Shakespeare - The Tempest - plot summary (2024)

Plot summary

How much do you know about Shakespeare’s play The Tempest? This section takes you step by step through the play, helping you to identify key plot points.

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The Tempest is a play about magic, betrayal, love and forgiveness. It is set on an island somewhere near Italy where Prospero, the one-time Duke of Milan, and his beautiful daughter, Miranda, live with a sprite called Ariel and a strange wildman called Caliban. Prospero is a powerful magician who creates a storm, or , that sets the scene for the play. In the events that follow we see a plot to murder the King of Naples, a drunken scheme to kill Prospero and a romance between Miranda and the King’s son, Ferdinand. In the end everyone is forgiven and they all set sail for home.


  • A ship is caught in a tempest and begins to sink.
  • Prospero tells Miranda that he caused the storm.
  • Ariel fetches Ferdinand, who falls in love with Miranda.
  • Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill Alonso, the King of Naples.
  • The ship’s jester and butler meet Caliban and feed him alcohol.
  • Caliban suggests that they should kill Prospero, and Ariel overhears.
  • Prospero uses magic to scare Alonso and spoil Caliban’s plot.
  • Prospero forgives the passengers for their former betrayals.

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A ship is caught in a tempest and begins to sink

This play starts dramatically with a ship being tossed around by waves in a violent storm. The stage directions tell us that ‘thunder and lightning’ are heard. On board the ship is King Alonso of Naples who is heading home from his daughter’s wedding in Tunis. He is accompanied by his son Ferdinand, and his friends Sebastian, Antonio and Gonzalo. As the storm worsens, the asks the noblemen to stay in their cabins out of harm’s way so the crew can keep the boat safe.

Shakespeare - The Tempest - plot summary (1)

Antonio and Sebastian curse the , who suggests they do some work or be quiet. The opening scene ends with cries of panic and prayer as the boat begins to sink.

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On a nearby island Miranda and her father, Prospero, watch the storm. She worries for the 'poor souls' onboard. Prospero instructs her to be calm as his magic powers have ensured that the passengers are safe. He then tells her about their past.

Shakespeare - The Tempest - plot summary (2)

Twelve years earlier Prospero was the Duke of Milan and Miranda was a princess. However, they were betrayed by his brother, Antonio, and the King of Naples, who sent Prospero and his daughter away on a 'rotten carcass' of a boat. The two washed up on the island and since then, Prospero has spent his time learning powerful magic. He controls Ariel, a sprite, and Caliban, his servant and son of the witch Sycorax.

He says it is fortunate that his enemies are now stranded on the island following the shipwreck.

Did you know? When this play was written, it was common for people to believe in magic and witchcraft. Prospero would have seemed like a very powerful and even frightening figure to an audience then.

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Ariel fetches Ferdinand, who falls in love with Miranda

After telling his story, Prospero puts Miranda under a sleeping spell and talks to his servant, Ariel. Ariel explains that he caused the storm, as instructed, and has landed the passengers safely on different parts of the island. He has left the King’s son, Ferdinand, by himself. Ariel asks for his freedom in return for all the 'worthy service' he has done for Prospero. Prospero agrees to set him free after two more days and meanwhile asks Ariel to remain invisible to everyone.

Shakespeare - The Tempest - plot summary (3)

Prospero orders his 'poisonous slave' Caliban to fetch more firewood. Caliban curses his master, but has to obey because he is afraid of Prospero’s magic ‘art’. We learn that Caliban inhabited the island long before Prospero arrived.

Ariel then uses magical music to lure Ferdinand to Prospero. When Miranda first sees him she is convinced he is a spirit and the two fall instantly in love.

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Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill Alonso, the King of Naples

Alonso (King of Naples), Sebastian (his brother), Antonio (Prospero’s brother) and Gonzalo (a kind nobleman) are stranded on another part of the island. Alonso is upset because he believes his son is dead.

Shakespeare - The Tempest - plot summary (4)

Ariel, invisible to the other characters, plays 'solemn music' which sends everyone to sleep apart from Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio. Alonso starts to feel 'wondrous heavy' and the others promise to guard him while he takes a rest. Antonio suggests that this is an opportunity for Sebastian to become king. With Ferdinand apparently dead, and the King’s daughter married in Tunis, Sebastian would be next in line to rule Naples. They draw their swords planning to kill Alonso and Gonzalo as they sleep. However, Ariel returns and awakens Gonzalo and the King. Sebastian and Antonio pretend their swords are drawn because they heard a noise like a 'whole herd of lions'.

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The ship’s jester and butler meet Caliban, and feed him alcohol

Elsewhere on the island, Caliban is collecting wood and cursing Prospero as he does so. When Trinculo, the ship’s jester appears, Caliban hides under his cloak. Trinculo wonders whether the 'monster' under the cloak is an islander. When the storm starts again he decides to take shelter under Caliban’s cloak. Stephan, the ship’s butler, arrives, drinking and singing. He thinks the cloak hides a monster with 'four legs' and feeds wine first into Caliban’s mouth and then Trinculo’s. Trinculo recognises Stephano and the two dance about joyfully. Caliban praises Stephano and calls him a god. He promises to show them all the best parts of the island and promises to serve them. Ironically he then sings about his freedom from Prospero.

