The Tempest Act 1, scene 1 Summary & Analysis
New! Understand every line of The Tempest.Read our modern English translation of this scene.
A terrible storm tosses a ship at sea. The ship carries Alonso, the King of Naples, and assorted courtiers on the journey home from Alonso's daughter's wedding in Tunisia. The Boatswain of the ship shouts commands at the passengers to keep below deck to ensure their safety and because they are getting in the way of the sailors' work. When Gonzalo reminds the Boatswain to remember who is on the ship, the Boatswain insists that nature does not care that the ship holds a king and that, under such circumstances, his own authority must be respected: "What cares these roarers for the name of king? To cabin! silence! Trouble us not."
The play begins with a scene of upheaval. The courtiers are bound for a place where nothing is as it seems, and big changes await them. In this scene, they get their first taste of powerlessness. The wildness of nature (in reality a spell worked by Prospero) has turned the tables on them, so that someone who would normally be their subject, the Boatswain, now gives them orders.
Gonzalo, a counselor to the king, jokes that he's no longer afraid of drowning, because it seems to him that the Boatswain is destined to die by hanging rather than drowning.
Gonzalo's response to his powerlessness is tomake a joke...
Antonio and Sebastian are furious at the Boatswain for his audacity in ordering them around. They hurl insults at him, calling the Boatswain, among other things a "dog," "cur," "whoreson," and an "insolent noisemaker" (1.1.35-38).
...In contrast, the more power-hungry Antonio and Sebastian are infuriated by the Boatswain's lack of regard for their authority.
The ship cracks. Sailors pray for their lives. Antonio and Sebastian run to be with King Alonso as the ship goes down, while Gonzalo prays for land, any land, to save him from drowning.
Antonio and Sebastian want seek out the king (and his power) in times of trouble. The storm has humbled the menso that—survival is more important now than anything else.