Act IScene I
The play opens amidst a storm at sea "A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightening is heard", signalling from the outset the turmoil and conflict present. Just as Hamlet opens in ghostly darkness and a sense of foreboding that foreshadows the unrest in the state of Denmark, so too the tempest exemplifies changing states and ruptures, reflecting the tumultuous times (the most famous example of this 'pathetic fallacy' can be seen in the storm in King Lear). This is soon followed up by the boatswain's harsh commands to the nobles to get to their cabins:
"What care these roarers for the name of the king? To cabin:
This represents a disturbance in the normal hierarchy of power relations: the elements themselves incite social transgressions as the boatswain ignores Antonio's question "Where's the master?" This microcosm of the boat and the breach of power lines within it connote the macrocosm of the play, which is built on a network of achieved and attempted usurpations of authority and legitimate power. By retrospective narrative we are presented with Antonio's successful revolution against his brother, Prospero, and Caliban's attempted violation of Miranda. The play circulates around these events as Prospero is motivated to play out and manipulate affairs on the island in a comedy of restoration. So the story begins in the middle and the play is filled with a series of further conspiracies as Antonio and Sebastian plot against Alonso's life and Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo plot against Prospero's control of the island. Thus the prehistory of the play is repeated, and the audience is shown examples of larger and pettier instances of intrigue as nobles and clowns plot rebellions and treacheries alike.Scene 2
This scene takes place in front of Prospero's cell on the island and the audience along with Miranda listens to the prehistory of the play. It is a scene that makes up an indispensable prologue to the comprehension of Act I, conveying essential information. We learn that, twelve years earlier, Prospero was Duke of Milan but was so immersed in his studies and his books ("my library/ Was dukedom enough") that he neglected his duties ("I thus neglecting worldly ends..."). As such he allowed his evil, power-hungry brother to usurp him gradually. Thus, we are presented with models of government and political organisation. This introduces us to one of the main themes explored throughout the play: see, for example, Gonzalo's later speech on the ideal state and note the workings of the master-slave relations and king-subject relations throughout the play. Antonio, Prospero's brother appealed to the King Alonso for help in his rebellious quest, offering to pay an annual tribute to the king in return for his help and so Prospero was illegitimately dislodged. In this tale of expropriation we notice a mirroring of both the biblical and the historical, as it follows the lines of the Cain and Abel and the usurping of Richard III's throne by Henry VII, the grandfather of Elizabeth I.
Father and daughter survived execution through their popularity with the Milanese people and the aid of Gonzalo who "furnish'd" Prospero with books and food, and so Prospero narrates their history and casts them in the role of the unjustly persecuted outcasts as nature and the elements sympathise with their plight:
"there they hoist us,
So, nature and man's plight become inextricable and, again, there is a sense of pathetic fallacy (of the outside world reflecting emotions); in the Bible this has spiritual significance since in Psalm 107 the Lord calms the waters:
"28 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
Therefore Prospero's control of the elements could incite us to allegorical readings of the play as he assumes the quality of a deity and the machinations of the play echo the biblical patterns of sin, guilt, treachery, revenge, forgiveness and resolution. The shipwreck could prefigure disaster, but Prospero's