to ensure their bond develops at his pace. Meanwhile, Alonso and others are concerned about Ferdinand's fate and begin to squabble, while Ariel instigates a failed plot to kill Alonso. Caliban, forced to fetch firewood, encounters Stephano and Trinculo, whom he believes are Prospero's spirits sent to torment him. All three end up drunk, and under Ariel's invisible influence, they plan to murder Prospero. Alonso and his companions, meanwhile, are tormented by Ariel with illusions and accusations of their treachery against Prospero, leaving them distressed. Prospero manipulates events such that Miranda and Ferdinand agree to marry, and Ariel leads Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo into a trap where they're attacked by spirits in the form of dogs. Lastly, Ariel brings all the ship's passengers before Prospero, who confronts them about their past actions but forgives them. He reveals Miranda and Ferdinand's engagement to their delight, and orders Ariel to ensure a smooth sailing for their journey back to Italy. Prospero prepares to return to his former life, releasing Ariel and appealing to the audience for their pardon and applause.

act 1 scene 1

The sea is rough as a small ship battles a savage storm. The ship's master commands his boatswain to awaken the sailors to protect the ship from the storm's wrath, causing confusion. Soon, a group of nobles, including Alonso, the King of Naples, his brother Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, and others, appear. We don't find out who they are or their recent visit to Tunis, Africa for the wedding of Alonso’s daughter, Claribel in this scene. As the Boatswain and his team attend to the ship, Alonso's party becomes a hindrance, leading the Boatswain to ask them to move below-decks. Gonzalo mentions the significance of one of the passengers, but the Boatswain remains unfazed, prioritizing the safety of the ship. Gonzalo and his party retreat below-decks. The scene's confusion increases when Sebastian, Antonio, and Gonzalo reappear shortly. They berate the Boatswain for his work, their cursing hiding their dread. Some soaked, sobbing sailors enter, and it's at this point we learn about the passengers' identities. Gonzalo instructs the sailors to pray for the king and the prince. Suddenly, an unusual sound is heard—possibly thunder, cracking wood, or roaring water—followed by the sailors' cries. Antonio, Sebastian, and Gonzalo, bracing for a watery demise, go looking for the king.

act 1 scene 2

Standing by the island's shore, Prospero and Miranda observe the shipwreck. Miranda worries for the passengers, but Prospero assures their safety and begins to reveal their past. He explains he used to be the Duke of Milan, known for his intelligence. However, his growing disinterest in politics and focus on studies allowed his brother Antonio, in collusion with the King of Naples, to overthrow him. Prospero and Miranda narrowly escaped death thanks to loyal subjects and found refuge on this island. He then sends Miranda to sleep with his magic. While Miranda sleeps, Prospero summons his spirit, Ariel. They discuss their orchestration of the storm that caused the shipwreck. Ariel, acting as the elements, led the passengers safely but separately to shore. The remaining crew and ship have been enchanted to sleep and are safe in the harbor. The rest of the fleet, believing the ship destroyed, returned to Naples. Prospero expresses gratitude but Ariel quickly reminds Prospero of his promise to reduce Ariel's servitude by a year if services are performed without complaint. Prospero is irked by Ariel's reminder and reprimands him, recounting his rescue of Ariel from the clutches of Sycorax, a witch who had imprisoned Ariel in a pine tree. To quell Ariel's complaints, Prospero threatens a twelve-year imprisonment. Ariel promises better behavior, and is then commanded to disguise as a sea nymph and remain unseen. Miranda then reawakens, unable to recall the enchantment and blames her short sleep on Prospero's strange tale. Upon Miranda's full awakening, Prospero calls upon their servant Caliban, Sycorax’s son. Despite Caliban's complaints and curses about being confined on his own island, Prospero reminds him of his gratitude for educating him and sends him to fetch firewood under the threat of punishment. Following Caliban's exit, Ariel returns, leading in Ferdinand with music and song. Miranda, unfamiliar with other humans besides her father and Caliban, is instantly smitten with Ferdinand, the prince of Naples. Despite Prospero's satisfaction with their quick affection, he decides to slow their budding relationship. He accuses Ferdinand of pretending to be a prince and, despite Miranda's pleas, paralyzes and imprisons him. Secretly, Prospero thanks Ariel for his assistance, sends him on another task, and promises his freedom soon.

