The Tempest

The Tempest Summary and Analysis of Act III

Act III, Scene 1

Ferdinand has been made to take Caliban's place as a servant, despite his royal status; and though he does not like Prospero, he does the work because it will benefit his new love, Miranda. Ferdinand and Miranda express their love for each other, and both express their desire to be married‹though they have known each other for less than a day.

Act III, Scene 2

Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban are drinking; Trinculo and Stephano continue to insult Caliban, though Caliban only protests against Trinculo's remarks, and tries to get Stephano to defend him. Caliban begins to tell the other two about the tyranny of his old master, Prospero, and how he wants to be rid of Prospero forever; Ariel enters, causes further discord among the group, and gets Caliban to form a murder plot against Prospero. Caliban promises Stephano that if Prospero is successfully killed, he will allow Stephano to be ruler of the island, and will be his servant. He also promises that Stephano will get Miranda if the plot is successful‹Ariel leaves, to tell Prospero of these developments.

Act III, Scene 3

Alonso, Adrian, Francisco, Sebastian, Antonio, and Gonzalo are still wandering about the island, and Alonzo has finally given up any hope of his son Ferdinand being alive. Antonio and Sebastian decide to make their murderous move later that night, but their conspiracy is interrupted by Prospero sending in a huge banquet via his spirits, with he himself there, but invisible. They are all amazed, but not too taken aback that they will not eat the food; but, as they are about to eat, a vengeful Ariel enters, taking credit for their shipwreck, and makes the banquet vanish. Alonso recognizes Ariel's words as being of Prospero's pen, and the great guilt of Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian begins to take them over, at the thought of Prospero being alive, and so nearby.

Analysis of Act III

Ferdinand is stripped of the privileges of his rank by Prospero, who did the same to Caliban by making him a slave as well. Prospero's action in this case might not be fair, but Ferdinand bears it, and in so doing, legitimates Prospero's rule, just as Caliban did; this case again stresses the theme that willful obedience is a legitimate source of power. Prospero's tone, when speaking of Ferdinand in this act, is a curious mix of affection and distaste; he refers to Ferdinand as "poor worm," which could be taken as a statement of endearment. However, the worm was often used as a symbol of corruption and lust, as mentioned in Act 2, scene 4 of Twelfth Night, and as it is represented in William Blake's poem "The Rose". In this case, the symbolic meaning foreshadows Prospero's suspicious warnings to the couple to wait until their wedding ceremony, and recalls his accusation of Ferdinand of treason and bad faith in the first act.

In his speech in this act, Ferdinand employs paradox, overstatement, etc. in his many entreaties to Miranda. "The mistress which I serve quickens what's dead, and makes my labours pleasures," Ferdinand says, using paradoxes that communicate how magical and wonderful his beloved is, to turn the unpleasant pleasant (III.i.6-7). A contrast between Miranda and her father shows her to be much more pleasant than her father, who's "composed of harshness": yet, he declares, with overstatement, that he will carry "some thousands of these logs" for his stern taskmaster, because of the great sweetness of Miranda (III.i.9-10). Ferdinand overstates his resolve, in order to impress upon Miranda how much he would do for her; he swears that he would rather "crack [his] sinews, break [his] back" than see her work, though his work could scarcely be hard enough to cause these injuries (III.i.26). They make all the vows of marriage to each other; Ferdinand swears to "love, prize, and honour" Miranda, and in turn Miranda pledges to give him her "modesty," meaning her virginity (III.i.73, 54). They give each other their hands, and Miranda declares him her "husband"; the show of love is nice, but they know almost nothing about each other, and given that they have been together for less than twenty-four hours, the sentiment is rather rash, and almost foolish.

Ferdinand and Miranda speak with a poetic, romantic, unrealistic tone that is very similar to the tone used by Romeo and Juliet when they spoke to each other; the same devices, of overstatement, paradox, contrast, and comparison are used to make elegant compliments to each other, and high-flown declarations of love. Ferdinand slips into conventional, polished phrases when speaking to this woman whom he hardly knows, an example being when he tells her "'tis fresh morning with me when you are by at night," though they have not been through a night together at all (III.i.33-34). Indeed, Ferdinand and Miranda's love is the same sort of instant physical attraction that Romeo and Juliet had, though Romeo and Juliet's love was not influenced by a mischievous sprite like Ariel. Although Ferdinand hardly knows Miranda, he brazenly declares her "perfect and peerless," though she cannot be either of those (III.i.47). The mood and feel of these passages is very different from those appearing before it, and are guided by a blind sort of idealism, and a naïve, young love.

