The Tempest | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Tempest | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Traveling from Africa to Italy, a ship faces a terrible storm. Onboard is Alonso, the king of Naples, who has just married his daughter to the king of Tunis. Although the sailors become frustrated by the interference of the nobles above deck, all are desperate to reach safety.

Meanwhile on the shore of an island, the magician Prospero and his daughter Miranda watch the ship being tossed and turned in the storm. The two have been stranded on the island for 12 years since their escape from Milan when Prospero was deposed by his traitorous brother, Antonio, and forced to leave the city. Prospero reveals that his brother and other enemies who exiled him are the very men on board the ship. It becomes clear Prospero has used his magic to orchestrate the storm and the events that will follow in order to exact revenge. He has Ariel separate those onboard into three groups: the nobles, Ferdinand, and the "comics" Trinculo and Stephano.

Prospero has two servants, the first of whom is a spirit named Ariel, who has been promised freedom in two days. The loyal Ariel can also perform magic and is sent to spy on the shipwrecked men. Prospero's other servant, Caliban, is a "monsterlike" man, the son of a terrible witch, Sycorax, whom Prospero defeated when he came to the island. Taught language by Prospero, Caliban has used none of his knowledge for good and perpetually curses his master.

Ferdinand, the son of King Alonso, has been saved from the storm, but he reaches the island alone. He is certain the rest of the ship's passengers have drowned. As soon as he and Miranda see each other they fall in love. Although this is part of Prospero's plan, he pretends to be hostile to Ferdinand and orders him to perform hard labor, effectively playing "hard to get" to ensure that Ferdinand remains interested in Miranda.

The rest of the king's party has survived and makes it to shore on a different part of the island. Alonso is certain his son has drowned. Antonio and the king's brother, Sebastian, mock the king's grief, blaming him for the voyage that brought them to this fate. His loyal adviser, Gonzalo, admonishes them. Gonzalo is delighted with the beautiful island and considers the utopia he might create if he were in charge—a country without wealth, poverty, work, slavery, or royalty.

As the others sleep Antonio and Sebastian come up with a plan to kill King Alonso so that Sebastian can become king. Antonio reminds his friend that he did the same thing to his brother, Prospero.

Elsewhere on the island Trinculo, the king's jester, stumbles on Caliban, who is sleeping beneath his cloak. He climbs under the cloak as well, only to be discovered by Stephano, the king's butler, who mistakenly believes he has found a four-legged monster. Upon hearing Stephano's voice, Caliban wakes and believes he is seeing a god. He swears to serve this new god, who gives him wine. Together the men get very drunk and come up with a plan to kill Prospero so that Stephano can become the ruler of the island.

The king and his men search for Ferdinand with no luck. Exhausted and without hope they are startled when a magical banquet appears before them. Just as they prepare to eat, however, everything disappears again. Already vulnerable the men are further startled when Ariel tells them of their sins against Prospero. The king quickly expresses both his guilt and regret. Antonio and Sebastian, however, show no sorrow and are intent on carrying out their plot against the king.

As Ferdinand's love is tested, Prospero is pleased to learn that he is genuine in his devotion to Miranda. He gives his blessing to their union but commands Ferdinand not to sleep with Miranda until after they are married. In honor of the engagement Prospero calls forth a celebratory masque with music and dancing by a host of spirits. Midway through the party Prospero remembers that Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo are coming to kill him, and he ends the celebration.

At Prospero's bidding Ariel has led the three men through briars and thorns and a filthy pond. As they approach Prospero's cell to kill him, glittering garments Ariel has strung outside distract them. Instead of going directly into the cell to carry out their plan, Stephano and Trinculo try on the clothes, pretending to be noblemen. Suddenly dog-shaped spirits drive them off in terror.

The king and his men are terrified of what they have seen and of what might become of them. Realizing he has everyone under his control, Prospero also realizes he does not want to execute revenge but wants to extend mercy instead. He vows to give up his magic after he has brought about restoration. Ariel brings the men, who are under a magic spell, to Prospero, who declares the various crimes that have been committed against him. Then he announces his forgiveness of them all.

As Alonso shares his grief over his lost son, Prospero reveals that Ferdinand is alive—and engaged to his daughter Miranda. Alonso is overjoyed at his son's survival and the coming marriage.

The drunken trio of Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo arrives; after naming their sins Prospero forgives them as well, and he claims Caliban as his own subject; Caliban fearfully anticipates being punished and promises to try to please Prospero in the future, admitting he was foolish to worship Trinculo. Announcing a plan to set sail for Naples the following day, Prospero then frees Ariel.

Prospero turns to the audience and asks them to free him as well by clapping to show that they have enjoyed the show.

The Tempest Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 King Alonso's ship encounters a tempest.

Rising Action

2 Prospero tells Miranda of their exile to the island.

3 Ferdinand reaches shore where he and Miranda fall in love.

4 The king and his men arrive on shore.

5 Alonso mourns the certain death of his son.

6 Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill Alonso.

7 Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo plot to kill Prospero.

8 At the magic feast the men's past treachery is exposed.


9 Prospero throws a masque to celebrate the coming wedding.

Falling Action

10 Prospero forgives all the offending parties.

11 Alonso approves of Ferdinand and Miranda's wedding.


12 Prospero asks the audience to release him by applauding.

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