The Tempest Act 1 Scene 1 Notes ISC Class 11 and Class 12


The scene’s location  is a ship facing a severe sea storm and is in danger of  destruction. The ship carries important personages including Alonso, the king of Naples, Antonio and Sebastian. There is thunder and lightning. The crew has started rescue operation. The captain of the ship asks the boatswain to fight the storm boldly. As they were talking and ordering the sailors, the royal passengers in the ship grow panicky and rush towards the deck. Alonso, the king of Naples, talks to the boatswain, but he is hardly respectful towards the king in such troubled circumstances. He asks the meddlesome passengers to go back to their cabins and let the sailors do their duty. Sebastian and Antonio, the two courtiers, curse the sailors for trying to save the ship. 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. But this remark does not appeal to anyone. In order to save themselves, the passengers begin to desert the ship for open waves of the sea. Gonzalo’s words at the end of the scene, “The wills above the be done, I would fain die a dry death” reflect little hope for their survival . Gonzalo’s speech at the end of the scene shows that the ship will sink and all the passengers on board will perish.

Critical Commentary

The opening scene of the play The Tempest is dramatically significant because all the events that follow are connected with the furious storm that is described in the beginning.

The opening scene of the play is very short as it consists of about sixty-five lines only. But the scene is dramatically very significant because it narrates the central action of the play. A ship carrying royal passengers is caught in a furious storm and is tossing upon the waves. The passengers who include Alonso, the king of Naples, his son Ferdinand, and several others feel terrified because they think that the ship would be wrecked and they would all die in the sea. It is the furious storm which provides to the play its title The Tempest. All the events that follow in the paly are connected with the storm. Since there is little hope of survival, king Alonso and his son Ferdinand begin to pray to God for safety.

The scene is full of suspense because of the uncertainty about the fate of the passengers in the ship. The scene creates an atmosphere of danger, distress and tension. But the light-hearted remark by Gonzalo, the old courtier, somewhat relieves the tension.

Gonzalo, the old courtier , relives the tension that grips the passengers by his wit “I would fain die a dry death.”

Significance of the Scene

  1. The scene takes us straight into the heart of action.
  2. It creates proper atmosphere of suspense , danger and awe.
  3. Only a few characters are introduced in this brief scene.
  4. The scene arouses our curiosity as to what is going to happen.

Word Meanings

boatswain : a subordinate office of the ship

master : the captain of the ship

yarely : (here) briskly

Play the men : do your best

keep below : keep down into the ship

keep your cabins : remain inside your cabins

good : my good sir

these elements : the elements of nature – the wind and the sea

insolent : rude

wench : a young woman

furze : gorse (a kind of bush)

this howling : this cursing

incharitable : unsympathetic

The wills above be done : may the will of the gods be accomplished

I would fain : I would like