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Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” Play Scene by Scene Essay

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Updated: Jan 29th, 2021

The Tempest is one of the last plays that Shakespeare wrote as his career in theatre came to an end. It is set on a remote island, and it revolves around Prospero’s efforts to restore his daughter Miranda back to glory. Prospero, the protagonist in this play, is an exiled Duke of Milan, and he is up against his brother Antonio, who deposed him and his daughter.

Shakespeare divides Act 1 into two scenes, where the first scene opens in a ship that is riding a big storm at sea. The scene opens with the frantic efforts of the master and the boatswain to save the ship and the people therein. The master orders the boatswain to organize the mariners to try and save the ship.

As the boatswain frantically organizes the mariners, some of the ship’s passengers enters the scene and starts exchanging words with him. From the exchange between the two parties, the audience is made aware of the fact that one of the passengers in the ship is a king. This is made obvious when Gonzalo, when trying to prod the boatswain to get into action, says to him, “good, yet remember whom we thou hast aboard”.

Scene one ends with the sinking of the ship. Antonio tries to convince the others to stay with the king, whose cries can be heard in the background as the ship sinks. But Sebastian thinks otherwise, and replies to Antonio “let’s take leave of him (the king)”. Gonzalo is the last to exit scene one, and he bemoans the fact that they are drowning at sea. He says that he will give anything to be on land right now, as opposed to be at sea drowning.

Scene two opens on the island, with Prospero and his daughter talking before his cell. Prospero gives Miranda, his daughter, the story of how they ended up on the island. In this scene, other characters such as Ariel the spirit, Caliban the slave and Ferdinand are introduced. The scene comes to a close with Prospero giving Ariel, the spirit, instructions. The scene closes when Prospero, the spirit and Miranda exit.

One of the major themes that come out in this act is theatre. Shakespeare brings out the nature of The Tempest as a play in this act. A connection emerges between Prospero’s art and theoretical illusions, and this makes the audience draw parallels between this character and Shakespeare. The shipwreck scene that opens the play is an illusion created by Prospero, using Ariel. The theatrical scene in this act is further emphasized by the disguises assumed by Ariel. The spirit assumes the form of a nymph and a harpy in this act.

Another theme central to this act is magic, brought forth by the fact that Prospero is seen to possess a mantel and he is able to take control of Ariel. However, the Shakespeare makes great effort to prove that Prospero’s is a rational form of magic, and not of occultist nature. This distinction is achieved by the use of Sycorax, the magician who was occupying the island before Prospero came along, when differences are drawn between him and Prospero, and the powers that both possess.

One aspect that stands out in this act is the fact that female characters are not given prominence in both scenes. In fact, in the whole of the act, there is only one female character, Miranda, and she only comes into play in the second scene. Other women are just mentioned, like Sycorax, the mother to Caliban. All of the female characters, including Miranda and the others that are mentioned, are subordinated to the men in the play.

Colonialism also stands out in this act, and this is especially depicted by the control that Prospero has on Ariel and Caliban. The island was occupied by Sycorax, Caliban and Ariel among others before Prospero came along. But Prospero was able to take control over the island, and even make Caliban and Ariel his subjects. This is not unlike the way white explorers colonized Africa and other foreign lands and made the natives their subjects.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Shakespeare's "The Tempest" Play Scene by Scene." January 29, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/shakespeares-the-tempest-play-scene-by-scene/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Shakespeare's "The Tempest" Play Scene by Scene'. 29 January.

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