The Tempest Act 1 Scene 1
How does Act 1 Scene 1 succeed in arresting the audience’s attention and provide the exposition to the play? It is clear that Shakespeare was eager to set the scene and plant the audience in the world of the play with the opening word “Boatswain”. This first word immediately transports the audience on to the deck of the ship, ready for adventure. With the master’s second remark the audience finds itself in the eye of the storm. “We run ourselves aground”.
The effect of these words on the audience, together with the rushing around on the deck of the ship, is to make them panic, as they begin to realise there is trouble ahead. The sense of danger is further enhanced by the Master’s and Boatswain’s use of plosive alliteration. “Bestir, bestir” and “Blow till thou burst! ”. There is an instant anxiety between both men’s attempts to remain calm and the emotional effect of the alliteration. This highlights to the audience the urgency of the situation, but also shows them that the Boatswain is not really scared by the circumstances.
It is clear that the Boatswain is no stranger to violent storms by the quote “Cheerly, cheerly”. Shakespeare’s use of this alliteration shows that the Boatswain is confident with the storm and feels in control. He gives orders to the noblemen travelling on his ship to “keep below” and this illustrates to the audience that he feels it is safer and easier for him to control the ship if the passengers are not in the way. This gives the audience a sense of relief and calms them, as they feel he is a capable sailor who can manage the ship successfully.
Alonso’s high status will be marked by his regal costume. This gives tension to the play, because during Shakespeare’s lifetime, royalty were considered far more important than the ordinary person. Therefore, if the King was to drown it would be considered to be far more tragic than if it was an common person. The audience will be initially shocked to hear the Boatswain utter the words “What cares these roarers for the name of King”. He is a character of lowly status and yet he is showing no consideration for the King’s hierarchy and even challenges his authority.
When the audience first meets Alonso, he voices displeasure at the Boatswain as is illustrated by “Good Boatswain, have care. Where is the Master? ” The audience get the impression that Alonso is undermining the Boatswain, who they have already perceived as a capable character, and they may find Alonso’s words insulting. This portrays the King in a negative way. The Boatswain repeatedly tells the passengers to return to the hold because their being on deck will endanger the ship. This is shown by the quote “I pray now keep below”. Despite Alonso’s rudeness to the Boatswain, his response is extremely controlled.
At this point the audience can see the chain of hierarchy reversed and they witness a lowly boatswain being authoritative and taking charge of everyone, including the nobles on the ship. When Gonzalo reminds the Boatswain “Remember whom thou hast aboard”, the Boatswain replies “none that I love more than myself”. The Boatswain is making the point that in the eye of the storm, and symbolically before G-d, all men are equal. This principle reverses the idea of the medieval chain of being. As mentioned earlier, during Shakespearian times, on land the King rules and governs and is the most important person.
However, on a ship this is not the case. No one on the ship has power and everyone is seen as equals. This reversal of the medieval chain can be seen again when Prospero assumes authority on the island, where he rules with ruthless passion. The question of divine right is questioned as Propero has taken the island from Caliban, whose mother used to rule it, and therefore, should now have been governed by Caliban. Prospero’s cruelty and dictatorship over the inhabitants of the island are prepared for by Sebastian’s and Antonio’s angry abuse of the Boatswain:”you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog! , and “hang, you whoreson, insolent noisemaker. ” The audience witness this very abusive behaviour towards the Boatswain. Both men use caustic and pejorative language that would appear to the audience to be unjust. The Boatswain is after all, only doing his job and trying to save the ship and the people on board. However, Sebastian and Antonio see it as their right to speak to the lowly shipman in this manner. They see him s inferior to them. Antonio’s last cry “Let’s all sink with the King” is an example of dramatic irony in which the audience hears a subtle joke by Shakespeare at the expense of King James.
It prepares the audience for the fact that there will be a play that examines the rights and wrongs of empire. At the time of the play the country has just been taken over by James who is a catholic. England, as a protestant country, is insecure at having a catholic ruler. James is not trusted by the English and isn’t a secure monarch. Act 1 scene 1 definitely catches the attention of the audience through a strong use of colonialism, stage direction and costume. It will have them on the edge of their seats, anticipating what is going to happen next.