Aimé Césaire

A Tempest

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A Tempest Summary

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“A Tempest” is a 1969 play by Aimé Césaire. It is a retelling of Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” that incorporates themes of colonialism and the African experience. Césaire, who was born in Martinique, wrote the play as part of a trilogy of works exploring African identity under French colonial rule. “A Tempest” was translated into English in 1985 and made its English language stage debut in New York in 1991.

The play begins with an introduction by the Master of Ceremonies, who talks the actors through choosing their parts as well as the masks they will wear for each character. The Master of Ceremonies introduces the heroes, villains, and gods who make up the cast, then chooses the largest personality out of the actors to play the storm itself.

At the start of Act 1, the noblemen Gonzalo, Sebastian and Antonio are on board a ship in the midst of a huge storm. They worry about the storm sinking their ship, but when the captain arrives and tells them to go below deck so they will be safe, the men ignore him and continue their conversation. Finally, a sailor enters and announces that the ship is sinking.

Miranda and her father Prospero, an exiled Duke, are on a nearby island and witness the sinking ship. Miranda begs Prospero to use his magic to save the ship, but Prospero comforts her by telling her that it’s only a play and everything will turn out fine. Prospero explains that he was exiled because of a political disagreement with Antonio, and now fate has brought Antonio to his island. Prospero has conspired with Ariel to cause a storm that will sink the ship.

Ariel is a sea nymph who is under Prospero’s control. Prospero has promised to free her when he has finished taking revenge, but Ariel doubts that this will ever happen. In addition to Ariel, Prospero has also enslaved Caliban, the son of the witch Sycorax who Prospero killed in order to take over the island. Caliban resents Prospero and schemes against him in order to gain his freedom.

Miranda goes to help the survivors of the shipwreck and meets Ferdinand, the son of the king, and the two are smitten by each other. Prospero enters and informs Ferdinand that he will be their house servant on the island.

Meanwhile, Ariel goes to visit Caliban and the two discuss their servitude to Prospero. Caliban wants to revolt against Prospero, but Ariel thinks that it is better to take a peaceful path to freedom.

Gonzalo, Sebastian and Antonio have also survived the shipwreck. Prospero forces Ariel to harass the men in various ways, forcing them to eat when they are worried that the food is poisonous. Prospero enjoys exerting power over the men, but finally relents when the men beg forgiveness from him. He invites them to join him at the wedding of Miranda and Ferdinand that will be taking place soon.

Caliban meets the fools Stephano and Trinculo, who are celebrating because they think that the shipwreck has rid them of noblemen. He informs the fools that Prospero is also a tyrant and that they should get rid of him as well. The three form a plan to kill Prospero and claim the island as their own.

Prospero continues to toy with Ferdinand, making him think that he has been enslaved. In fact, he has been planning all along to engage him to his daughter. When he finally tells Ferdinand the good news, gods and goddesses of the Greek and African pantheons arrive to celebrate and bless the couple. Ariel interrupts the festivities when she arrives to tell Prospero that Caliban is raising an army. Though she wants to be allowed to talk to Caliban first, Prospero refuses, intending to punish Caliban harshly.

Stephano and Trinculo join Caliban as he marches on the castle, but soon the band dissolves into in-fighting and Caliban leaves the two fools behind. Prospero appears and dares Caliban to strike him dead, but Caliban cannot do it because he is not a man of violence. Caliban tells Prospero that they should fight as equals, but Prospero refuses. He calls Ariel and demands that she imprison Caliban and his co-conspirators.

Prospero returns to the engagement party and is welcomed into the family of nobles by Gonzalo, Sebastian and Antonio. Miranda and Ferdinand are happy and in love. The whole group decides to return to Europe, and before he departs Prospero grants Ariel her freedom.

Stephano and Trinculo both beg Prospero for mercy, which he grants, allowing them to return to Europe. Only Caliban refuses to apologize or defend himself, even when Prospero offers him a truce. Prospero decides that he will stay behind on the island with Caliban in order to continue his captivity for as long as it takes. Everyone else departs the island, leaving Prospero and Caliban behind to continue their endless feud.