The language in these sections of the play also turns distinctly sexual, with maidenly Miranda showing her hidden, but mature knowledge of desire and sexual politics. Miranda explains the urgency of her love to Ferdinand by telling him "all the more it seeks to hide itself, the bigger bulk it shows"; note the image of a concealed pregnancy in her description, which coincides with the increase in their declared desire (III.i.80-81). Miranda "dare[s] not offer what [she] desire[s] to give" to Ferdinand, betraying the lust behind her maidenly exterior; and she acknowledges the sexual exchange inherent in marriage, that the "jewel in [her] dower" is the main treasure which she has to attract a husband (III.i.77-78). Miranda may seem young and isolated, but this scene shows that she is far more knowledgeable about worldly matters than one might expect, given her upbringing on this remote island.

In scene 2, Caliban is still regarded as a "servant-monster," despite being revealed as a human. Stephano and Trinculo, though arguably less intelligent than Caliban, still treat him like he is hardly human because of his native status and skin color; and the fact that Caliban tolerates this treatment and name-calling shows that he accepts this inferiority and Stephano's tenuous authority as well. The previously rebellious and independent-thinking Caliban is suddenly reduced to asking if he can "lick [Stephano's] shoe" and the intelligence he demonstrated in Act 1 has all but disappeared. Caliban is once again shown to be a "natural servant" because he is a native‹another reflection of the prejudiced Elizabethan views which Shakespeare uses to shape Caliban as a character. However, these prejudices mean that Caliban, as a character, is very erratic, and his motivations are vague; when he first appears in the play, he is churlish toward his captor and shows a remarkable power of thought, but quite unexpectedly, he turns into a fawning, blind, mindless servant who refuses even to think for himself.

As characters' intelligence, nobility, and feelings become apparent through their language, Caliban's intelligence, though completely contradicted by his actions, is clear in the words he speaks to Trinculo and Stephano. At line 40, Caliban begins to speak in lines that approximate the rhythms of blank verse; and his speech, in lines 132-141, show a great descriptive power and poetic potential in this allegedly savage man. However, it must be noted that Ariel also appears right before line 40, and that means that Caliban could merely be voicing words that Prospero had already written for him. Prospero wants Caliban to try and murder him, so that his view of Caliban as a cut-throat, cruel savage is confirmed; it is difficult to tell whether Caliban's murder plot is in any way a product of his own hatred for Prospero, or whether it springs from the sole influence of Ariel, who is present for the length of Caliban's conspiratorial speech.

Some interesting magic appears in scene 3 with Prospero's spirits laying out a banquet for Alonso and his companions to take part in. The display does not seem to have much point‹perhaps it is meant so when Ariel is introduced, they focus on his words and not the device of his appearance, or perhaps to lull them temporarily, so that when Ariel starts speaking, his serious words have a bigger impact. Or, maybe the show of magic is a ploy by Prospero to keep them quiet about events on the island, meant to make the "fools at home condemn Œem" if they ever dare to tell the story (III.iii.27). Indeed, the sight makes Sebastian and Antonio drop their droll aloofness, and draws them into the action; they declare, probably sarcastically, that they are willing to believe in other legendary magic, and make allusions to the mythical unicorn and phoenix.

Though so many of the characters in this play openly show contempt for the natives on the island, Gonzalo is probably the only exception. He does describe them as being of "monstrous shape," which is hardly complimentary and also recalls Trinculo taunting Caliban as being a monster. However, Gonzalo is more open-minded in his appraisal of the natives than this statement would suggest; "their manners are more gentle-kind than of our human generation you shall find," he says of them, noting the nobility that "savages" like Caliban are capable of displaying (III.iii.33-34). Colonial attitudes toward native peoples are an important theme of the work, and Shakespeare's treatment of Caliban is marked by the prejudices of his time. But, what is strange about Gonzalo's remark is that Prospero is moved to call him an "honest lord" because of it, though Prospero himself has a negative view of the natives, and does not question the correctness of his own view. That Gonzalo is considered good because of it, despite the author's and many of the characters' contradictory views is ironic, and also difficult to understand.

Another parallel with The Aeneid appears in this act; in The Aeneid, a feast is prepared for Aeneas and his party, but is suddenly swept away by harpies who give him a dire prophecy. Almost the same events happen here, with the banquet disappearing also, and Ariel, "like a harpy," descending upon them with a very serious speech (III.iii.53). Ariel's speech also recalls the language of The Aeneid in its tone and syntax, but yet is still the work of Prospero, and he takes credit for it in lines 85-86.

Ariel declares Alonso and his brothers "most unfit to live" because of their conspiracies on the island, and despite the fact that Ariel and Prospero set traps for them and caused them to form these murderous plans. This is also parallel to Prospero's account of his history, and his confession of causing Antonio's corruption through his own actions. ­Prospero again acting the part of the author from within the work.

In scene 3, Alonso's language changes, and becomes more image-laden and metaphoric in nature. In act 2, he spoke very little, and when he did, was very curt and brief in his replies. In lines 95 to 102, Alonso speaks of "the thunder, that deep and dreadful organ-pipeŠit did bass my trespass," and makes a story of the winds and waters causing sounds that reminded him of his guilt. The visual and sound imagery is very poetic and learned, and far more emotionally involved than Alonso's previous, clipped responses.