The plot of the play The Tempest is both simple and complicated. It is simple because the plot is very thin but it is complicated because it is full of ideas of life, death, dreams, nature, reality, and soon. The story runs on many parallels and contrasts. The mood that emanates from the story is a haunting mixture of bitterness and assurance, of disillusionment and tolerance, of ugliness and the need of compassion. Much does not happen in the play but the effect is cathartic, not negative. And the most important thing to be noticed here is that for the first time unities of time, place and action are observed. The whole action takes place in a few hours and within the limits of Prospero’s island, so that the play has a simplicity all its own. Let us now analyse the plot and discuss the important features of the play.
The Tempest opens with a storm at sea. It presents the audience with two important romantic elements, a wreck and an island. The first part of the second scene deals with the dialogue between Prospero and Miranda. This serves many ends. This informs the audience of the past history, acquaints us with the character of Prospero and Miranda, explains the backgrounds of the shipwreck and indicates future developments. The only real problem is that of the long tiring narration. The poet uses all the tricks of the trade to overcome it. He makes Prospero do all that is required. Prospero, therefore, interrupts keeps chiding Miranda into attention, moves about, varies his postures, busies himself with clothes and ingeniously varies the tone of the tale.
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The rest of the play is made up of minor designs and misadventures held together by Ariel’s swiftness and dispatch. When the second act opens, Ferdinand being already under the magic-control of Prospero, and the crew sound asleep under hatches, there remains to be disposed of two groups of persons: the King’s party and the Caliban’s party. Prospero has foreseen the conspiracy of Antonio and Sebastian while the other conspiracy is detected by Ariel. Gordon has pointed out that the purpose of the conspiracies is to show the limitations of Prospero’s power, and to show the inability of persons to live together without intriguing against each other’s lives and properties. Furthermore, the second plot seems to exhibit primitive man in communion with the parasites of civilization. The other scenes alternate very tidily among the three sets of characters, until Prospero, who has kept an eye on everyone’s doing, draws them all into a final resolving scene. The experience is over, and all the human beings return to civilization reunited and reconciled. They always return to the court after they have learnt their lessons. In the play there are three movements of resistance to Prospero’s power :
(1) Ferdinand and Miranda resist what they suppose to be Prospero’s will in their love for each other, and are rewarded with the nuptial blessings of Ceres and Jino in the masque.
(2) The plot of Antonio and Sebastian against Alonso is an extension of the original plot against Prospero. It leads up to the scene of the strange shapes, the vanishing banquet and the harpy.
(3) The conspiracy of Caliban. Stephano and Trinculo against Prospero culminates in the temptation of the gaudy garments and the pursuit of the drunken trio by a pack of hounds. All these three movements are united when Prospero forgives the evil-doers and renounces his magic.