Summary and Analysis
This scene opens with Ariel revealing to Prospero that Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio are remorseful, worried, and desperate. Gonzalo is worried and grief-stricken at his king's pain. Prospero reassures Ariel that he will be compassionate in dealing with his enemies and asks that Ariel bring the group to him. While he is waiting for the king and his party to appear, Prospero soliloquizes about what he has accomplished with magic and, at the soliloquy's end, promises that he will now give up his magic, bury his magic staff, and drown his magic book at sea.
Almost immediately, Ariel enters with the royal party, who appear to be in a trance, and places them within the magic circle that Prospero had earlier drawn. With a few chanted words, the spell is removed. Prospero, clothed in the garments of the duke of Milan — his rightful position — appears before them. In a gesture of reconciliation, Prospero embraces Alonso, who is filled with remorse and immediately gives up Prospero's dukedom. Gonzalo is also embraced in turn, and then Prospero turns to Sebastian and Antonio. Prospero tells them that he will not charge them as traitors, at this time. Antonio is forgiven and required to renounce his claims on Prospero's dukedom.
While Alonso continues to mourn the loss of his son, Prospero relates that he too has lost his child, his daughter. But he means that he has lost her in marriage and pulls back a curtain to reveal Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess. Ferdinand explains to his father that he is betrothed to Miranda and that this event occurred while he thought his father dead. Alonso quickly welcomes Miranda and says he will be a second father to his son's affianced. At the sight of the couple, Gonzalo begins to cry and thanks God for having worked such a miracle.
Ariel enters with the master of the boat and boatswain. Although the ship lay in harbor and in perfect shape, the puzzled men cannot explain how any of this has occurred. Alonso is also mystified, but Prospero tells him not to trouble his mind with such concerns. Next, Ariel leads in Caliban, Stefano, and Trinculo, who are still drunk. Prospero explains that these men have robbed him and plotted to murder him. Caliban immediately repents and promises to seek grace. The three conspirators, who have sobered somewhat since confronted with Prospero and the king, are sent to decorate Prospero's cell. Prospero invites his guests to spend the night with him, where he will tell them of his adventures and of his life during these past 12 years. Ariel's last duty to Prospero is to provide calm seas when they sail the next morning.
This final scene indicates the extent of Prospero's forgiveness and provides an example of humanity toward one's enemies. Before he confronts his enemies, Prospero tells Ariel that "The rarer action is / In virtue than in vengeance" (27-28). That is, it is better to forgive than to hate one's enemies. This is the example that Prospero provides in reuniting everyone in this final scene. When he emerges from his trance, Alonso moves quickly to embrace Prospero, and just as quickly, he renounces his claims to Prospero's dukedom. This is the behavior the audience expects of Ferdinand's father, and it is what Prospero requires to resolve this conflict. Ferdinand is an honorable young man, filled with love and charity, and it is reasonable to expect that he learned these values from his father, even if his father has, on occasion, forgotten them. Alonso is honestly delighted in Ferdinand's engagement and welcomes Miranda with authentic grace. It is to be predicted that he is happy at recovering his son, but he is also clearly pleased to have gained a daughter. These spontaneous actions reveal that Alonso is as humane and honest as Prospero.
It is equally clear that Antonio and Sebastian each lack the humanity of their respective brothers. No apology is forthcoming from Antonio, and Sebastian thinks that Prospero is very likely the devil. Antonio never directly addresses Prospero, not even to justify his previous actions. And although both Prospero and Miranda might have died when cast out on to the sea some 12 years earlier, Antonio has no words for his niece. In spite of the obvious absence of regret from his brother, Prospero is true to his promise and seeks no revenge against Antonio. There is no reason to assume that shame restrains Antonio from speaking, and in all likelihood, he only regrets having been caught. Although Prospero warns his brother that he might still charge him with treason in the future, this warning is unlikely to restrain such a recalcitrant as Antonio.
Prospero's humanity is clearly obvious in his treatment of Antonio, whom he calls traitor but whom he declines to treat as a traitor. Critics and audience might be tempted to label Antonio as an unnatural brother, as would also be true for Sebastian. But their cruelty only indicates that nature provides for both goodness and evil. In the Christian world of the Shakespeare's time, evil is chosen, not destined, and nature provides for all outcomes, those who are virtuous and their counterparts, those who are corrupt. Hence, evil siblings are as natural as good siblings. Although the self-serving behavior of Antonio and Sebastian may be despicable, they are still a part of the natural world.
Caliban is also from the natural world, although as the child of a witch and devil. He is certainly different from the other humans on the island, but in this final scene, he displays more humanity than many of Prospero's "civilized" enemies. Antonio's only remark in this whole scene is to suggest that Caliban provides an opportunity to make money (V.1, 268-69). Antonio and Sebastian echo Stefano and Trinculo's earlier notion of exhibiting Caliban for profit, and in doing so, they reaffirm the impression that even the upper classes can be as lacking in morals as the two examples of the lower class, a butler and a court jester. Caliban, however, has risen above his companions and willingly admits his errors. In admitting his fault, Caliban proves himself more honorable than those who are socially his superior, Antonio and Sebastian.
Caliban is often celebrated as a natural man, one who is unspoiled by civilization. And yet, he easily embraces the worse that civilization has to offer. When exposed to Stefano and Trinculo, Caliban embraces their drunkenness and, in return, entices them to help plan a heinous crime. Many critics justify Caliban's actions by pointing to Prospero's persecution of Caliban. But nowhere in this play does Shakespeare validate this kind of revenge. Prospero may enslave Caliban, but he does not threaten his very existence. Certainly there is no way to justify slavery, and Shakespeare makes no attempt to do so. In the end, Prospero leaves Caliban to his island and to the natural world that he craves. The conclusion is about redemption, the personal redemption that so many of the participants reach. Caliban's regret during this final scene indicates he, too, has found the way to reconciliation.
Gonzalo is one of the few participants who has no need to ask forgiveness nor any cause to regret his actions. Upon discovering that Ferdinand is alive and that he is betrothed to Miranda, Gonzalo quite properly thanks God, who has "chalked forth the way" (206). Gonzalo also sees the irony in Miranda's offspring inheriting all that was her father's and all that belongs to his enemy. He also observes that there is much that has been restored: Ferdinand to his father, and with him, a wife. But there is more. Prospero's dukedom has been restored, as has the ship and all its missing crew. Yet more important than people or objects, other essential components of civilized society have been restored: authority, harmony, and order.
Even before this reconciliation scene occurs, Prospero has promised to put aside his magic and dispose of his magic book and staff, which are the source of his power. He has used magic to work in concert with nature, not to control or evoke evil. Now that he has his enemies under his control, Prospero permits compassion to replace magic. This putting away of his magic also signifies that Prospero's game is at an end. He has used magic to restore harmony and now needs it no more. The play ends with the promise of Ariel's freedom and the restoration of Prospero to a life filled with all that nature and God intended.
mantle to enclose or envelop.
furtherer an accomplice.
rapier a slender two-edged sword used chiefly in thrusting.
subtleties here, the illusions.
requite to make return or repayment to for a benefit, injury, and so on; reward.
tight and yare sound and ready. The ship is ready to sail.
coragio take courage (Italian).