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Write a note on the plot construction of The Tempest.


Unity of action. So far as the plot of The Tempest is concerned, it is generally said that the play observes the Unity of action. The Unity of action requires that a play should contain one main and central interest or motive. Strictly speaking, the Unity of action does not permit any sub-plots or under-plots. There should be one single plot, and all situations and incidents should contnbute to its development, without diverting the attention of the audience to other matters. Generally speaking, the romantic comedies of Shakespeare contain one main plot and several sub-plots. The Tempest is no exception. However, in this play a singleness of impression is produced in spite of the introduction of a couple of under-plots. It is for this reason that critics say that the Unity of action in this play has been preserved.

The main plot: The main plot in The Tempest is the story of Prospero’s sweet revenge upon his enemies through the exercise of his magic powers. Prospero has been robbed of his dukedom by his villainous brother, Antonio, with the active support of Alonso, King of Naples. Along with hiS infant daughter, Miranda, he was exposed to the dangers of waves and winds on the sea and only through the kindness of Providence did he land safely upon an island. He has spent twelve years of solitary life on the island and has been able to attain vast supernatural powers. Then comes an opportunity for revenge. His enemies fall into hands. They are entirely at his mercy. But Prospero’s revenge is forgiveness. “Rarer action is in virtue rather than in vengeance,” he says. But the evil-doers must not be forgiven too easily. They must be made conscious of their guilt and they must be made to feel remorseful and repentant. Through the agency of Ariel, Prospero succeeds in awakening the conscience of Alonso and, to a much lesser extent, of Antonio and Sebastian. The play ends with a scene of reconciliation and restoration.

The intrigue of Caliban: The intrigue of Caliban against his master Prospero is a brief and comic under-plot in the play. In spite of Prospero’s efforts to humanize and civilize Caliban, the latter remains a brute and has always hated Prospero. This monster even tried to violate the honour of Miranda. He always utters curses upon Prospero. When chance brings him into contact with the drunken Stephano and Trinculo, he hatches a plot for the murder of Prospero. The plot is, however, frustrated by Ariel and all the three conspirators are chased away by Prospero’s spirits, appearing in the shape of dogs and hounds. It is apparent that Caliban’s intrigue is not very closely interwoven with the main plot which is Prosperos revenge upon his enemies, Antonio, Alonso and Sebastian. This under-plot provides a comic interest in the play and serves also as a relief to the tension caused by the conspiracy of Antonio and Sebastian against Alonso.

The conspiracy of Antonio and Sebastian: Another under-plot in the play is the conspiracy of Antonio and Sebastian to murder Alonso, Finding Alonso and other members of the party asleep. Antonio instigates Sebastian to murder his brother Alonso, a suggestion to which Sebastian agrees without much hesitation. This plot is also foiled by Ariel so that, just when the two villains are about to strike at their victims, Ariel awakens the unsuspecting Alonso and Gonzalo. This underplot also does not have a very lose connection with the main plot. He however, serves to emphasise the villainy and the wickedness of Antonio and Sebastian and thereby makes Prospero’s forgiveness of these evil-doers even nobler. Besides, this intrigue is an example of what is known as “parallelism”. Just as Antonio was treacherous towards his brother Prospero, so Sebastian Proves treacherous towards his. brother Alonso.

The love of Ferdinand and Miranda: The lov, of Ferdinand and Miranda, which constitutes one more under-plot, is closely inter-connected with the main plot. Miranda is the daughter of PIOSpero, while Ferdinand is the son of Prospero’s enemy, Alonso. The falling, in love of these two is intended to emphasize the reconciliation and restoration which are the keynote of the whole Play. The theme of the play being forgiveness and reconciliation, the union of Ferdinand and Miranda sets the seal upon that forgiveness and binds Prospero and Alonso with a Close tie. Besides, the wrong, that was done to the infant Miranda, is now rectified by her union with Ferdinand. Thus the love affair of Ferdinand and Miranda, apart from providing a romantic interest in the play, appears to be an inseparable part of the larger design of bringing about the final reconciliation.

In spite of the existence of three undcr-plots, two of which are not very closely related to the main plot, critics insist that in The Tempest the Unity of action has been preserved. The reason is that these two under-plots are very brief and are not entirely irrelevant. They do not affect the singleness of impression which this play produces. If we regard Prospero’s exercise of his magic power as the main theme of the play, then even the two conspiracies, one by Caliban and the other by Antonio and Sebastian, fall into place as integral parts of the play.

This is what a critic has to say about the Unity of action in The Tempest. “In The Tempest’ the main interest is Prospero’s exercise of his magic powers. The storm and drifting ashore of the vessel; the frustration of the two conspiracies, one of which is directed against Prospero; the magic banquet and the masque ; the assembly of the characters at the close ; the betrothal and final righting of wrongs ; in fine, all the chief incidents of The  Tempest are brought about by Prospero working through the agency of Ariel, and his influence, whether he be present or not, is felt throughout. So entirely does the action of the piece depend upon his will that it might have been called by his name-Prospero.”

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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