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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT V, SCENE 1
Ariel reports that Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian are confined as prisoners in a grove near Prospero's cave. They are unable to even move, and the rest of the royal company is mourning their sad plight. Prospero instructs Ariel to release them and bring them to his cave.
Prospero addresses the spirits-- his elves, nymphs and demons-- and tells them he intends to make use of his magic power for one last time before he lays it aside forever. He dons his magic robes and stands invisible in the middle of a circle. When the members of the royal party are brought before him, he begins to restore their mobility and speech. He slips out of his invisible cloak and appears before them dressed as he once was -- the Duke of Milan. He embraces Gonzalo, who saved him and Miranda years before by stocking their boat with supplies. He tells Antonio and Sebastian he could punish them severely because of their misdeeds and continued plotting, but agrees to keep quiet if they turn away from their wickedness. Alonso, the least guilty and most repentant, offers to surrender fully to Prospero all that was his. Prospero shows Alonso where Ferdinand sits, playing chess with Miranda. The King of Naples is overjoyed and blesses the marriage of his son to Miranda.
Prospero, no longer a magician, reclaims his title as the Duke of Milan and plans to sail with the royal party for Naples. Caliban is partly redeemed since he recognizes that he has behaved like a "thrice-double ass". Trinculo and Stephano are ashamed of their plotting and rebuked by all. Prospero asks Ariel for one last deed - a calm sea for the homeward voyage. Prospero then grants him the freedom he has promised him.
The final scene follows a pattern set by the other dramatic romances of Shakespeare, though The Tempest has significant variations. All the major characters, except Prospero and Miranda, find themselves unexpectedly thrown together after adventures and a long journey. Prospero is the contriver and agent of this reunion. Those thought dead are discovered to be alive. A lost son is restored to a joyous parent. Those who have committed offenses repent and are forgiven. The one character who does not seem to be penitent is Antonio. A generous Prospero singles him out for pardon, but Antonio gives no reply.
Except for Antonio, the other members of the royal entourage respond to Prospero's forgiveness. Alonso and Gonzalo react most affirmatively, pledging themselves to the restored Duke of Milan. Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo respond with proper humility; they cannot be expected to participate in the general happiness on a higher level since most of their antics were more of a comic nature. Ariel, the long-standing servant to Prospero, is delighted to be set free at last.
As always, Shakespeare makes certain that all the loose ends of the play are tied up before the ending occurs. Miranda and Ferdinand are blissfully wedded and become the hope for the future. Prospero is restored to his rightful position and plans to sail for home. He also graciously forgives those who have wronged him, proving that "the rarer action is in virtue rather than in vengeance". Because he concentrates on re-growth instead of revenge, Prospero proves the true nobility of his character, while allowing all the characters to better themselves.
Prospero requests the audience to release him from his bonds with the help of their hands. Since he has dispensed with his magic, he is powerless to return to his dukedom unless the audience gives its approval by applause. He pleads to be treated with Christian mercy, begging that "as you from crimes would pardon'd be, / Let your indulgence set me free.
The Epilogue is Shakespeare's plea, articulated by Prospero, for an indulgent reception to his play. The actor playing Prospero reveals that since Prospero cannot return to Naples without the audience's support, he as the actor cannot leave the stage without the same support. The contrast between life and art and between reality and illusion that has been maintained throughout the play, with Ariel's machinations and Prospero's use of magic, is continued in the Epilogue when the actor reveals himself. Critics also believe that Shakespeare is making a veiled reference to his retirement from the theater. All through the Epilogue, Prospero is portrayed as someone bound to serve the public and can be set free only by applause. Shakespeare, nearing the end of his career, might be using Prospero's magic as an analogy to his art. Just as Prospero leaves his magic behind, Shakespeare seems ready to quit his writing and producing of plays, if only the public will support him.