The Tempest | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Tempest | Act 3, Scene 3 | Summary



After a long search for Ferdinand, the king and his party are exhausted and have given up hope of finding the prince. As they stop to rest Antonio encourages Sebastian to carry out their plan against Alonso—tonight. Out of nowhere music starts, and a strange procession of spirits appears carrying a banquet. Prospero, invisible, also arrives to watch. The men are astounded and marvel at the island, wondering if anyone would believe them if they described what they have seen. But just as the hungry men prepare to eat the feast, thunder and lightning (a mini tempest) appear, and Ariel, in the shape of a mythological creature (a harpy), descends and causes the banquet to vanish. Ariel then pronounces three of them are "men of sin" and they were brought to the island because of their betrayal of Prospero. He explains that their swords are powerless against the invincible spirits of the island and curses them to their fate. Just as quickly Ariel disappears and the banquet reappears.

Prospero praises the work and devotion of Ariel and relishes how his enemies are now in his power. He leaves them in the spirits' control for now and goes to visit Ferdinand and Miranda.

Alonso expresses a sense of guilt for the first time about the action they took against Prospero, but Sebastian and Antonio are still focused on killing Alonso. Gonzalo, fearing what all three men might do in the circumstances, prays to the spirits to keep watch over them.


Magic plays an important role in this scene as illusion and reality weave in and out to control and confuse the men. Prospero's plan of exposing the three guilty men comes to its climax as Prospero watches from the sideline. Ariel does Prospero's bidding by disarming the men through music and the magical appearance of the banquet. In the midst of their exhaustion, grief, and confusion, he is able to name their crime: "But remember—/For that's my business to you—that you three/From Milan did supplant good Prospero." Ariel tells the men divine powers are angry at their crime against Prospero and they have caused nature to rise up against them.

The symbol of the tempest appears again. The mini tempest that accompanies Ariel brings judgment on the men, just as the original tempest brought them to the island to face their judgment. Perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting that supernatural intervention is required to bring some people to the truth.

Gonzalo's generous and positive character is further revealed. In his assessment of the spirits he says, "Who, though they are of monstrous shape, yet note/Their manners are more gentle, kind, than of/Our human generation you shall find/Many, nay, almost any." Gonzalo sees the best in the natural world of the island and compares the kindness and gentleness of these spirits to the less admirable manners of many civilized humans. It's important to recall that Gonzalo is not guilty in the exile of Prospero as the other men are. It was Gonzalo who helped Prospero to escape and placed his magic books aboard the boat they left in. On the other hand, since these spirits are not actually welcoming the noblemen to the island Gonzalo can be seen here as too optimistic and positive.

Ariel's character also develops in this scene. Unlike Caliban, Ariel throws himself into service to Prospero and executes it to full effect, earning Prospero's gratitude and praise: "Of my instruction hast thou nothing bated/In what thou hadst to say." Ariel seems to trust that the promised freedom from Prospero is coming. And Prospero does not seem to feel any difference between doing magic himself and having Ariel do it for him, as though, by controlling Ariel, he also gets to take credit for all the good work Ariel does.

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