act 2 scene 1

Ferdinand is smitten with Miranda, while Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, and other stranded lords are in another part of the island looking for him. Alonso is downcast and dismisses Gonzalo's encouraging words. Antonio and Sebastian also ridicule Gonzalo's positive perspective on the island and their survival. Alonso's frustration explodes when he expresses regret about his daughter's marriage in Tunis. Francisco, a minor lord, speaks up, claiming he saw Ferdinand bravely swimming after the shipwreck, but this doesn't console Alonso. Sebastian blames his brother for Ferdinand's supposed death, arguing it wouldn't have happened if his daughter was married to a European instead of an African. Gonzalo tries to distract the group, discussing his hypothetical rule of the island, but his utopian vision is mocked by Antonio and Sebastian. Ariel enters the scene, playing mesmerizing music, making everyone but Sebastian and Antonio sleep. Seeing this opportunity, Antonio convinces Sebastian to murder his own brother. He persuades him by reasoning that Claribel, the Queen of Tunis, is too far away to claim the throne. Moreover, Antonio's successful takeover of Prospero's dukedom inspires Sebastian. Sebastian ponders if he will be haunted by guilt, which Antonio brushes off. Eventually, Sebastian agrees and they draw their swords. Yet Sebastian hesitates at the last moment. As they discuss further, Ariel sings into Gonzalo's ear, warning him of the conspiracy and urging him to wake up. Gonzalo wakes, shouting to protect the King, waking the others. Caught off guard, Sebastian invents a story about a loud noise that made them draw their swords. Gonzalo suspects something but lets it slide. They continue their hunt for Ferdinand.

act 2 scene 2

Caliban, burdened by a pile of wood, enters amidst booming thunder. He bitterly talks about the pain Prospero's spirits inflicts upon him - pinching, biting and pricking, particularly when he swears. He mistakes Trinculo for one of these tormenting spirits upon seeing him, and lays low under his cloak, hoping to evade more pain. Trinculo, looking for shelter from the storm, spots the cloaked Caliban. Intrigued rather than disgusted, he contemplates whether Caliban is a man or a fish. He recalls seeing oddities at English freak-shows and believes Caliban could fetch him a handsome sum there. Another thunderclap makes him decide to share Caliban's cloak for protection. Stephano strolls in, singing and swigging from a bottle. Hearing Caliban's plea to Trinculo not to torment him and seeing four legs protruding from the cloak, he assumes they are a feverish, four-legged monster. He offers a drink to help with their supposed fever. Caliban continues to resist Trinculo, still under the impression that he is a tormenting spirit. Trinculo recognizes Stephano's voice and calls out, leading Stephano to briefly think the creature has two heads. When Trinculo calls out to Stephano, he uncovers his friend from under the cloak. As they share their tales of survival, Caliban becomes increasingly intoxicated. He offers to show them around the island, and the men humor him, calling him a "most ridiculous monster."

act 3 scene 1

Ferdinand takes on the wood-carrying task previously done by Caliban at Prospero's cell. Unlike Caliban, Ferdinand finds joy in his work as he does it for Miranda, the woman he adores. As he works and muses about Miranda, she appears, followed by Prospero who remains unseen by the pair. Miranda insists Ferdinand rest and even offers to work in his place, thinking her father isn't around. Ferdinand declines her offer but does take a break. He then asks her name and is delighted to learn it's Miranda, a name linked to the word 'admiration' in English. Ferdinand showers Miranda with compliments. Miranda modestly responds by stating that she has no basis for comparison as she's never seen another woman. Despite acknowledging her father's instruction not to talk to Ferdinand, she praises his looks. Ferdinand assures her of his royal status, possibly being a king now, yet hopes his father is alive. However, Miranda seems less interested in his title and more in his love for her. Upon asking him, Ferdinand declares his love, prompting Miranda to suggest marriage. They part ways after Ferdinand accepts the proposal. Prospero, having anticipated this, emerges pleased but restrained. He heads to his magic book to deal with his remaining tasks.

act 3 scene 2

Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano, deeply intoxicated, roam the island. Caliban, now Stephano's "servant monster," happily complies with his orders to drink. Amid their frivolity, spats break out, largely in jest. Stephano, self-proclaimed island ruler, threatens Trinculo with hanging should he belittle his servant monster. Ariel, unseen, joins them as Caliban complains about being dispossessed of the island by a deceitful sorcerer. Ariel sows discord by interrupting with "Thou liest," making Caliban mistakenly believe Trinculo is the speaker. Despite Trinculo's objections, Stephano warns him against interrupting Caliban. Between the liquor and the mischief, Caliban reveals his wish to retaliate against Prospero, a sentiment Ariel periodically interrupts with "Thou liest," leading Stephano to hit Trinculo. Meanwhile, as Ariel watches, Caliban conspires against Prospero. Caliban suggests stealing Prospero's magic books to kill him and seize his daughter. In this plan, Stephano would become king and Miranda, his queen. Trinculo endorses this plot, and Stephano apologizes for their earlier squabbles. Caliban assures them that Prospero will soon fall asleep. Ariel plays his flute and tabor-drum, puzzling Stephano and Trinculo. Caliban assures them there's no danger. Stephano eagerly anticipates ruling the island where music comes free. Thus, they decide to follow the tunes before executing Prospero.

