Here is a more detailed look at what happens in each scene of The Tempest, to help you look at the structure of the play and interrogate it.

As you look at each act, we’ve included some things to notice. These are important character developments, or key questions that an acting company might ask when they first go through the play together at the start of rehearsal. If you work through these as you go, they will help you to make sense of the play. It’s a good idea to have a copy of the text nearby.

  • Act 1

    Act 1 scene 1

    On board a ship caught in a violent storm are: Alonso, the King of Naples; Ferdinand, his son; Sebastian, his brother; Gonzalo, his counsellor; Antonio, the Duke of Milan; and two lords called Adrian and Francisco. This group of noblemen are returning to Italy after the wedding of Alonso’s daughter in Tunisia. As the storm rages, the Master of the ship, his Boatswain, and other sailors are trying to control the ship, whilst the noblemen get in their way. The Boatswain tells them ‘What care these roarers for the name of king? To cabin, silence, trouble us not!’ It seems the ship is about to sink and the sailors yell, ‘Mercy on us! We split, we split!’


    • The crew of the ship are struggling hard to control the ship in the storm.
    • The nobles aren't prepared to listen to the Boatswain and think he is very rude.

    Act 1 scene 2

    Miranda is upset, having watched the storm engulf the ship just offshore. She describes the ship as ‘a brave vessel / Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her, / Dashed all to pieces!’ She asks her father, the sorcerer Prospero, to calm the storm if he can. Prospero reassures her, saying ‘There’s no harm done’. He then tells her the story of how they ended up on the island. He explains ‘Thy father was the Duke of Milan, and / A prince of power’ until his brother Antonio, ‘thy false uncle’ betrayed him. Antonio, with the help of Alonso, King of Naples, had Prospero and Miranda captured at night and put into an old boat. They were given some provisions by ‘A noble Neopolitan, Gonzalo’ and cast adrift. Eventually, ‘By providence divine’, they washed up on the shores of the island.

    Prospero then uses his magic to put Miranda to sleep and calls to his spirit servant Ariel. Ariel describes how he created the storm and that the ship is now ‘Safely in harbour’ and everyone on board is safe. Prospero is pleased but tells Ariel ‘there’s more work’. Ariel objects and Prospero threatens him but he also promises the spirit his freedom ‘after two days’ if he obeys.

    Ariel leaves. Prospero wakes Miranda and takes her to see Caliban, ‘my slave’. She is reluctant, ‘Tis a villain, sir, / I do not love to look on’, but Prospero insists. Caliban calls curses at them and complains that although he helped them find food and water when they first arrived on the island, ‘here you sty me / In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me / The rest o’th’island’. Prospero calls him a 'lying slave’ and says they cannot trust him because he tried to force Miranda to sleep with him. He sends Caliban away, saying ‘Hag-seed, hence! / Fetch us in fuel, and be quick’ and Caliban leaves grumbling ‘I must obey. His art is of such power’.

    Ariel sings, ‘Come unto these yellow sands’, magically leading Ferdinand. Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love at first sight, ‘At the first sight / They have changed eyes’. Prospero pretends to be angry, telling the audience, ‘I must uneasy make lest too light winning / Make the prize light’. He uses his magic to imprison Ferdinand and Ferdinand submits to Prospero’s powers hoping, ‘Might I but through my prison once a day / Behold this maid’.


    • Prospero has been on the island with Miranda for 12 years, since he was usurped as Duke of Milan by his brother.
    • Prospero is able to perform magic by controlling the spirits of the island.
    • Caliban is the son of a witch called Sycorax. When she died, he was alone until Prospero and Miranda arrived.
    • At first Caliban, Prospero and Miranda helped each other but after Caliban tried to sleep with Miranda, he has been treated as a slave.


    • There is a lot of story explanation in this act — characters telling us what has happened in the past so that we understand how they came to be here. Make notes on the facts we discover about each character in Scene 2. Write a line which summarises each character’s relationship with each of the others.

    • The theme of love is always important in Shakespeare’s comedies. Ferdinand and Caliban are the only two men Miranda has known, apart from her father. As potential lovers to Miranda, compare how Ferdinand and Caliban are described and consider why Prospero wants his daughter to marry one and not the other.

    • Act 1 is important because it sets up the characters and how they all come to be on the island. We find out how Prospero, Miranda and Caliban have lived on the island for many years and how Prospero has just used magic to bring his enemies, Antonio and Alonso, to the island. What themes do you think are starting to emerge in this first act? Can you find a line or two which best expresses each of the themes you have found?