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Meanwhile, Ferdinand is collecting logs and working hard to prove to Prospero that he is a worthy match for his daughter. Miranda proposes marriage to Ferdinand and he accepts.

Did you know? It would have been unusual for a young woman to propose marriage in Shakespeare’s day. Women were seen as the property of their fathers and husbands, so Miranda’s proposal could be interpreted as brave, inappropriate or funny, depending on the performance.

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Caliban suggests that they should kill Prospero, and Ariel overhears

Trinculo, Caliban and Stephano are now drunk and Caliban pledges his allegiance to Stephano. Ariel plays tricks by impersonating their voices and causes the three to argue. Caliban persuades Stephano that he should kill Prospero and become lord of the island. They plot to approach Prospero during his afternoon nap and 'brain him' after taking his books. Caliban says that Stephano could take Prospero’s beautiful daughter as his queen of the island.

Shakespeare - The Tempest - plot summary (6)

Ariel overhears this plan and declares that he will tell his master. He plays mysterious music which the three drunken plotters follow.

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Prospero uses magic to scare Alonso and spoil Caliban’s plot

As Alonso and his party continue to search for Ferdinand, Prospero prepares an imaginary banquet for them. Ariel appears as a and accuses Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian of being 'three men of sin'. They are terrified by the vision and run away.

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Prospero agrees that Ferdinand may take his daughter as his wife, but insists they must be officially married. Prospero asks Ariel to bring all the spirits together and prepare a celebration for the couple. A series of nymphs appear to Miranda and Ferdinand.

Ariel makes beautiful clothes appear to distract Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo. As they marvel at the clothes, a 'noise of hunters' is heard and a pack of spirits shaped like hounds chase the plotters away.

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Prospero forgives the passengers for their former betrayals

Ariel explains to Prospero that the King and his followers are all deeply disturbed by the earlier magical vision and are suffering. Prospero sends Ariel to fetch them.

Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio cannot believe that Prospero is alive. Prospero confronts each of the men in turn, reminds them of their sins and then forgives them. Alonso is repentant and reinstates Prospero as Duke of Milan. Antonio says nothing.

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Alonso is delighted when Prospero reveals that his son, Ferdinand, is alive and engaged to Miranda.

Ariel disappears to magically repair the ship and fetch the crew.

Ariel then brings in Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo, wearing their stolen clothes. Prospero forgives Caliban and with a final request for 'calm seas' and kind winds, he sets Ariel free.

In his closing speech Prospero says he is finished with magic and asks the audience for his own forgiveness and freedom.

Did you know? The Tempest is one of the final plays that Shakespeare wrote. This has led some readers to interpret Prospero’s as a sort of retirement speech from Shakespeare himself. They see the magic as representing Shakespeare’s skill of creating worlds for the audience to believe in and enjoy.

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As an expert and enthusiast, I have access to a vast amount of information and can provide insights on various topics, including Shakespeare's play "The Tempest." I can provide a plot summary and discuss the concepts mentioned in the article you provided.

Plot Summary of "The Tempest"

"The Tempest" is a play by William Shakespeare that explores themes of magic, betrayal, love, and forgiveness. The story is set on an island near Italy, where Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda live. They are accompanied by a sprite named Ariel and a wildman called Caliban. Prospero, a powerful magician, creates a storm, or tempest, that sets the scene for the play.

The plot involves a scheme to murder the King of Naples, a romance between Miranda and the King's son, Ferdinand, and various instances of forgiveness. In the end, everyone is forgiven, and they all set sail for home.

Concepts in the Article

The article you provided discusses the plot of "The Tempest" in a step-by-step manner. It highlights key plot points and provides additional information about the play. Here are the concepts mentioned in the article:

  1. Ship caught in a tempest: The play begins with a ship being caught in a violent storm, setting the stage for the events that follow.
  2. Prospero's revelation to Miranda: Prospero reveals to his daughter Miranda that he caused the storm and tells her about their past as the Duke of Milan and a princess.
  3. Ferdinand falls in love with Miranda: Ariel fetches Ferdinand, who falls in love with Miranda at first sight.
  4. Antonio and Sebastian's plot: Antonio and Sebastian, accompanied by King Alonso of Naples, plot to kill Alonso and take over the kingdom.
  5. Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano: Caliban encounters Trinculo and Stephano, who feed him alcohol. Caliban suggests killing Prospero, and Ariel overhears the plot.
  6. Prospero's use of magic: Prospero uses his magic to scare Alonso and spoil Caliban's plot.
  7. Forgiveness and reconciliation: Prospero forgives the passengers for their past betrayals, and they reconcile. Prospero also forgives Caliban and sets Ariel free.

These concepts form the basis of the plot and themes explored in "The Tempest."

Please note that the information provided above is a summary based on the article you shared. If you have any specific questions or would like more detailed information about any aspect of the play, feel free to ask!

Shakespeare - The Tempest - plot summary (2024)


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