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The Tempest by Shakespeare | Short Story Summary

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Hi, I’m Cecilia Elise Wallin.  

And this is a video in my series Learn from the Classics of literature. 

In some of the videos in this series, we will learn from the incomparable Shakespeare. Twelve of  

Shakespeare’s greatest plays have been summarized into beautiful groundbreaking short stories  

by the British poet and novelist Edith Nesbit, and these short stories have been recorded by great  

LibriVox readers. One of these exquisite short stories is The Tempest, which we are going to listen to now.

Check your knowledge: The Tempest Quiz

“THE TEMPEST

Prospero, the Duke of Milan, was a learned and studious

man, who lived among his books, leaving the management

of his dukedom to his brother Antonio, in whom indeed he

had complete trust. But that trust was ill-rewarded, for Antonio

wanted to wear the duke’s crown himself, and, to gain his ends,

would have killed his brother but for the love the people bore him.

However, with the help of Prospero’s great enemy, Alonso, King

of Naples, he managed to get into his hands the dukedom, with all

its honor, power, and riches. For they took Prospero to sea, and

when they were far away from land, forced him into a little boat

with no tackle, mast or sail. In their cruelty and hatred they put

his little daughter, Miranda (not yet three years old), into the

boat with him, and sailed away, leaving them to their fate.

But one among the courtiers with Antonio was true to his right-

ful master, Prospero. To save the duke from his enemies was im-

possible, but much could be done to remind him of a subject’s love.

So this worthy lord, whose name was Gonzalo, secretly placed in

the boat some fresh water, provisions, and clothes, and what Pros-

pero valued most of all, some of his precious books.

The boat was cast on an island, and Prospero and his little one

landed in safety. Now this island was enchanted, and for years had

Iain under the spell of a fell witch, Sycorax, who had imprisoned in

the trunks of trees all the good spirits she found there. She died

shortly before Prospero was cast on those shores, but the spirits,

of whom Ariel was the chief, still remained in their prisons.

Prospero was a great magician, for he had devoted himself

almost entirely to the study of magic during the years in which

he allowed his brother to manage the affairs of Milan. By his art

he set free the imprisoned spirits, yet kept them obedient to his

will, and they were more truly his subjects than his people in Milan

had been. For he treated them kindly as long as they did his bid-

ding, and he exercised his power over them wisely and well. One

creature alone he found it necessary to treat with harshness : this

was Caliban, the son of the wicked old witch, a hideous, deformed

monster, horrible to look on, and vicious and brutal in all his

habits.

When Miranda was grown up into a maiden, sweet and fair to

see, it chanced that Antonio, and Alonso with Sebastian, his

brother, and Ferdinand, his son, were at sea together with old

Gonzalo, and their ship came near Prosperous island. Prospero,

knowing they were there, raised by his art a great storm, so that

even the sailors on board gave themselves up for lost; and first

among them all Prince Ferdinand leaped into the sea, and, as his

father thought in his grief, was drowned. But Ariel brought him

safe ashore; and all the rest of the crew, although they were

washed overboard, were landed unhurt in different parts of the

island, and the good ship herself, which they all thought had been

wrecked, lay at anchor in the harbor whither Ariel had brought

her. Such wonders could Prospero and his spirits perform.

While yet the tempest was raging, Prospero showed his daugh-

ter the brave ship laboring in the trough of the sea, and told her

that it was filled with living human beings like themselves. She, in

pity of their lives, prayed him who had raised this storm to quell

it. Then her father bade her to have no fear, for he intended to

save every one of them.

Then, for the first time, he told the story of his life and hers,

and that he had caused this storm to rise in order that his enemies,

Antonio and Alonso, who were on board, might be delivered into

his hands.

When he had made an end of his story he charmed her

into sleep, for Ariel was at hand, and he had work for him to do.

Arielf who longed for his complete freedom, grumbled to be kept

in drudgery, but on being threateningly reminded of all the suffer-

ings he had undergone when Sycorax ruled in the land, and of

the debt of gratitude he owed to the master who had made those suf-

ferings to end, he ceased to complain, and promised faithfully to do

whatever Prospero might command.

“Do so,” said Prospero, “and in two days I will discharge thee.”

Then he bade Ariel take the form of a water nymph and sent

him in search of the young prince. And Ariel, invisible to Ferdi-

nand, hovered near him, singing the while.

“Come unto these yellow sands

And then take hands:

Court’sied when you have, and kiss’d,

(The wild waves whist),

Foot it featly here and there ;

And, sweet sprites, the burden bear !”

