The Tempest: Act I, Scene i

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  • Q1

    What is the significance of the opening scene of ‘The Tempest’? How does it anticipate the main events of the play?


    The play opens on board a ship in the midst of a furious storm at sea. The captain of the ship asks the Boatswain to tell the crew to fight the storm boldly. As the Boatswain gives orders to the sailors, the royal passengers on the ship grow panicky and rush towards the deck. Alonso, the king of Naples, talks to the Boatswain, but he is hardly respectful to the king in such troubled circumstances. The Boatswain asks the meddlesome passengers to go back to their cabins and allow the sailors to do their duty. The sailors are busy fighting the storm and saving the ship. But it appears that the ship will sink and the passengers on the ship will die. Though Gonzalo, the old courtier is fearful of sinking, he makes light of the situation by saying that the Boatswain is not likely to be drowned because he is destined to be hanged. Since he is not to be drowned, and with him aboard, the ship cannot sink. In order to save themselves, the passengers begin to desert the ship for the open waves of the sea. Again when Gonzalo sees that the ship is about to sink, he says that he would like to die a dry death and that he is ready to give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of dry land. It is pertinent to note that when the passengers on the ship are facing death, Gonzalo retains his balance of mind and makes humorous remarks.

    Actually the storm was raised by Prospero, a powerful magician. Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, was deceived by his treacherous and ambitious brother, Antonio, who joined hands with Alonso, the king of Naples and expelled Prospero from his dukedom and cast him adrift with his three-year-old daughter, Miranda, in a rotten and dilapidated boat. Somehow he escaped the fury of the sea-waves and landed on an uninhabited island. Prospero began to live on this island and became a powerful magician. He gained control over several spirits. Ariel, the spirit of air, who worked under the command of Prospero raised this storm to bring Prospero's enemies on the

    island. Now the wronged and wrong-doers are brought face to face on the island. But the whole machinery of revenge is turned to forgiveness. Prospero forgives his treacherous brother Antonio. Then he forgives Alonso, the king of Naples for conspiring against him. He also forgives Sebastian. All this follows the storm raised by Prospero.

    Even though it appears that the tempest has nothing to do later on during the main action of the play and yet Shakespeare has given the title 'The Tempest' to the play. The tempest in the play is used to cut the characters off from their places and people with whom they were living. It forces them to acquaint themselves with new situations and surroundings. It provides an opportunity to them to re-examine their acts and establish new relationships. Thus, we may conclude that the storm in the beginning of the play does not refer to the physical form only but to the turbulent passions of the characters also in the later part of the play. The turbulent passions of the characters, like the furious storm, are magically transformed into calmness and peace. Normally, the sea-storm suggests death and destruction. But we find neither death nor destruction in the play. All the passengers on board in the ship escape death and even the ship is safe and ready to sail back to Naples. The sea-storm is not natural but is raised by Prospero's magic art for a certain purpose. When Prospero's purpose is served, the storm ceases and there is peace and calmness. That is the reason that there is neither any death nor any destruction. The action that follows the tempest brings victory of the good over the evil and the play ends on a note of happiness.

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  • Q2

    Read the passage given below and answer the questions that follow.

    Gonzalo : I have great comfort from this fellow: methinks he hath no drowning-mark upon him; his complexion is perfect gallows. Stand fast, good Fate, to his hanging! make the rope of his destiny our cable, for our own doth little advantage! If he be not born to be hanged, our case is miserable.

    (i) Who is ‘this fellow’ referred to in the extract? Why does Gonzalo have great comfort from him?

    (ii) Give the meaning of :

    “Stand fast, good Fate, to his hanging! make the rope of his destiny our cable, for our own doth little advantage!”

    (iii) What wish does Gonzalo express at the end of the scene?

    (iv) What happens to the passengers on the ship? Does the ship sink? Why/Why not?

    (v) Give the meanings of the following words as they are used in the context of the passage:

    a) methinks b) complexion c) perfect gallows


    (i) ‘This fellow’ refers to the Boatswain. He feels comforted by the presence of the Boatswain on the ship as he thinks that there are no signs to show that he will be drowned, hence others are also not going to drown. Gonzalo implies that the Boatswain looks and acts like a dangerous criminal. Therefore, he is destined to be hanged to death.

    (ii) Gonzalo prays to Fate to remain firm in its original decision to cause Boatswain's death through hanging. The rope that hangs him will do more good than all the ropes on this ship, since it will guarantee he stays alive through this storm. Only his destiny to die by hanging can now save their lives.

    (iii) Gonzalo says that he is ready to give away a thousand furlongs of sea in exchange for only an acre of dry land. He prays to God that his will should prevail but he would like to die on a dry land, if he is fated to die.

    (iv) The passengers on the ship are safely guided by the invisible spirit Ariel in groups to different parts of the island. The ship does not sink as Prospero wants it to remain safe and Ariel keeps it safe according to the command of Prospero.

    (v) methinks- It seems to me.

    complexion: general appearance

    perfect gallows: good indication of someone who deserves to be hanged

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  • Q3

    Read the passage given below and answer the questions that follow.

    Boatswain : Do you not hear him ? You mar our labour. Keep

    your cabins ! You do assist the storm.

    Gonzalo : Nay, good, be patient.

    Boatswain : When the sea is ! Hence. What cares these roarers

    for the name of the king ? To cabin ! Silence !

    Trouble us not.

    (i) Where does this scene take place? Who are the royal passengers present in this scene?

    (ii) Describe the situation that makes the Boatswain in an irritated and impatient mood? What does he want the passengers to do?

    (iii) What does Gonzalo ask the Boatswain to remember after his speech? How does the Boatswain react to it?

    (iv) Is the storm in the sea natural? Comment on the dramatic significance of the storm in this scene.

    (v) Give the meanings of the following words as they are used in the context of the passage:

    a) mar b) good c) roarers


    (i) This scene takes place on board a ship at sea. The passengers are Alonso – the King of Naples; Sebastian - his brother; Antonio -the usurping Duke of Milan; Ferdinand - the son of Alonso; Gonzalo, an honest old counsellor and others courtiers.

    (ii) The Boatswain does not like to be interrupted in any way while he is doing his duty sincerely along with other sailors. When the royal passengers, as usual, begin to give orders, he loses his self-control and wants them to go back to their cabins.

    (iii) Gonzalo asks the Boatswain to be patient and remember that there are important persons on the ship. The Boatswain reacts angrily and says that there is no one whom he cares about more than he does himself. He also tells the courtiers that if they cannot give orders to the storm, thunder and lightning to cease their fury, they should be thankful to the mariners for being alive still and go back to their cabins and get ready to meet their death which they are likely to meet soon.

    (iv) No, it is not. It is actually raised by Ariel under the command of Prospero. The storm in the first scene is dramatically significant as it is this furious storm which provides to the play its title 'The Tempest'. All the events that follow in the play are connected with the storm. The storm has no destructive effects but it is a benevolent one. Prospero, the protagonist of the play, makes use of the storm for isolating characters from places and people with whom they were familiar, thus enabling them to re-examine their actions and their relationships.

    (V) a) mar : spoil

    b) good : good fellow

    c) roarers : winds and waves

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