  • Act 2

    Act 2 Scene 1

    Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, Gonzalo, Adrian and Francisco find themselves washed up on the island together after the shipwreck. Alonso is worried about what has happened to his son Ferdinand, ‘O thou mine heir / Of Naples and of Milan, what strange fish / Hath made his meal on thee?’ The others try to cheer him up. Ariel enters, invisible to the nobleman, and sends them all to sleep except for Antonio and Sebastian. Antonio tells Sebastian, ‘My strong imagination sees a crown / Dropping upon thy head’ and he persuades Sebastian to betray his brother Alonso, just as Antonio betrayed his brother Prospero. When Sebastian and Antonio raise their swords to kill Alonso and Antonio in their sleep, Ariel sings, ‘While you here do snoring lie, / Open-eyed conspiracy / His time doth take’ and wakes them up. Sebastian and Antonio pretend their swords are drawn to defend the others. Alonso says, ‘lead off this ground, and let’s make further search / For my poor son’.


    • The nobles are returning to Naples from Tunis where Alonso’s daughter Claribel was married to the King of Tunis.
    • Alonso believes his son has been drowned in the shipwreck.
    • Antonio and Sebastian enjoy making fun of Gonzalo.
    • Sebastian is willing to kill Gonzalo and let Antonio kill Alonso in order to become King of Naples himself.
    • Prospero has instructed Ariel to watch the nobles and ensure no harm comes to them, especially Gonzalo.

    Act 2 Scene 2

    Caliban enters complaining that ‘for every trifle’ Prospero sends his spirits to attack him. He sees Trinculo approaching and, fearing Trinculo is a spirit sent ‘to torment me / For bringing wood in slowly’, he hides under his cloak. Trinculo swam to shore after the shipwreck and is looking for shelter. He complains, ‘Here’s neither bush nor shrub to bear off any weather at all, and another storm brewing’ so he crawls under the cloak with Caliban, despite thinking Caliban smells like a fish. Trinculo’s friend Stephano enters. He was washed up on shore with a barrel of wine and is drunk. Seeing Caliban and Trinculo under the cloak he thinks ‘this is some monster of the isle with four legs’. He pours wine into Caliban’s mouth and, as Caliban has never tasted wine before, he quickly becomes drunk. Trinculo recognises Stephano’s voice and they are joyfully reunited, ‘two Neopolitans ‘scaped!’ Caliban thinks Stephano is ‘a brave god, and bears celestial liquor’ and offers to serve him as his new master. Trinculo thinks Caliban is ‘a most ridiculous monster’ but Stephano is flattered and tells Caliban ‘O brave monster! Lead the way!’


    • Prospero controls Caliban by sending spirits of the island to torment him if he does not do what he is told.
    • Trinculo and Stephano are friends who served on the ship together. Both were washed ashore separately during the storm.
    • Stephano was washed ashore with a barrel of wine.
    • Caliban promises to serve Stephano as his new master in exchange for more wine.


    • In Scene 1, Antonio takes his opportunity to tempt Sebastian into a plot to usurp his brother, just as Antonio usurped his own brother Prospero. What do Antonio’s words suggest about him? Which lines help an audience to understand more about Antonio’s character? Do these lines support or contradict how Prospero described him?

    • In Scene 2, Caliban takes his opportunity to find a new master. Why do you think Caliban needs a new master? What does he hope Stephano will do for him?

    • Act 2 is where we learn about the other people who have ended up on the island after the recent storm. We discover more about the relationships between the nobles and we meet two drunken servants who form an alliance with Caliban. What do you think are the most important moments in this act to help us understand more about the characters?

  • Act 3

    Act 3 scene 1

    Ferdinand enters, carrying logs and thinking about Miranda, ‘O, she is / Ten times more gentle than her father’s crabbed, / And he’s composed of harshness’. He says he is happy to do the menial tasks Prospero tells him to because of his love for Miranda. Miranda enters, saying ‘Work not so hard!’ adding, ‘My father is hard at study’ but Prospero is actually secretly watching them. Miranda and Ferdinand express their love for each other and agree to get married. Prospero tells the audience, ‘So glad of this as they I cannot be / Who are surprised withal, but my rejoicing / At nothing can be more’. He leaves to continue with his plans.


    • Ferdinand has been tasked with Caliban’s job of fetching wood for fuel and puts up with it because he loves Miranda.
    • Miranda declares her devotion to him, saying she will either be his wife or follow him as his servant.
    • Prospero is secretly delighted that Ferdinand and Miranda have fallen in love.

