Previously, in The Tempest…
Act One begins on a ship in the midst of our titular storm. The sailors, attempting to keep each other from panicking, are joined by some royal passengers. Two of their party, Sebastian and Antonio, are jerks, insulting and cursing the sailors. On the other hand, a third, Gonzalo seems kindly enough. And as the chaotic scene ends, the ship wrecks.
The second scene of Act One puts us on a nearby island, where Miranda, a young woman, watches the storm out at sea, and and worries that her companion–her father, Prospero–has created the storm. She fears for the ship and any souls that may have been on it. He puts aside his magic robe, assures her that no one has been hurt, and begins to tell her what he’s never told her before: her history. When they first came to the island twelve years ago, she was only three years old. Previously, he had been the Duke of Milan. Prospero had been betrayed by his own brother, Antonio, who took advantage of Prospero’s study of his magical arts and neglect of his office, and usurped power from Prospero. Father and daughter were taken and put aboard a small boat; but before they were cast away, “a noble Neapolitan, Gonzalo” (I.ii.161) provided the boat with garments, linens, food and Prospero’s beloved books.
Before she can ask any follow-up questions, and on the power of suggestion, Miranda falls asleep. At this point, Prospero’s servant, Ariel arrives. This was the sprite who carried out the tempest for Prospero. We learn the sailors are still on their ship, in its hold as it’s moored in a harbor. The royal passengers have been placed on the island in different locations, all in groups–except for the king’s son, who is alone on the island. Prospero has more for Ariel to accomplish in the next hours.
And we learn more about the history of the island. Once there had been a witch Sycorax on the island. Ariel had been her servant, but the witch imprisoned Ariel in a tree. After a dozen years, Sycorax died, and the sprite was left trapped in the tree, and the island’s only other inhabitant was the witch’s son, Caliban. Upon arrival, Prospero released Ariel from the tree, and then put both the sprite and Caliban into his own service. Prospero promises to release Ariel in two days if all his commands are acted out.
Ariel exits to do his job, Prospero wakes Miranda, and father and daughter visit Caliban. According to Caliban, this island is his because it belonged to his mother. The way he sees it, when Prospero arrived, after Caliban showed him all the gifts that the island has to offer, Prospero enslaved him. Of course, this isn’t how Prospero remembers things: he says that he housed Caliban in his own cell until Caliban attempted to rape Miranda…and Caliban doesn’t deny that.
Prospero sends Caliban off to gather firewood, and Ariel re-enters invisibly, leading the king’s son, Ferdinand: a handsome but heart-broken young man (as he thinks his father is dead). Miranda sees him as a “thing divine” (I.ii.419). Ferdinand sees Miranda, and thinks she is a goddess. When she says that she is but a maid, he is astounded she speaks his language. Prospero obviously approves of how this is going, and we begin to see Propsero’s endgame: love between the young people. Of course, Prospero can’t let this happen too easily, and he plays the role of obstacle himself.
Act Two of The Tempest begins in another part of the island, where the main group of passengers have been placed: King Alonso, his brother Sebastian, Prospero’s brother, Antonio, the Duke of Milan, and the good Gonzalo. The king is disconsolate, thinking his son is dead, and Gonzalo attempts to cheer him. To no avail.
Ariel plays music, putting all but the two jerks to sleep. And we learn that Antonio is more than a mere jerk, trying to convince Sebastian to kill his brother to become king (as the heir Ferdinand is most likely drowned). Sebastian says he willing to become king, but Antonio would need to do the killing. Antonio agrees, but says that as he kills the king, Sebastian needs to kill Gonzalo. Both men draw, and Ariel wakes the sleepers. The would-be killers explain their drawn weapons as protection from something “bellowing / Like bulls, or rather lions” (II.i.310-1). This sounds reasonable, and the party moves on.
The second scene of the act takes us to another part of the island, where we find Caliban gathering wood for Prospero, whom he curses as he works, and describes the punishments Prospero has laid on the slave. When he hears someone coming, he believe it’s a “spirit” (II.ii.15) of Prospero’s, so he lays down and covers himself with his cloak. And enter Trinculo. He uncovers a portion of Caliban, and finds himself unable to describe it: “man or fish? Dead or alive?” (II.ii.24-5). He then imagines taking this thing back to England and making money of the creature. Thunder roars, and to protect himself, he dives under the cloak as well. Then enter Stephano, a drunken shipwreckee. He uncovers Caliban’s head, and immediately has a similar idea as Trinculo, presenting this “monster” (II.ii.64) to some king. When Caliban continues to plead for kindness, Stephano gives the beast a “taste from [his] bottle” (II.ii.73. Trinculo recognizes the voice and reveals himself. They are thrilled to not be the only solo survivors; and Caliban sees in them “fine things…a brave god and bears celestial liquor” (II.ii.114, 115-6), and kneels to Stephano. Caliban promises to show Stephano all the island has to offer, and leave Prospero’s tyranny. Trinculo finds this ridiculous–“to make a wonder of a poor drunkard!” (II.ii.162-3). But the three leave together, as the second act ends.