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 Summary :

The scene has five parts : (1)Prospero and Miranda : one telling the story of the past and the other a patient and attentive listener; (2) Ariel and Prospero :  Ariel narrating his part in the shipwreck that occurred in the first scene and claiming his freedom and Prospero givmg him a further task, which after being accomplished he will be free; (3) Caliban and Prospero; Caliban rebellious and Prospero threatening him with torments; (4) Ariel and Ferdinand ; Ariel beguiling Ferdinand with aerial music; (5) Prospero, Miranda and Ferdinand : Miranda and Ferdinand smitten with love for each other, and Prospero preparing to test Ferdinand.

Prospero and Miranda : Before the very eyes of Miranda the ship was wrecked. Her heart is deeply moved. She expresses to her father her anxiety for the fate of the “poor soul” in the ship.

Then Prospero assures her that no harm has been done and all that he has done is in her interest. Judging it to be the right time for Miranda to know her past history, he bids her attend to him. In reply to his question whether she remembers anything of the time before they came to the island, she replies that all that she remembers is a shadowy dream. However, Prospero now tells her that he was the Duke of Milan, and how he being given to too much study, and neglecting the affairs of state, his brother (Antonio) took advantage of it and plotting with the king of Naples, seized upon him and her one midnight and shipped them in a frail bark, and heat for the kindly help of a noble Neapolitan (Gonzalo), they would have perished in the sea, and that at last they drifted to this island. He then lays her asleep and summons Ariel.

Ariel and Prospero : Ariel gives Prospero an account of the shipwreck in which he bore an important part-how he raised thunder and lightning, and how he “flamed amazement” on board the vessel, driving the passengers almost to madness till all but the mariners plunged into the sea, but that he had taken care that not a soul might perish, and that at last he has dispersed them in the island. At the mention of a further task to be performed, Ariel grumbles. And then Prospero reminds him of his confinement by the witch Sycorax (whom he had served before) in a cloven pine, and of his subsequent release by Prospero, for which act of kindness Prospero claims from him a little more gratitude. Ariel promises to be all obedience and Prospero promises him freedom after the expiry of two days. Then Prospero wakes up Miranda, and goes to see Caliban (a creature of the earth as Ariel is a creature of air and fire).

Caliban and Prospero : Caliban is generally employed by Prospero in making the fire, fetching in the wood and in other menial work. He cannot for a moment forget that Prospero has dispossessed him off the island. In this scene he complains of this, while admitting that he has been taught to know the names of the sun and the moon and he has been taught: human language. The only use for which he finds now in abusing Prospero; he complains that -hc has been shut up in a rock and the rest of the island of which he was previously master has been kept from him. It appears that Pmspero was not at first so harsh with him, and that he had lodged him in his own cell until Caliban atterripted to violate the honour of Miranda. Prospero now sees that he has taken pains in vain to mend and improve his nature. He can make Caliban work only by threatening ,to rack him with cramps and Caliban is prepared to work for him only out of fear.

Ariel and Ferdinand : Ferdinand (son of the King of Naples), the first survivor of the shipwreck that we meet, follows the invisible Ariel who keeps singing. He cannot make out the source of the music. It is in the air or the earth ? While he was seated on a bank, mourning the loss of his father, this music is heard by him. Since then he has been following it. Now and then the music stops and then starts again. It seems to him to allude to his father who~is drowned: “Full fathom five thy father lies, etc.”

Prospero, Miranda and Ferdinand : Prospero points out Ferdinand to Miranda. Miranda who has up till now seen no other human being than her father, is tilled with wonder to see, him. “What is’t ? a spirit ?” “I might call him a thing divine.” Prospero is pleased to see that his spell is working (for he means that both should fall in love).. Ferdinand approaches and addresses her in words full of rapturous admiration. He is surprised to see that she speaks his very language. And when he claims that he is the best of those who speak that language, Prospero challenges him. Ferdinand repeats that what he has said is true since he has seen his father drown, and so he is now King of Naples. Prospero speaks rather harshly to him. It means that he will not let Ferdinand win his daughter cheap, “lest to light winning make the prize light.“ Prospero calls him a spy and traitor, and condemns him to seawater as drink, and “fresh-brook muscles” as food and bids him follow him. Not liking to submit to an idle threat. Ferdinand draws his word, but his arms are at once numbed by the magic art of Prospero. Miranda pleads earnestly with her father for mercy, but Prospero brushes her aside and on pain of his displeasure bids her plead no more for one (Ferdinand) who strikes her as good-looking only because she has seen none else but Caliban. The daughter replies she has no ambition to see I ‘goodlier man.’ Ferdinand, helpless and submitting to the authority of Prospero, prays that through his prison he may be permitted once a day to behold Miranda Prospero’s object has been achieved. He wants to see both his daughter and Ferdinand in love and they are. He is also fully satisfied with Ariel for carrying out the plan so successfully and promises to release him as soon as his work is done.

Critical Comments :

It is a crowded and lengthy scene, and it must necessarily be so, for Shakespeare begins almost at the end to acquaint us with all that is gone before, and all that is to come after. The central theme of the play-the vindication of the wrong done to Miranda is set forth in the following speech of Prospero :

“No harm

I have done nothing but in care of thee, 

Of thee, my dear one, thee, my daughter, who Art ignorant of what thou art nought knowing 

Of whence I am, nor that I am more better Than Prospero, master of a full poor cell, And thy no greater father. “

In this speech too, we have the partial explanation of all that happens in the first scene. Shakespeare adopts what is called the retrospective method. In order to acquaint us with all that is gone before, he puts in the mouth of Prospero a narrative of previous events. It is meant not only to enlighten Miranda, but also the audience.

Secondly, we are now in a world of enchantment. The shipwreck brought about by magic and the passengers are set ashone on an unknown island in the first scene prepares for it. And only in such a world of enchantment Shakespeare could have introduced such characters as Miranda, Ariel and Caliban-characters that are beyond the bonds of human experience.

“Prospero’s speeches, till the entrance of Ariel, contain the finest example, I remember, of retrospective narration for the purpose of putting the audience in possession of all the information necessary for the understanding of the plot. Observe, too, the perfect probability of the moment chosen by Prospero (The very Shakespeare himself, as it were, of The Tempest) to open out the truth to his daughter, his own romantic bearing, and now completely anything that might have been disagreeable to us as the magician is reconciled and shaded in the humanity and natural feelings of the father. In the very first speech of Miranda the Simplicity and tenderness of her character are at once laid open, -it would have been lost in direct contact with the agitation of the first scene” – Colendge.

To sum up :

(1)The expository character of the scene, it partly explains  all that happens in the first scene, and also the motif of the play -the restitution, the vindicating the wrong done to Miranda.

(2) It suggests the atmosphere of magic and enchantment in the Enchanted Island.

(3) The beginning of love between Miranda and Ferdinand and this love is to unravel the knot.


Dipendu Das

Dipendu Das

Author of Resonating Voices and Resounding Minds. A writer, poet, blogger and web developer. Administrator and Founder of ExamsTopper. Alumnus of Stepping Stone Model School, Alipurduar. Currently pursuing BA. LLB. (Hons.) at the prestigious NLU National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL), Ranchi. His work has been published in more than 21 nations around the globe.

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