    Act 3 scene 2

    Stephano enters with Caliban and Trinculo. He is still drunk and enjoying the status Caliban, his drunk ‘servant-monster’, is giving him. Trinculo calls Caliban a liar and ‘half a fish and half a monster’ but Stephano defends him, saying ‘The poor monster’s my subject, and shall not suffer indignity’.

    Caliban tells Stephano the island is ruled by ‘a tyrant, a sorcerer that by his cunning hath cheated me of the island’. Ariel, invisible to them, says ‘Thou liest’ and it seems as though it is Trinculo talking. As Caliban continues with his story, Ariel continues to pretend to be Trinculo, saying ‘thou liest’ until Stephano hits him and sends him away. Caliban persuades Stephano to kill Prospero, ‘Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake’, take Miranda as his wife and rule the island himself. Stephano makes friends with Trinculo again, saying ‘Give me thy hand. I am sorry I beat thee’. They sing to celebrate their plan but are interrupted by Ariel’s magical music. Caliban reassures them, ‘Be not afeared, the isle is full of noises, / Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not’ and they follow after the strange music.


    • Caliban thinks Stephano can defeat Prospero and become ruler of the island.
    • Trinculo does not enjoy Caliban’s company as much as Stephano does.
    • Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo cannot see Ariel but they can hear him.
    • In his time on the island, Caliban has enjoyed hearing the music the spirits make.

    Act 3 scene 3

    Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, Adrian and Francisco enter, tired from searching for Ferdinand. Gonzalo pleads ‘By your patience. / I needs must rest me’. Sebastian and Antonio agree they will try again to kill Alonso, ‘Let it be tonight’. There is music and strange creatures lay out a banquet. The creatures vanish but leave the feast behind them. Alonso decides ‘I will stand to and feed’ but as he encourages the others to join him, there is a sudden loud noise. Ariel appears as a harpy and, addressing Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio, he says ‘For that’s my business to you – that you three / From Milan did supplant good Prospero’ and tells them that as a consequence they were caught in the storm and lost Ferdinand. The harpy then vanishes. Prospero praises Ariel and tells the audience ‘My high charms work, / And these mine enemies are all knit up / In their distractions. They now are in my power.’ Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio are left in a ‘strange stare’.


    • Sebastian and Antonio are still plotting to kill Alonso.
    • Prospero wants to punish Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian for what they did to him.
    • Gonzalo, Adrian and Francisco follow Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian in their disturbed state to look after them.


    • In Scene 1, Miranda defies her father to talk with Ferdinand. Which lines do you think best express how she feels about Ferdinand and about her father?

    • In Scene 2, Caliban defies Prospero and hopes Stephano will prove to be a kinder master to him. Which lines best explain how Caliban feels treated by Prospero?

    • In Scene 3, Prospero, through Ariel, confronts his enemies with how they treated him. Look at Ariel’s speech as the harpy. Which words and phrases best express how Prospero feels about how he was treated?

    • Act 3 is important because it develops the plot for each of the three groups of characters Prospero and Ariel are watching and manipulating. Look back and note when and how magic is used in each scene to affect the behaviour of the characters. What do you think about Prospero’s use of his power in each scene?

  • Act 4

    Act 4 scene 1

    Prospero has set Ferdinand free, saying ‘If I have too austerely punished you / Your compensation makes amends’. He tells Ferdinand and Miranda that he agrees to the marriage. He creates a magical show with the spirits to bless Miranda and Ferdinand’s ‘contract of true love’. Spirits appear as Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow and Harmony; Ceres, Goddess of the Harvest; and Juno, Queen of the Gods, along with other spirits. Suddenly, Prospero interrupts the show, telling the audience, ‘I had forgot that foul conspiracy / Of the beast Caliban and his confederates'. He tells Ferdinand and Miranda ‘Our revels now are ended’. He reassures them, sends them away and calls for Ariel.

    Ariel reports that Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo are ‘red-hot with drinking’ and he led them around the island and left them ‘I’the’filthy mantled pool beyond your cell’. Prospero sends Ariel to use the fine clothes in his cell to distract the conspirators. They then watch as Stephano and Trinculo, looking the worse for wear, are distracted from their plot to kill Prospero by the clothes. Caliban tells the others to ‘Let it alone’ but spirits then appear and chase Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban away. Prospero sends Ariel after them to make sure they are punished.


