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The Tempest: Stages of Plot Development

From The Tempest. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1909.

INTRODUCTION

Like tragedy, comedy deals with a conflict between an individual and environing circumstances. In tragedy the individual is overwhelmed; in comedy the individual triumphs. In comedy, as in tragedy, there are five stages in the plot development: (1) the exposition or introduction; (2) the complication or rising action; (3) the climax, crisis, or turning point; (4) the resolution or falling action; and (5) the denouement, catastrophe, or conclusion.

ANALYSIS BY ACT ACT SCENE

I. THE EXPOSITION, OR INTRODUCTION (TYING OF THE KNOT)

Act I, Scene i. Different stages of a shipwreck are indicated realistically in dialogue. Characterization is marked in the brief speeches of Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, and Gonzalo.

Act I, Scene ii, 1-374. From the real world the action passes into the realm of enchantment. In the opening speech, Miranda describes the shipwreck as seen from the shore of the enchanted island, and in talk with her, Prospero unfolds his past history and the past history of the island. This part of the scene has the effect of a classical prologue. Ariel and Caliban are introduced, and the Exposition closes with the entrance of Ferdinand as Ariel sings, "Come unto these yellow sands."

II. THE COMPLICATION, RISING ACTION, OR GROWTH (TYING OF THE KNOT)

Act I, Scene ii, 375-502. Ferdinand and Miranda love at first sight, and Prospero interrupts the idyllic love-making. The denouement is foreshadowed; so also are the obstacles and complications.

Act II, Scene i. The scene begins with Gonzalo's serious speech of consolation and passes into humorous dialogue and the description of the ideal commonwealth. Alonso and other members of the shipwrecked group sleep, overcome by magic, Antonio and Sebastian plot against the king's life. Ariel frustrates the plot, and advance is made in Prosperous plan to countercheck his enemies.

Act II, Scene ii. The complication is further developed in the comic sub-plot of the alliance among Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano.

Act III, Scene i. Ferdinand and Miranda plight their troth.

Act III, Scene ii. The alliance among Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano develops into a plot against Prospero's life.

III. THE CLIMAX, CRISIS, OR TURNING POINT (THE KNOT TIED)

Act III, Scene iii. The climax of the main motive comes when Antonio and Sebastian and Alonso, whom they are still plotting to kill, are bidden to a magic banquet prepared for them by Prospero. The banquet vanishes in thunder and lightning, and Ariel warns the "three men of sin" of their doom.

IV. THE RESOLUTION, FALLING ACTION, OR CONSEQUENCE (THE UNTYING OF THE KNOT)

Act IV, Scene i. Prospero recognizes the marriage contract between Ferdinand and Miranda, and a Masque is "presented" to celebrate the betrothal. After Prospero utters the farewell to his actors, Ariel enters with news of the collapse of the Caliban plot.

Act V, Scene i, 1-171. Prospero has now all his enemies in his power, and when Ariel "discases" him of his magic robes and gives him the hat and rapier which he wore when Duke of Milan, he makes his identity known.

V. DENOUMENT, CATASTROPHE, OR CONCLUSION (THE KNOT UNTIED)

Act V, Scene i, 172-Epilogue. The denouement comes when Ferdinand and Miranda are "discovered" playing chess, and Alonso realizes that his son is alive and betrothed to Prospero's daughter. The drama closes calmly in universal forgiveness and the "restitution of all things."

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NOTE: "It must be understood that a play can be analyzed into very different schemes of plot. It must not be thought that one of these schemes is right and the rest wrong; but the schemes will be better or worse in proportion as while of course representing correctly the facts of the play they bring out more or less of what ministers to our sense of design." Moulton.

How to cite this article:

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1909. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/thetempest/tempesthudsonaction.html >.

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