The Tempest

Act One, Scene One shows the "tempest" of the play's title. How do the different characters react to this crisis?

how do the characters react to the crisi?

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Sailors try to keep a ship ‹from running aground on the rocks in a tempest. The passengers ‹are Alonso, the King of Naples, Alonso's son Ferdinand, Alonso's brother Sebastian, Alonso's advisor Gonzalo, and Antonio. The boatswain says that even kings cannot "command these elements" of wind and water, and tells Antonio and Sebastian that they can either "keep below" or help the sailors. The noblemen take offense at being ordered around by a mere sailor, and both show a mean-tempered streak in this encounter. Suddenly, a panic seizes the sailors, and they declare "all lost," surrendering themselves, and their ship, to the vicious storm. Antonio and Sebastian also fear the worst, and go below to say goodbye to the king, Alonso.


The play begins with a pair of contrasting scenes; one showing men who are helpless against the storm they believe to be nature's wrath, and one showing the storm itself to be merely the work of an illusionist, trying to reclaim his place through his magic. In the first scene, the boatswain suggests that men, despite their power, are still subject to nature; "what cares these roarers for the name of king," he asks, when the king's ship is being pummeled by the storm (I.i.16-17). The boatswain's statement makes sense in the context of that scene; however, it becomes ironic in the second scene, when Miranda and Prospero reveal that it was Prospero himself who caused the storm.

Antonio and Sebastian's behavior also reveals the brutish, unkind characteristics that mark them throughout the play; Antonio's depiction in this scene gives credence to Prospero's traitorous depiction of his brother that comes out when he tells Miranda about the wrongs perpetrated against him. The first impression of Gonzalo is not quite as correct as those of Antonio and Sebastian; he abets their affront of the boatswain, and shows little of the honesty or kindness which he exhibits later in the play, or for which Prospero remembers him.

Also, Antonio and Sebastian's diffidence toward the boatswain on account of their status is the first demonstration in the play of social hierarchy, which becomes an important theme. Characters within the work, like Antonio, Sebastian, and even Prospero, depend upon the perpetuation of this hierarchy to give them their power, and only become leaders when those beneath them in station submit to them. Caliban is well aware that Prospero's position depends on Caliban's obeisance, as he says to Prospero, "I am all the subjects that you have"; though it is Prospero's "art" and power, rather than a landed title, that makes Caliban, the natural owner of the island, subordinate.