The Tempest Act 2, scene 1 Summary & Analysis
New! Understand every line of The Tempest.Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Elsewhere on the island, the other courtiers find themselves washed up on the island's shores. Alonso is despondent because he can't find Ferdinand, whom he believes to be dead. Gonzalo tries to comfort him by saying that they should be thankful that they survived, but Alonso is to sad to listen to him. Alonso also ignores Gonzalo's observation that it is strange how fresh their clothing seems. Meanwhile, off to one side, Antonio and Sebastian look on and mock Gonzalo's positive attitude.
Alonso reacts to the loss of his son with extreme sadness. The cheerful Gonzalo tries to remain optimistic, while the power-hungry Antonio and Sebastian mock Gonzalo from the sidelines. Though Antonio and Sebastian dismiss him as a fool, only Gonzalo detects the strangeness of the shipwreck and the island.
Francisco, another lord, also tries to comfort Alonso. Sebastian, on the other hand, lays the blame for Ferdinand's death on Alonso, saying that it was his own fault for going against his advisors' counsel and permitting his daughter to marry an African. Gonzalo scolds Sebastian for his harsh words, and Antonio and Sebastian once more mock Gonzalo again.
Sebastian's condemnation of Alonso shows a surprising lack of brotherly feeling. He also demonstrates blatant racism in his condemnation of Alonso's decision to allow his daughter to marry an African.
Gonzalo continues talking and explains how he would govern such an island if he were king. He envisions people dwelling in a completely agrarian society, without leaders or language, where everyone lives in harmony, peace, and plenty. "All things in common nature should produce without sweat or endeavor," he says (2.1.144–157). He elaborates this utopian vision while Antonio and Sebastian continue their snide commentary. Alonso remains troubled and disinclined to hear Gonzalo's talk. Gonzalo then turns on Antonio and Sebastian, scolding them once again, this time for their mockery and cowardice.
Gonzalo's speech echoes On Cannibals (1580), an essay by the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne. In the essay, Montaigne romanticizes the native peoples of the Americas. He calls them "Noble Savages " and suggests that they are more civilized than Europeans. Notice how similar Gonzalo's ideal society is to what the island was like for Caliban before Prospero arrived.
Ariel enters, invisible, and plays music that makes Gonzalo and Alonso fall asleep. As they sleep, Antonio slyly presents a murder plot to Sebastian. Since Ferdinand is almost definitely dead, Antonio says, Alonso's death would make Sebastian King of Naples. Sebastian is drawn in, remembering how Antonio overthrew his own brother. He hesitates a bit, though, asking Antonio if his conscience bothers him for what he did to Prospero. Antonio dismisses the question.
Being away from civilization on the island inspired Gonzalo to imagine a perfect society. In contrast, Antonio and Sebastian see being on the lawless island as an opportunity to steal Alonso's power. Their only constraint is morality, but Antonio ignores morality.
Sebastian is convinced to go ahead with the plot, and Sebastian and Antonio draw their swords. Just then, Ariel enters again, and sings a soft warning. Gonzalo and Alonso awaken. Caught with their swords out, the two conspirators claim somewhat unconvincingly that they heard loud bellowing nearby and sought to protect their comrades from a beast they believed was nearby. Gonzalo and Alonso, unsettled, draw their swords and exit, followed by Ariel, who plans to tell Prospero of the plot he has foiled.
Ariel's entry is a reminder that despite Antonio and Sebastian's dreams of taking power, they're actually under Prospero's tight control. Acting under Prospero orders, Ariel put Alonso and Gonzalo to sleep in order to create a situation in which Antonio and Sebastian might reveal their true immoral natures.