home contact

The Tempest

Please see the bottom of this page for explanatory notes on The Tempest.

ACT I SCENE I On a ship at sea: a tempestuous noise 
[Enter a Master and a Boatswain]
BoatswainHere, master: what cheer?
MasterGood, speak to the mariners: fall to't, yarely,
or we run ourselves aground: bestir, bestir.
[Enter Mariners]
BoatswainHeigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts!
yare, yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to the
master's whistle. Blow, till thou burst thy wind,
if room enough!
ALONSOGood boatswain, have care. Where's the master?
Play the men.
BoatswainI pray now, keep below.10
ANTONIOWhere is the master, boatswain?
BoatswainDo you not hear him? You mar our labour: keep your
cabins: you do assist the storm.
GONZALONay, good, be patient.
BoatswainWhen the sea is. Hence! What cares these roarers
for the name of king? To cabin: silence! trouble us not.

GONZALOGood, yet remember whom thou hast aboard.18
BoatswainNone that I more love than myself. You are a
counsellor; if you can command these elements to
silence, and work the peace of the present, we will
not hand a rope more; use your authority: if you
cannot, give thanks you have lived so long, and make
yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of
the hour, if it so hap. Cheerly, good hearts! Out
of our way, I say.
GONZALOI 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.31
[Re-enter Boatswain]
BoatswainDown with the topmast! yare! lower, lower! Bring
her to try with main-course.
[A cry within]
A plague upon this howling! they are louder than
the weather or our office.
Yet again! what do you here? Shall we give o'er
and drown? Have you a mind to sink?
SEBASTIANA pox o' your throat, you bawling, blasphemous,
incharitable dog!
BoatswainWork you then.40
ANTONIOHang, cur! hang, you whoreson, insolent noisemaker!
We are less afraid to be drowned than thou art.
GONZALOI'll warrant him for drowning; though the ship were
no stronger than a nutshell and as leaky as an
unstanched wench.
BoatswainLay her a-hold, a-hold! set her two courses off to
sea again; lay her off.
[Enter Mariners wet]
MarinersAll lost! to prayers, to prayers! all lost!
BoatswainWhat, must our mouths be cold?
GONZALOThe king and prince at prayers! let's assist them,50
For our case is as theirs.
SEBASTIANI'm out of patience.
ANTONIOWe are merely cheated of our lives by drunkards:
This wide-chapp'd rascal--would thou mightst lie drowning
The washing of ten tides!
GONZALOHe'll be hang'd yet,
Though every drop of water swear against it
And gape at widest to glut him.
[ A confused noise within: 'Mercy on us!'-- 'We split, we split!'--'Farewell, my wife and children!'-- 'Farewell, brother!'--'We split, we split, we split!' ]
ANTONIOLet's all sink with the king.60
SEBASTIANLet's take leave of him.
GONZALONow would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an
acre of barren ground, ling, heath, brown furze, any
thing. The wills above be done! but I would fain
die a dry death.

The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2


Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 1

From The Tempest. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.

1. Boatswain! an officer in a ship who has charge of the sails, rigging, etc., and who summons the crew to their duties with a whistle.

2. master, the commander of a merchant-vessel, who receives his certificate for sailing under that title; corresponding to the captain in ships of the royal navy: what cheer? now are things faring?

3. Good, my good fellow; so, again, 11. 16 and 20, and C. E. iv. 4. 22: fall to 't, set to work with a will. yarely, readily, with activity; both adj. yare and the adv. are frequent in Shakespeare. In a paper of Lord Mulgrave's, quoted in the Variorum edition of 1821, the different positions of this vessel in the storm are explained: First position, land discovered under the lee [i.e. the side opposite to that from which the wind is blowing]; the wind blowing too fresh to hawl upon a wind [i.e. to turn thie ship's head towards the point from which the wind is blowing] with the top-sail set.... The first command is... a notice to be ready to execute any order quickly.

5. my hearts, my brave fellows; 'my hearties,' is still a term in use among sailors, and 'hearts of oak' is an expression with the same meaning: cheerly, adv. formed from the noun; see Abb. 447.

6. Tend to, pay attention to; this form of the word, in the sense of waiting on, is frequent in Shakespeare.

7. Blow... enough, i.e. if there be sea-room enough; cp. Per. iii. 1. 45, "But sea-room, an the brine and cloudy billow kiss the moon, I care not." Steevens would read, "blow till thou burst thee, wind, if," etc. He compares Per. iii. 1. 54, "Blow and split thyself," and Lear. iii. 2. 1, "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks." Mason points out that the allusion is to the manner in which the winds are represented in ancient pictures, i.e. with their cheeks puffed out. Second position; the danger in a good sea-boat is only from being too near the land: this [the order to take in the topsail] is introduced here to account for the next order, "Down with the topmast," 1. 32.

9. Play the men, behave bravely, do not give way to womanish fears; cp. i. H. VI. i. 6. 16, "When they shall hear how we have played the, men"; for the opposite idea, cp. Macb. iv. 3. 320, "O, I could play the woman with mine eyes"; and H. VII. iii. 2. 430, "Thou hast forced me ... to play the woman," i.e, to weep.

