The Tempest condensed

Prospero had been the duke of Milan, but he was rudely replaced, having been remiss (as he admits) in adequately tending to his official duties as Milan’s duke.  His lack of professional responsibility led to his exile.  He had spent too much time as duke of Milan improving his skills as a magician.  His younger brother, Antonio, in a coup twelve years ago, usurped him of his position, sending him and his three year old daughter Miranda out to sea to fend for themselves.  To his good fortune, while still in Milan, Prospero had a friend in Gonzago who supplied him and his daughter with provisions to sustain them while they were adrift in the Mediterranean, provisions that included Prospero’s magic books.  Prospero and Miranda, Miranda now quite the beautiful young lady, had landed on a desolate island and had made the most of it, bringing us up to the moment the play opens.

Act 1. A severe storm has abruptly gained serious strength near Prospero’s Mediterranean island, causing Gonzalo to yell at the Boatswain when the passengers are sent below “remember whom thou hast aboard.” Gonzalo was referring to Alonso, the king of Naples; Sebastian, the king’s brother; and Ferdinand, the king’s son.  The storm wrecks the ship, one man crying “All lost! To prayers, to prayers!”  On the remote island, Miranda shouts at her father “If by your art you have put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.” He has and he does. Prospero gives his daughter a good history lesson as to how they got from Milan to here. He has Miranda fall asleep. We learn that all on board are safe, but that Ferdinand has been separated from the others.  As well, Alonzo’s servant and butler cannot be located. Prospero calls Ariel forward, Ariel being his spirit-servant, and praises him for his good work.  We learn that a purported witch from Algiers had been exiled years ago to this very island and that she is now deceased.  She left a son named Caliban on the island, referred to by Prospero as one who “was not honored with a human shape.” Caliban has become Prospero’s servant.  Ariel had also been the purported witch’s spirit-servant. Prospero asks Ariel “to disguise himself as a sea nymph.”

Act 2. Alonzo and his men search for Ferdinand, totally unaware of the nature of this remote island. Always upbeat Gonzalo gives the king an upbeat assessment of their situation, another man saying “He receives comfort like cold porridge.” They don’t find Ferdinand and they are hungry and exhausted. Ariel sings to the men, most of them falling asleep.  Antonio and Sebastian do not fall asleep, however, and plot to kill Alonzo and the others, Sebastian believing that on their return he can then succeed his brother as Naples’ king. Ariel wakens Alonzo and Gonzalo just in the nick of time. Alonzo’s butler and servant run across Caliban, Caliban becoming the butler’s servant, the butler plying him with wine, the butler having made it to shore “upon a barrel of sack.” They plan to kill Prospero, Caliban telling them what a beautiful daughter he has. But Ariel overhears them, saying aside “This will I tell my master.”

Act 3. Ariel leads Ferdinand to Miranda, the two falling for each other instantly. Ferdinand charms her with class and style. Prospero puts Ferdinand to a severe character test, Ferdinand accepting it all if that’s what it takes to win Miranda.  He passes the test. Miranda says “I am your wife if you will marry me.”  Ferdinand replies “Here’s my hand.” Alonzo and his men are starved and exhausted. Ariel places a well-provisioned banquet table before them.  The men are most grateful, to say the least. As they prepare to dine, Ariel, by this time disguised as a Harpy, causes the food and wine to vanish, yelling at them “you are men of sin. You did supplant good Prospero, exposed unto the sea, for which foul deed, the powers have incensed the seas and shores against your peace.” The men stare vacantly. From a distance Prospero tells us “my high charms work.”  He says “They are now in my power. I leave them while I visit young Ferdinand, whom they suppose is drowned, and his and mine loved darling.” 

Act 4. Prospero welcomes Ferdinand into his narrow family saying “She is thine own.” Prospero begins a morality show for the young couple.  The show is an interesting take on Shakespeare’s thoughts about mortality, this being Shakespeare’s last play. The play-skit is interrupted when the butler, servant and Caliban try to kill him, Prospero having Ariel scatter them “with the frightening howls of hounds.”

Act 5. Ariel reports to Prospero that “all prisoners cannot budge till your release.” Prospero replies “Go, release them, Ariel. My charms I’ll break.” Prospero and Alonzo embrace, each apologizing for past actions. Alonzo bemoans the apparent lost of his son. Prospero replies “I have lost my daughter.” Prospero leads him into his home where Ferdinand and Miranda are playing chess. We learn the ship is “seaworthy and bravely rigged.” Alonzo notes that “these are not natural events. They strengthen from strange to stranger.” Prospero plans to sail away with the men to Naples to “see the nuptial of these our dear-beloved solemnized,” and to return to “my Milan.” He grants Ariel his freedom.