And Ferdinand followed the magic singing, as the song changed

to a solemn air, and the words brought grief to his heart, and

tears to his eyes, for thus they ran —

FERDINAND AND MIRANDA.

“She would have helped him”

“Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made.

Those are pearls that were his eyes ;

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.

Hark! now I hear them, — ding dong bell!”

And so singing, Ariel led the spell-bound prince into the presence

of Prospero and Miranda. Then, behold! all happened as Prospero

desired. For Miranda, who had never, since she could first remem-

ber, seen any human being save her father, looked on the youthful

prince with reverence in her eyes, and love in her secret heart.

“I might call him,” she said, “a thing divine, for nothing natural

I ever saw so noble!”

And Ferdinand, beholding her beauty with wonder and delight,

exclaimed —

“Most sure the goddess on whom these airs attend !”

Nor did he attempt to hide the passion which she inspired in

him, for scarcely had they exchanged half a dozen sentences, be-

fore he vowed to make her his queen if she were willing. But Pros-

pero, though secretly delighted, pretended wrath.

“You come here as a spy,” he said to Ferdinand. “I will manacle

your neck and feet together, and you shall feed on fresh water

mussels, withered roots and husk, and have sea-water to drink.

Follow.”

“No,” said Ferdinand, and drew his sword. But on the in-

stant Prospero charmed him so that he stood there like a statue,

still as stone; and Miranda in terror prayed to her father to have

mercy on her lover. But he harshly refused her, and made Ferdi-

nand follow him to his cell. There he set the prince to work, mak-

ing him remove thousands of heavy logs of timber and pile them

up; and Ferdinand patiently obeyed, and thought his toil all too

well repaid by the sympathy of the sweet Miranda.

She in very pity would have helped him in his hard work, but

he would not let her, yet he could not keep from her the secret of

his love, and she, hearing it, rejoiced and promised to be his wife.

Then Prospero released him from his servitude, and glad at

heart, he gave his consent to their marriage.

“Take her,” he said, “she is thine own.”

In the meantime, Antonio and Sebastian in another part of the

island were plotting the murder of Alonso, the King of Naples, for

Ferdinand being dead, as they thought, Sebastian would succeed

to the throne on Alonso’s death. And they would have carried out

their wicked purpose while their victim was asleep, but that Ariel

woke him in good time.

Many tricks did Ariel play them. Once he set a banquet before

them, and just as they were going to fall to, he appeared to them

amid thunder and lightning in the form of a harpy, and immedi-

ately the banquet disappeared. Then Ariel upbraided them with

their sins and vanished too.

Prospero by his enchantments drew them all to the grove with-

out his cell, where they waited, trembling and afraid, and now at

last bitterly repenting them of their sins.

Prospero determined to make one last use of his magic power,

**and then,” said he, “I’ll break my staff and deeper than did ever

plummet sound I’ll drown my book.”

So he made heavenly music to sound in the air, and appeared to

them in his proper shape as the Duke of Milan. Because they re-

pented, he forgave them and told them the story of his life since

they had cruelly committed him and his baby daughter to the

mercy of wind and waves. Alonso, who seemed sorriest of them

all for his past crimes, lamented the loss of his heir. But Prospero

drew back a curtain and showed them Ferdinand and Miranda

playing at chess. Great was Alonso’s joy to greet his loved son

again, and when he heard that the fair maid with whom Ferdinand

was playing was Prosperous daughter, and that the young folks

had plighted their troth, he said —

“Give me your hands, let grief and sorrow still embrace his

heart that doth not wish you joy.”

So all ended happily. The ship was safe in the harbor, and

next day they all set sail for Naples, where Ferdinand and Mir-

anda were to be married. Ariel gave them calm seas and auspicious

gales ; and many were the rejoicings at the wedding.

Then Prospero. after many years of absence, went back to his

own dukedom, where he was welcomed with great joy by his faith-

ful subjects. He practised the arts of magic no more, but his life

was happy, and not only because he had found his own again, hut

chiefly because, when his bitterest foes who had done him deadly

wrong lay at his mercy, he took no vengeance on them, but nobly

forgave them.

As for Ariel, Prospero made him free as air, so that he could

wander where he would, and sing with a light heart his sweet

song.

“Where the bee sucks, there suck I :

In a cowslip’s bell I lie;

There I couch when owls do cry.

On the bat’s back I do fly

After Summer, merrily:

Merrily, merrily, shall I live now,

Under the blossom that hangs on the bough “

The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, adapted into a short story by Edith Nesbit