10. keep, stay, remain.

12. You ... labour: you interfere with our efforts to save the ship.

13. you do ... storm, by getting in our way, you only help the storm to wreck us; cp. Per. iii. 1.9, "Patience, good sir, do not assist the storm."

15. When .. is, we will be patient when the sea is quiet. What ... roarers, i.e, the winds and thunder; Wright points out that in the language of Shakespeare's time a blustering bully was called a 'roarer.' For the inflection in -s before a pl. noun, see Abb. 335.

16. for ... king, it is no use adjuring us in the name of the king to save the vessel, the elements care nothing whether we have a king on board or any one else: To cabin, for the omission of the article, see Abb. 90.

18. whom, what persons of importance.

19. None ... myself, i.e. if I do not do my best to save myself, it is not likely I shall do it to save the King, or any one else.

19, 20. a counsellor, one accustomed to give orders.

21. work ... present, effect the peace of the present moment; Steevens quoted i. Corinthians, xv. 6, "of whom the greater part remain unto this present": hand ... more, handle, touch, a single rope again, i.e. in our efforts to save the vessel.

24. for the ... hap, for death, which you possibly will soon have to meet.

26. I have ... fdllow; for the same thought, cp. T. G. i. 1. 140-2, "Go, go, be gone, to save your ship from wreck. Which cannot perish having thee on board. Being destin'd to a drier death on shore," i.e. by hanging.

27, 8. his ... gallows, he is clearly born to be hanged: complexion, external appearance, as indicative of disposition, character. 'Gallows-bird' is a slang term for a murderer, or one who has committed a crime deserving of hanging. For perfect in this sense cp. K. J. i. 1. 90, "Mine eye hath well examined his parts, And finds them perfect Richard."

28-30. Stand ... advantage. The only sign that we have any chance of escaping a watery grave is that this fellow is evidently destined to die on the gallows: Heaven forbid that that destiny should be altered, and that he should die by drowning: our cable, that to which we may trust, as usually we trust to the cable of our anchor, when it is let drop: doth ... advantage, is of small use to us now; advantage, verb.

32. Down ... topmast! Third position: the gale increasing, the topmast is struck, to take the weight from aloft, make the ship drive less to leeward, and bear the mainsail under which the ship is laid-to. Schmidt here takes lower as a comp. adv., but the orders 'lower away,' 'lower the topsail,' etc., are so common on board ship, that lower is probably a verb.

33. Bring . . . main-course. Bring her to the position of trying with the mainsail to keep as close as possible to the wind. To 'try with,' and to 'lie at try with,' the main-course, are ancient nautical phrases. Holt, quoted by Dyce, Gloss., says, "The courses meant in this place are two of the three lowest and largest sails of a ship, which are so called, because, as largest, they contribute most to give her way through the water, and consequently enable her to feel her helm, and steer her course better than when they are not set or spread to the wind."

34, 5. they are ... office, they make more noise than the storm itself, or the whole crew, whose duties, as Knight points out, are essentially noisy ones, shouting as they handle the ropes, etc., etc. our office, equivalent to 'us in the performance of our duties.'

36. Yet again! are you here again?

36, 7. Shall we ... drown? Do you wish to frustrate our efforts to save the ship? a mind, a desire.

39. incharitable, on in-, in comp. for un-, see Abb. 442.

40. Work ... then. If you are not satisfied with what we are doing, and only make our efforts a subject for your abuse, you had better set to work yourselves in our stead.

43. for drowning, in regard to, and, so, against drowning; see Abb. 154.

46. Lay ... a-hold, "To lay a ship a-hold, is to bring her to lie as near the wind as she can, in order to keep clear of the land, and get her out to sea" (Steevens): a-hold, i.e. on hold, so that she may hold to the wind. Fourth position: the ship having driven near the shore, the mainsail is hauled up; the ship wore [to 'wear' a ship is to 'veer' it, turn or back it], and the two courses set on the other tack, to endeavour to clear the land that way.

47. lay ... off, steer her away from the shore.

49. must ... cold? Must we drown?

50. assist them, join with them in prayer.

52. merely. "Merely (from the Latin merus and mere) means purely, only. It separates that which it designates or qualifies from everything else. But in so doing the chief or most emphatic reference may be made either to that which is included, or to that which is excluded. In modern English it is always to the latter; by 'merely upon myself' [J. C. i. 2. 39] we should now mean upon nothing else except myself; the nothing else is that which makes the merely prominent. In Shakespeare's day the other reference was the more common, that namely to what was included; and 'merely upon myself' meant upon myself altogether, or without regard to anything else. Myself was that which the merely made prominent. So when Hamlet [Haml. i 2. 137], speaking of the world, says, 'Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely,' he by the merely brings the possession before the mind and characterizes it as complete and absolute; but by the same term now the prominence would be given to something else from which the possession might be conceived to be separable; 'possess it merely' would mean have nothing beyond simply the possession of it (have, it might be, no right to it, or no enjoyment of it). It is not necessary that that which is included, though thus emphasized, should therefore be more definitely conceived than that with which it is contrasted"... (Craik, Eng. of Shakespeare, 45).

