Shakespeare : The Tempest.


Oh magic.

Prospero is an old guy who lives on an island. He lives there with his books and his daughter Miranda. But mostly his books. He loves to study, and has taken up magic.

Turns out he’s pretty good at it. So good that as the exposition unfolds, we find out that he’s defeated an evil witch, Sycorax. Sycorax had a son, who is more of a monster. His name is Caliban and he is not very niee and not very nice looking. Prospero uses his magic to make him his slave, which is totally not cool, except that Caliban really is super mean and not very nice.

Prospero has also freed a spirit, Ariel, from the evil clutches of Sycorax. Ariel had been stuck in a tree, under the spell of the witch, but Prospero magnanimously agrees to free him, if he will swear total loyalty and service to him. So Prospero is very much not above using his magic powers for his own benefit. And for the benefit of his lovely daughter Miranda, who is now a teenager and has no memory of ever seeing another male other than her old guy dad.

So to recap: old guy studies magic on deserted island while raising a teenage daughter and ordering various tree spirits and monsters to do his bidding. There. All caught up.

Now to the present. There’s a shipwreck. Prospero chooses this time to tell his daughter how they ended up on this island. Back to exposition:

“I used to be a Duke,” he explains. “Duke of Milan. But I preferred to spend my time studying and reading books, so I let my brother do the ruling.”

“I have an uncle?” she says.

“I’ll get to that.” he says.

“So your Uncle Antonio - that’s my brother - decided he liked being Duke so much that he conspired with the King to take over. They were going to kill us, but, long story, short, we got away on a tiny boat. Thanks to an old friend of mine who loaded up our little boat with magic books, food, water, and books about magic, we made it to this island. And that’s where we’ve been ever since. I read my magic books all day long and you do whatever it is you do.”

“I can’t believe I’ve kept forgetting to ask you about how we got here,” she says. “But what does this have to do with the shipwreck?”

“Good question, daughter,” he says. The folks on the ship are the King, the King’s son, my brother, and a few others.”

“Whoa!” she says. “What’s our plan?”

Prospero goes on to explain how none of them are actually hurt. Alonso (the King) thinks Ferdinand (his son) is dead. And vice versa. In reality, they washed up on different parts of the island. Then Prospero leaves to go do some stuff. Actually...he doesn’t: he makes himself invisible so he can watch what happens next.

What happens next is this: Ferdinand, the king’s son, wanders up on the beach and runs into Miranda. Inexplicably, they fall in love immediately (Shakespeare had quite an affection for people falling in love immediately). Ferdinand is the first man, besides old dad and monster Caliban, that Miranda has ever seen, and she is blown away by how much better looking he is than her dad.

Prospero shows up at this point, strangely happy that the two have fallen in love. I say “strangely” because it’s strange only until we learn that he used his magic to make them fall in love. So is he strangely happy that his magic is strong, or is he strangely happy that his daughter is so excited about seeing another man? So he puts Ferdinand to work - and obviously Ferdinand isn’t excited about this, but Prospero has his magic stuff, so he makes him. He puts the lad through a variety of torments, like gathering wood, which isn’t actually much of a torment, and Miranda’s hanging out, watching Ferdinand’s big muscles and jawline flexing away and falling more and more in love, and meanwhile, Ariel is begging Prospero to set him free like he promised…

...and remember, Prospero is the protagonist. We’re supposed to like him, yet it’s difficult to fully understand his motivations or ethical state of mind. He’s continued keeping Ariel a prisoner after ostensibly freeing him from the wicked witch, and he’s also continued keeping Caliban a prisoner, in a sort of colonial-type act of pitiful generosity in which he gets a bunch of work done for free, yet gets to feel good about himself.

So Ariel brings the King and (fake) Duke to Prospero’s cave. Oh yes, they live in a cave. Or what the Bard calls “a cell.” Caliban runs into some of the sailors and gets them drunk; he then enlists their help to overthrow Prospero.

Oh, and also there’s a mutiny in progress with King and Duke. Short version is Antonio wants to kill the king so his son can take over.

Finally their paths all converge at Prospero’s place. Using his magic spells and some spirit-dogs, he runs them off and keeps his supremacy over the island. Ariel brings the king, duke, and entourage, whereupon Prospero pulls a Joseph, reveals himself to his brother, immediately accepts his brother’s deep sorrow - none of which, undoubtedly, is driven by survival instincts - and decides to go back to Milan and be a Duke again. Brother Antonio renounces any interest in being a Duke, or his son being King, or any of that, and is just overwhelmed at having a brother to hang out with again. And a niece!

Oh, and Ferdinand and Miranda get engaged, because they’re crazy in love.

Other sailors show up and inform everyone that the ship is actually fine and they can go home. Prospero finally sets Ariel free and buries his magic stuff super deep so he won’t be tempted to ever use it again. Everyone is forgiven, everyone heads home. More drunk people. Hopefully not drinking and sailing.

The End.