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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT III, SCENE 2
Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban continue to drink. Ariel plays mischievous games on them by mimicking Trinculo's voice and insulting Caliban. As a result, Caliban starts to hate Trinculo and appeals to Stephano, his "god", to punish the confused jester, who has really done nothing wrong. Caliban tells the butler and jester about Prospero and Miranda, and the three decide to kill Prospero and control the island. Stephano, made arrogant by Caliban's adoration of him, decides he will be the king of the island, and Miranda will become his queen. The invisible Ariel begins to play music, which frightens Trinculo and Stephano. Caliban, however, is undisturbed because "the isle is full of noises," and all his life he has lived among magical sounds. At the end of the scene, the three go off with their malicious plans to take over the island from Prospero.
This scene again offers comic relief, as Ariel's mischievous interference delightfully provokes an enmity between Caliban and the oblivious Trinculo. The "triple alliance" between Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo is a comically foolish sub-plot meant to parallel the other themes and images of conspiracy within the play. The consuming ambition of the two royal servants is to rule, and in this ambition, they absurdly mirror their masters, Antonio and Sebastian. Shakespeare uses the buffoons to parallel the deceitful and wicked Sebastian, who plans to overthrow his brother Alonso in the same way his partner Antonio once overthrew Prospero. Although of noble birth, Antonio and Sebastian are no more fit to rule than the foolish peasants, Trinculo and Stephano.
In his desperation to be free from Prospero's magical grip, Caliban convincingly persuades the duo to kill Prospero in his sleep. He also puts pressure on Stephano to destroy the books of Prospero before actually killing him. Stephano dreams of becoming the ruler of the island and imagines Trinculo and Caliban as his subjects. He even warns Trinculo that if he rebels, he will be hanged.
In spite of this being a comic scene, it brings to mind how Shakespeare often talks about situations that lead to the dethronement of an actual king by calculating and unscrupulous people who are generally near and dear to the monarch. For example, consider the plots of both King Lear and Hamlet; the destruction of the Kings in both plays is plotted and executed by their own family members whom they hold in dearest confidence.
One last thing of importance to notice in this scene is the characterization of Caliban. He seems to be the instigator of many evil thoughts and deeds. He tries to persuade Stephano to kill Trinculo for the things he thinks Trinculo has said to him, though the insults were actually spoken by Ariel using Trinculo's voice. He also suggests the three use wicked brutality to kill Prospero, cruelly destroying his books before he dies so that he may suffer even more. Such animal brutality is a strange contrast to Caliban's other softer side. When Trinculo and Stephano are frightened by Ariel's strange music, Caliban poetically describes the lyrical sounds as a natural part of the island's enchantment; he even pictures himself, in all his grotesqueness, being lulled to sleep by the beautiful music. As always, Caliban seems to be not all animal, but not quite human. His characterization is dynamic and troubling -- one of Shakespeare's most unusual and masterful.
ACT III, SCENE 3
The weary members of the royal party are exhausted, hungry, and tired of searching for the "lost" prince Ferdinand. Gonzalo, the kind-hearted counselor, suggests they sit down to rest. Prospero comes in disguised with his magic invisibility; he instructs some island spirits on the island to prepare a feast for the tired royalty, which they do. Ariel then appears in the form of a harpy, a bird- like beast with a woman's face, and sits on the table, making the food disappear. The amazed members of the royal party are stunned. Ariel, still disguised, begins to address the men who once tried to destroy Prospero. He recounts all of the events that led to Prospero's fall, blaming Antonio for conspiring, and Alonso and his brother Sebastian for helping. Alonso is completely awestruck and filled with remorse for his past actions. When he gets up and runs away, Antonio and Sebastian follow him. These two are angry, not repentant.
Prospero's plan begins to take shape as he sends Ariel to visit "the three men of sin" in the play -- Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian. In this scene of highly supernatural theatrics, the king's men sit down at the table to eat, but the banquet vanishes in thunder and lighting. The feast, which usually symbolizes harmony, is now broken by deceit and disharmony. Ariel appears before them in the form of a harpy and lectures them on their sins, counseling repentance and a changed life if they want to escape the wrath of the heavens. The scene presents Ariel and other spirits as "ministers of fate". Prospero, truly god-like now, surveys the scene with satisfaction, knowing that his rivals have been brought down by his power.