53. This ... rascal. Antonio breaks off from speaking of him, and turns to curse him to his face: the washing ... tides, during the period it would take the tide to flow and ebb ten times; cp. Oth. iv. 1. 188, "I would have him nine years a-killing."

54-6. He'll ... him. Don't vex yourself as to his fate, he is certain to be hanged even though every drop in the ocean should swear to the contrary and should open its mouth as wide as possible to swallow him down. For to glut, Johnson would read 't' englut.'

57-9. Mercy ... split! The Camb. Edd. point out that the earlier editors printed these exclamations as a part of Gonzalo's speech, and that Capell was the first to give the true arrangement. We split! we are going to pieces. Fifth position: the ship not able to weather a point [i.e. to get a point nearer to the wind] is driven on shore.

61. take ... him, bid him good-bye before we perish.

62. ling .. broom, this is Hanmer's correction for 'long heath, brown furze.' Farmer quotes from Harrison's Description of Britain, "Brome, heth, firze, brakes, whinnes, ling, etc." By statute 4 and 5 of William and Mary "to burn on any waste between Candlemas and Midsummer any ling, heath, furze, gorse or fern" is punished by whipping and confinement in the House of Correction. ling, probably the heather or common ling, though Ellacombe thinks that no particular plant was necessarity meant, but any rough, wild vegetation, especially of open moors and heaths: heath, of this plant there are in Britain five species, which "clothe the hill-sides with a rich garment of purple"... one of which "is called Long Heath" (Ellacombe): broom, a plant with large yellow flowers, which under its former Latin name of Planta genista, gave its name to the Plantagenet family: furze, now called also 'gorse' and 'whin,' a plant which "with its golden blossoms and richly scented flowers is the glory of our wilder hill-sides" (id.).

63. The wills ... death. I am of course ready to submit myself to God's will; but if I had my choice, I should prefer to die on shore, not by drowning in the sea.

How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 15 Dec. 2013. < >.

More Resources

 The Chronology of Shakespeare's Plays
 Establishing the Order of the Plays
 How Many Plays Did Shakespeare Write?
 Shakespeare Timeline

 Shakespeare's Reputation in Elizabethan England
 Words Shakespeare Invented
 Quotations About William Shakespeare

 Portraits of Shakespeare
 Shakespeare's Boss: The Master of Revels
 Top 10 Shakespeare Plays

 Shakespeare's Metaphors and Similes
 Shakespeare's Blank Verse
 Shakespeare Timeline

 Edward Alleyn (Actor)
 What is Tragic Irony?
 Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy

The Storm. Illustrated by Charles H. Buchel, 1904

Scene Questions for Review

microsoft images 1. Did the storm described in the first scene suggest the title of the play?

2. Is Shakespeare's description of this storm technically accurate?

3. Why does Shakespeare begin this play with the description of a storm?

4. What further dramatic function does the storm now have?


More to Explore

 The Tempest: The Play with Explanatory Notes
 Examination Questions and Answers on The Tempest
 Themes in The Tempest: Reality, Thought, Imagination
 Forgiveness and Reconciliation in The Tempest

 The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream
 Magic, Books, and the Supernatural in The Tempest
 Shakespeare's Tempest and Bermuda
 The Tempest: A Marriage Play?

 Introduction to Prospero
 Introduction to Miranda
 The Contrast Between Ariel and Caliban in Shakespeare's Tempest
 The Relationship Between Miranda and Ferdinand


Action in The Tempest ... "It is three-fold. In the first place, there is the expulsion of Prospero by the rulers in the ship, who have now come into his power; this is the wrong done to Prospero, and constitutes the pre-supposition of the drama. Next follows the punishment of this wrong in the island, the realm of Prospero, through his spirit-powers. Lastly, the reconciliation of the two sides by the repentance of the guilty and forgiveness of the injured, when we have the final harmony resulting from the conflict. It, therefore, is connected with that class of Shakespeare's plays in which wrong is atoned for by repentance, and the criminal escapes by "heart's sorrow" the punishment of death, the legitimate consequence of his deed." J. D. Snider. Read on...


 Introduction to Caliban
 Introduction to Ariel
 Introduction to Sycorax
 Staging The Tempest

 The Tempest: Stages of Plot Development
 Exploring the Nature of Shakespearean Comedy
 Blank Verse, Prose, and Diction in Shakespeare's Tempest

 How to Pronounce the Names in The Tempest
 The Tempest: Plot Summary
 Famous Quotations from The Tempest

 Shakespeare's Blank Verse
 Top 10 Shakespeare Plays
 How many plays did Shakespeare write?

 Shakespeare's Attention to Details
 Shakespeare's Portrayals of Sleep
 Quotations About William Shakespeare
 Why Shakespeare is so Important

 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Boss: The Master of Revels
 A Midsummer Night's Dream: Exam Questions and Answers
 Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy
 Shakespeare's Influence on Other Writers