    • Prospero has revealed to Ferdinand and Miranda that he had been testing their love and, now they have passed that test, he agrees to their marriage.
    • Ariel has used his magic to lead Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo around the island until they are exhausted and bedraggled.
    • Prospero feels he has tried to help Caliban but all his efforts have been wasted.
    • Prospero feels he has all his enemies where he wants them and his plans are nearly complete.


    • Prospero is very clear that Ferdinand and Miranda must not sleep together before they are married. Look for the warnings he gives them directly and through the conversation between Ceres and Iris. Why do you think this is so important to him?

    • The show the spirits put on is reflective of a fashion in Shakespeare’s time for masques – elaborate theatrical presentations. What images are suggested in the conversations between the goddesses and how do you think these images could be used in the design of this scene?

    • Prospero and Caliban are very angry with each other and their conflict could lead to the death of one or the other, but the clowns Stephano and Trinculo lighten the mood of the scene. Note down the moments of humour in this scene. Which moments in this scene do you think are most important in suggesting to the audience that this story will not end in tragedy?

    • Act 4 is important because it completes the love story of Miranda and Ferdinand and the conspiracy of Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo. Which do you think are the key moments in this act in which we learn about the hopes and fears of each of those characters?

  • Act 5

    Act 5 scene 1

    Prospero announces ‘Now does my project gather to a head’ — all his plans are coming together. Ariel tells him the nobles are ‘all prisoners’. Prospero says ‘though with their high wrongs I am struck to th’quick’, if they are ‘penitent’ he will forgive them. He sends Ariel to ‘release them’ and, in a soliloquy, announces his plans to give up his magic, promising ‘I’ll break my staff' and 'I’ll drown my book’.

    Ariel leads in the nobles. As Prospero forgives them, they begin to return to normal. Prospero sends Ariel to ‘Fetch me the hat and rapier in my cell’ so that he can look the same as he did in Milan. He then sends Ariel to fetch the Master and Boatswain.

    Prospero embraces Alonso, saying ‘Behold, sir king / the wronged Duke of Milan, Prospero’. Alonso responds, ‘Thy dukedom I resign and do entreat / Thou pardon me my wrongs’ but is amazed to see him alive and asks ‘Give us particulars of thy preservation’. When Alonso mourns the loss of ‘My dear son Ferdinand’, Prospero says he also lost his daughter in the storm. He adds ‘My dukedom since you have given me again / I will requite you with as good a thing’ and reveals Miranda and Ferdinand playing chess together in his cell. Alonso is delighted and says to them both, ‘Give me your hands / Let grief and sorrow still embrace his heart / That doth not wish you joy!’

    Ariel leads in the Master and Boatswain who explain that strangely the ship ‘Is tight and yare and bravely rigged as when / We first put out to sea’. Prospero sends Ariel to ‘set Caliban and his companions free’. Alonso is surprised to see Stephano and Trinculo in such a state and asks ‘How cam’st thou in this pickle?’ He sends them to ‘bestow your luggage where you found it’. Caliban is sorry he took ‘this drunkard for a god’ and promises ‘I’ll be wise hereafter / And seek for grace’. Prospero invites the noblemen to his ‘poor cell’ to spend the night and promises to tell ‘the story of my life’ before they all return to Naples together the next day.

    Prospero tells Ariel to ensure they get safely back to Naples and then ‘to the elements / Be free’. Prospero then speaks to the audience directly, asking for their applause to set him free.


    • Working together, Prospero and Ariel have imprisoned all Prospero’s enemies and Prospero now has everyone in his power.
    • Prospero chooses to give up his power. He releases the nobles, Caliban and Ariel, and promises to break the staff and drown the book that support him in his magic.
    • Alonso also gives his blessing to the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda, which means they will one day be King and Queen of Naples and Milan.
    • The ship and all its crew are safe and ready to sail back to Naples.


    • Look at Prospero’s soliloquy in this scene and how he describes his magical powers. Which images do you find most effective? How do you think Prospero might feel about renouncing his magic?

    • Alonso is quick to ask forgiveness of Prospero and to welcome his son’s engagement to Miranda. Look through this scene and notice how Alonso speaks to Prospero and how Antonio remains silent. How do you think Antonio might behave in this moment? How might Antonio feel about the events of this scene?

    • Notice how Prospero describes Caliban. Consider how this scene develops your ideas about the relationship between Caliban and Prospero. What do you think might happen next for Caliban?

    • Act 5 is important because it brings all the characters together and provides a reconciliation of sorts between them all. Consider how each character responds to the reconciliation that Prospero has arranged and what you think will happen when they return to Naples.