act 3 scene 3

Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, and other lords reach their limit. Alonso loses faith in finding his son. Antonio, clinging on to his murderous intentions, suggests to Sebastian that they can capitalize on Alonso's despair and kill him later. Suddenly, strange music and a parade of spirits carrying a feast appear. The spirits invite the men to eat and then leave. Prospero, unseen by anyone except the audience, also arrives. Initially, the men express doubts about eating but are convinced by Gonzalo who mentions tales of incredible yet real incidents reported by travelers. As they are about to eat, Ariel, taking the form of a harpy, appears amidst thunderous noise. The harpy destroys the feast, ridicules the men for trying to use their magically heavy swords, and condemns Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio for banishing Prospero and leaving him and his child at sea. He reveals that nature and sea have claimed Ferdinand as retribution. The spirits return to clear the feast and an invisible Prospero expresses satisfaction at having his enemies under his control. Alonso, driven by despair upon hearing Prospero's name linked to his son's death, runs off to drown himself. Sebastian and Antonio decide to fight the spirits. Gonzalo urges the others to stop Antonio, Sebastian, and Alonso from acting impulsively. Prospero, content with the current state of affairs, goes to meet his daughter and Ferdinand.

act 4 scene 1

Prospero cautiously gives his consent to Ferdinand and Miranda's union, instructing Ferdinand to respect Miranda's purity until their marriage. Ferdinand agrees. Prospero then instructs Ariel to bring spirits for a special performance for the engaged couple. Three spirits take the forms of Juno, Iris, and Ceres, gods from mythology, and they perform a masque to celebrate the betrothal. Iris first calls upon Ceres at Juno's request to celebrate the true love agreement. Ceres appears followed by Juno. Together, Juno and Ceres bless Ferdinand and Miranda, with Juno desiring wealth and honor for them and Ceres, natural abundance. The spectacle leaves Ferdinand in awe and he expresses his wish to stay on the island with Prospero as his father-in-law and Miranda as his wife. Juno and Ceres instruct Iris to bring nymphs and reapers for a traditional dance. As the dance commences, Prospero has a sudden realization and dismisses the spirits. He remembers Caliban's threat to his life, realizing that the time is nigh for the attempt. Prospero's sudden outburst confuses Ferdinand and Miranda, but he assures them it's just his age. He talks about the masque and the world's fleeting nature, comparing life to a dream. Ferdinand and Miranda depart, leaving Prospero alone, who then calls Ariel. He expresses his dismay at Ariel for forgetting to remind him about Caliban's plot. Ariel recounts the conspirators' plan to steal Prospero's book and murder him. Ariel mentions how he led them through thorny bushes and a dirty pond using his music. Grateful, Prospero and Ariel plan a trap for the aspiring assassins. Prospero and Ariel set out fancy clothes in Prospero's cell intending to lure the men. They then make themselves invisible. Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano enter, drenched from the pond. The sight of the clothes distracts Stephano and Trinculo, tempting them to steal despite Caliban's insistence on sticking to their original plan. Ignoring him, they touch the clothes and a loud noise fills the air. Spirits in the form of hounds, commanded by Ariel and Prospero, chase the thieves away.

act 5 scene 1

Ariel informs Prospero that it's time for a break, confirming that the king and his followers are imprisoned in a grove as instructed. Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian are terrified while Gonzalo weeps. Prospero orders Ariel to free them. Alone on stage, Prospero renounces his magic, vowing to complete his final task, then destroy his staff and magic book. Ariel returns with Alonso's group who stand obediently charmed. Prospero commends Gonzalo's loyalty while scolding the others. Ariel is sent to get Prospero's Duke attire and swiftly helps him dress. Prospero pledges to free Ariel and sends him off to find the Boatswain and mariners from the shipwreck. Upon releasing Alonso's group from their spell, Prospero interacts and forgives Antonio, demanding his dukedom back. Antonio remains silent. Alonso informs Prospero about his missing son Ferdinand. Prospero reveals that he too has lost a child, his daughter, in the storm. Prospero then unveils Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess, much to Alonso's joy. Miranda is amazed by the sight of more humans. Prospero reassures Alonso that all is forgiven. Ariel returns with Boatswain, mariners, Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano. The drunken trio is ordered to clean the clothes they stole. Prospero invites Alonso and his company to spend the night, promising to share his experiences of the past twelve years. The following day, they will depart for Naples for Miranda and Ferdinand's wedding. Post-wedding, Prospero will contemplate his life's end in Milan. His last instruction to Ariel before setting him free is to ensure a smooth journey home.


After the others leave the stage, Prospero gives a closing speech. He talks about how he no longer has his magical abilities and compares his own situation to Ariel and Caliban's imprisonment, saying now he's trapped on stage by the viewers. He tells the audience that their applause can free him, and he hopes they remember that all he wanted was to entertain them. He appeals to their sense of forgiveness, implying that just as they would want their misdeeds forgiven, they should liberate him with their applause.

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