Alonso, Gonzalo, Antonio, and Sebastian enter. They are exhausted after having wandered the island in search of Ferdinand, whom Alonso sadly gives up for dead. Antonio and Sebastian secretly hope that Alonso's sadness and tiredness will give them the chance to murder him that evening.
Alonso's despair at having lost his son may help him empathize with Prospero, who has also suffered great losses.
Suddenly, strange music fills the air. Spirits enter, assemble a lavish banquet, and signal for the courtiers to partake. Prospero has also entered, but because of his magic is invisible. The men marvel at the strange sight of the spirits and banquet, but are unsure whether it is safe to eat. Gonzalo convinces them it will be safe by observing that explorers are always uncovering amazing things, and that this banquet must be one of those things.
Prospero uses the illusion of the banquet to remind the men of how hungry and desperate they are. The men try to explain the mysteriously appearing banquet based on stories they have heard from explorers of the New World.
Before any of them can eat, a clap of thunder sounds and Ariel appears in the form of a harpy. A flap of Ariel's wings makes the banquet vanish. Saying that he is an agent of Fate, Ariel condemns Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian for overthrowing and exiling Prospero and Miranda. He says that the tempest was nature's tool for exacting revenge on Alonso by taking Ferdinand. Ariel adds that only sincere repentance can save the men's own lives. Ariel vanishes. Prospero, still invisible, applauds his spirits and states that his enemies are now under his control.
The banquet's sudden disappearance shows the courtiers how powerless they are. Ariel's rebuke forces them to realize that everything they have lost is a result of their own sinful actions. Prospero uses magic to manipulate and humiliate the men as a way to gain power over them. Now the question remains: What will Prospero do with his newfound power?
Alonso is bitter with remorse for the overthrow of Prospero, which he believes has caused the drowning of his son. He resolves to drown himself and runs off. Antonio and Sebastian declare that they will fight this new enemy, and also run off, but in pursuit of the spirits. Gonzalo fears what all three will do in their frenzied states of mind, and he orders the other courtiers to follow them and make sure none of them do anything too reckless.
The characters' reactions to the loss of the banquet are consistent with their attitudes toward their past deeds, and foreshadow their reactions to Prospero's future attempts at reconciliation. Alonso is repentant, Antonio and Sebastian are defiant, and Gonzalo acts as caretaker.