1.1 ‘We split, we split!’ 

A storm rages and a large ship is tossed on the wild seas. As the crew struggles to regain control of the vessel, the passengers—King Alonso of Naples and his court—shout their advice and trade insults through wind and rain. Soon, in spite of the crew’s best efforts, the creaking ship splits and sinks. 

1.2 ‘Come unto these yellow sands’ 

Two figures—a young woman called Miranda and her father, Prospero—stand on an island shore, watching as the ship sinks. Miranda is terrified on behalf of the drowning men, but Prospero comforts her: the tempest is of his making and no one will be harmed. He explains that some of the noblemen on board were responsible for his overthrow twelve years ago and now the time has come to settle old scores. 

Once known as the Duke of Milan, Prospero was exiled from his Dukedom when King Alonso helped Prospero’s ambitious brother, Antonio, to power. With his child and his precious books as his only treasures, Prospero settled on this remote island and learned how to command the strange spirits that lived there. Now, when the opportunity has come at last to get revenge on his old enemies, Prospero plans to trap them on the island under his control. 

Before Miranda can ask any more questions, Prospero puts her to sleep. Alone, he summons Ariel, his supernatural servant, and applauds the terrifying storm that has now brought the noblemen on shore. Prospero commands Ariel to assist him with his final project and promises to release him from his service by the end of the day. 

Miranda wakes up. Prospero calls on Caliban, a human who has been dehumanised by the new inhabitants, Prospero and Miranda. Caliban now serves as their slave, having once betrayed their trust and attacked Miranda in an attempt to rape her. Grumbling, cursing and protesting his enslavement, especially as he was generous and welcoming to Prospero, Caliban has no choice but to undertake his daily tasks as Prospero commands.

Then, the first of the shipwrecked nobles appears: it is Ferdinand, King Alonso’s son, led by Ariel’s strange music and believing his father, along with everyone else, to be drowned. These grim thoughts are soon forgotten, however, when Ferdinand sees Miranda: the two fall in love on the spot. Prospero is secretly happy with the match, but, keen to test Ferdinand, accuses the prince of treachery and uses his magic to control him. In spite of Miranda’s pleas, Ferdinand is led away to labour in Prospero’s service. Unlike Caliban, Ferdinand will receive a reward for his labour.

2.1 ‘Thou letst thy fortunes sleep’ 

King Alonso, his brother Sebastian, and Prospero’s brother Antonio, along with other courtiers, wander around the strange island, looking for Alonso’s son, Ferdinand. Alonso believes that Ferdinand has drowned in the tempest. Ariel (invisible to everyone) appears and puts most of the courtiers to sleep with music. Antonio and Sebastian, the only two left awake, plot to murder King Alonso and make Sebastian his successor. Just as they prepare to strike the deadly blow, however, Ariel wakes King Alonso and the others in time to stop the deed. The two would-be murderers narrowly escape discovery. After some confusion, the search for Ferdinand continues. 

2.2 ‘Dropped from heaven’ 

In a different corner of the island, Caliban encounters two other men shipwrecked during the storm: Stephano, a drunken butler, and Trinculo, a jester. Not quite sure what to make of the two men—just as the two men are not sure what to make of Caliban—he treats them as divine beings and, delighted with the taste of Stephano’s wine, promises to show them all the riches of the island.  

3.1 ‘I am your wife’ 

Miranda meets with Ferdinand, whom Prospero has ordered to carry heavy logs to test his devotion. The two reveal their feelings and propose to each other. Mindful of her duties to her father, Miranda leaves Ferdinand, promising to return soon. Prospero, having observed their encounter unseen, is pleased that all is going according to plan. 

3.2 ‘By sorcery he got the isle’ 

Caliban guides Stephano and Trinculo. He explains how Prospero usurped the island, which used to belong to Caliban’s mother, a powerful sorceress called Sycorax. Caliban encourages his new masters to overthrow Prospero by burning his magic books and killing him – then all of Prospero’s treasures, including Miranda, would be theirs. Ariel appears and uses magic to confuse the plotters, but Caliban soon convinces the two men to undertake his plot. The group prepares to make a move against Prospero. 

3.3 ‘Three men of sin’ 

The courtiers, led by King Alonso, are exhausted. Alonso has little hope of finding his son. Antonio and Sebastian resolve to kill Alonso that night. The company witness spirits preparing a banquet and suddenly vanishing without a trace. (Prospero, unobserved, witnesses the scene from above.) Just as the courtiers are about to help themselves to the feast, Ariel appears in a monstrous shape of a harpy and gives a speech that reminds each man of their sins and drives them mad with grief and guilt. Prospero applauds Ariel and leaves to set Ferdinand free. 

4.1 ‘Insubstantial pageant faded’ 

Ferdinand and Miranda receive Prospero’s blessing, along with a stern reminder to remain chaste until their marriage. In celebration of their engagement, Prospero conjures a wondrous spectacle with spirits singing and dancing. However, when Prospero remembers Caliban’s plot against his life, he angrily calls off his spirits and dismisses the confused pair. 

Moments later, Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo arrive. Caliban urges his companions to find and kill Prospero, but the two are distracted by gorgeous garments that Ariel has positioned around the place. Prospero’s spirits appear in the shape of hunting dogs and chase them all away. 

5.1 ‘I’ll drown my book’ 

Prospero is ready to confront his enemies. When Ariel reports their misery, Prospero decides to forgive them after all, but not before calling on his supernatural allies one last time. He promises them that he will break his staff and drown his book in return for their help in restoring the men to their sanity. 

Prospero uses Ariel to bring Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian before him where he doesn’t exact revenge but forgives them of what they did to him and gives up his magic. Alonso relinquishes control of Milan and apologises. Antonio is notably silent. Alonso and Ferdinand are reunited and Alonso blesses his marriage to Miranda. Prospero presents Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo, dressed in their stolen clothing, who are then exposed to ridicule.

Prospero asks Ariel to do one last thing for him: to make the waters calm for their voyage back to Italy, and then he sets Ariel free. Prospero then delivers an epilogue to the audience asking forgiveness for his wrongdoing and to set him free by applauding.