Type of Work: Romantic Fantasy
Setting: A remote Island; fifteenth century
Main Characters: Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan
Miranda, his beautiful daughter
Alonso, King of Naples
Ferdinand, Alonso's son
Antonio, Prospero's wicked brother, the false Duke of Milan
Sebastian, Alonso's brother
Gonzalo, a kind philosopher
Trinculo and Stephano, two drunken courtiers
Ariel, Prospero's spirit servant
Caliban, Prospero's grotesque slave-monster
A great tempest arose that drove a certain ship, bound to Naples from Tunis, off its course and onto an uncharted island. The storm had been magically called up by Prospero, one of the two human inhabitants of the island, in order to bring the vessel to shore.
Prospero had once been the mighty Duke of Milan, and had reigned justly. But he had grown so absorbed in his intellectual pursuits--most of them relating to the supernatural--that he turned over the tedious reins of government to his "trusted" brother Antonio, freeing himself to devote his time to his library and the studies he loved. But, sadly, his ambitious brother, taking advantage of Prospero's naivete, usurped his power--a plan he was only able to carry out with the help of Alonso. Alonso was the King of Naples and a sworn enemy of Milan. Antonio and Alonso cruelly captured Prospero and his infant daughter Miranda, and set them adrift at sea in a small, rotting craft. They would have drowned--Antonio's wish--had it not been for a counselor on the ship named Gonzalo. The counselor provided them with much needed food and drink. Prospero was also saved by volumes of magic spell books from his collection that he managed to smuggle on the ship.
When Prospero and Miranda washed ashore on their remote island, they found two rather strange inhabitants. The first was a fairy spirit named Ariel, who had been imprisoned within a tree by her former master, a witch named Sycorax. Prospero freed Ariel from the tree and thus became her new master.
The other inhabitant was a creature named Caliban, son of Sycorax. Caliban was a lumbering, deformed, half-savage figure. He hated Prospero--and everyone and everything else, for that matter--but was also forced to acknowledge him as his new master. For twelve years Prospero had kindly ruled over the other three islanders, all the while practicing his sorcery.
Why did Prospero incite the great tempest to cause the ship to be tossed onto the island? Because he knew that the ship bore the very people that had usurped him of his power so many years before: Antonio, Alonso, and their courtiers. The kind, wise Gonzalo was also aboard, along with Ferdinand, Alonso's honorable son and Sebastian, his brother. Prospero's plan was to magically scatter the passengers about the island in three groups and put them through a series of trials and adventures. Through these trials, the bad would be chastised and the good would be rewarded. After this, Prospero planned to bring them all together to make peace once and for all.
Alonso, together with Antonio, Sebastian, and others, found themselves together on the beach. They were astonished to discover that not only had they survived the ship wreck, but that their clothes were clean, dry, and pressed--due to Prospero's many bits of magic. However, Alonso did not see Ferdinand among the survivors, and supposing his son had drowned, cried out in grief. Still the good hearted counselor, old Gonzalo tried to cheer the distraught Alonso, but Sebastian joined Antonio in mocking his efforts at optimism.
At this time, the invisible Ariel arrived at the scene. By playing her lilting music she caused a deep sleep to come upon everyone except for Sebastian and Antonio. The situation prompted Antonio to tempt Sebastian with a proposition: "My strong imagination sees a crown dropping upon thy head," he began. He went on to remind Sebastian how simple it was to seize the rule of Milan from Prospero. He suggested that Sebastian kill his own brother, Alonso, while he was sleeping so that Sebastian could become the King of Naples. He added that no one would ever be able to know how he ascended to the thrown. Sebastian pondered the idea and succumbed to the temptation, and was just about to strike off his brother's head when Ariel awakened the company. Antonio's plan had been foiled.
As the men tramped awkwardly around the island in hope of finding Ferdinand alive, Sebastian and Antonio looked forward to a second opportunity to murder Alonso. But suddenly the group was beset by a miraculous vision, conjured up by Prospero: a troupe of numerous fairies and spirits, dancing about a table laden with rich foods. The hungry company invited to eat, was just about to feast when suddenly lightning struck and thunder rolled. Ariel then appeared in the form of a harpy (a greedy monster, part woman and part bird). As quickly as it had appeared, the banquet table vanished. Then Ariel rebuked Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian for the crimes they had committed--or had intended to commit--and led them all, guilt-stricken and humbled, to Prospero.
Ferdinand had landed on another part of the island. As he mourned the father he believed to have drowned, he found himself helplessly guided by Ariel's music to Prospero and Miranda. No sooner had Ferdinand set eyes on Prospero's unspoiled, tender-hearted daughter, then he fell in love with her, and she with him. Prospero, however, concealed his pleasure in seeing these two young people so much enthralled by one another, and refused to allow Ferdinand to take Miranda as his bride until he had undergone an ordeal to prove his devotion. The wise magician then ordered the young prince to spend the day lugging and stacking a pile of huge logs, menial labor unbefitting royalty. But Ferdinand gladly accepted the task. He toiled, even through the pleadings of his beloved: "Pray you, work not so hard! My father is hard at study. He's safe for these three hours."
Now Prospero was indeed at study, but not the study of books. He was busy watching the two lovers. He smiled at his innocent daughter's conspiracy and sighed with joy at Ferdinand's refusal to slacken his work.
When Prospero was satisfied with Ferdinand's probation, he gave him Miranda's hand and instructed the pair to wait with him until the other castaways would arrive.
Stephano and Trinculo, one a butler and the other a jester, had turned up on still another stretch of the island. They had managed to rescue several bottles of liquor from the ship and were lumbering about on the sand, blind drunk. They then had the misfortune of bumping into hideous Caliban, who was lying on the beach under a cloak. After accepting a drink from the staggering courtiers, Caliban, now tipsy himself, promised to help them obtain sovereignty over the island--if they would help him murder the present ruler, Prospero. The drunkards agreed, and the three set off in a comical daze to seek out the magician. Ariel overheard their conspiracy and intervened to thwart their plan by placing diversions in their path--attacking hounds, rich, tempting foods dangling just out of reach, and many other conjuration's. Later, Ariel drove the pathetic trio through filthy ditches, swamps, and brier patches, until they finally reached Prospero's cave.
Now, with the entire ship's population reunited--minus Ferdinand, who was playing chess with Miranda inside the cave--Prospero gathered everyone into an enchanted circle and revealed his true identity. All were astonished, as they had thought the Duke was long dead. Prospero mildly rebuked all the schemers of evil: First Alonso and Antonio, for overthrowing his dukedom and leaving him to perish; then Sebastian, for plotting to kill Alonso; and lastly Trinculo and Stephano, for conniving with Caliban to murder him. Then, assured that the company had repented all of their evil deeds and intentions, he granted his full forgiveness to all.
Prospero next warmly commended his benefactor Gonzalo for his "saintly" character and behavior. Finally, he beckoned penitent Alonso to enter the cave. He saw Ferdinand playing chess with Miranda. Then, the father tearfully embraced the son he had thought dead. When introduced to Miranda, Ferdinand's cherished bride-to-be, Alonso was equally captivated by her.
And now, with joy and reconciliation reigning, Ariel reported to Prospero that the beached vessel was repaired and ready for a return voyage to Milan. Before departing the island, however, the old magician, in a final act of kindness, freed Ariel from her servitude. He then took his books and staff and cast them into the sea, openly vowing to give up his long-held practice of sorcery. Prospero sailed with the company back to Italy--to begin life anew, to reign once more in Milan, and to witness the marriage of his daughter to the faithful Ferdinand.