The opening scene of William Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’ is a dramatic significance for many reasons. The name of the poem is linked into the story straight away because these men are trapped on a ship in the midst of a storm which is the literal meaning for tempest. The tempest itself is like an eruption of drama and action, the way it destroys is almost symbolic of overthrow and usurpation which is echoed later on in the book. The fact that there is a king on board the ship makes this scene all the more tense because if the storm succeeds in destroying their ship then he shall probably be killed along with most the men which is very likely considering that a tempest is probably the most dangerous storm to be caught up in.
In this opening we find out the roles and characteristics of some of the lead characters. One of these is the optimistic Gonzalo who tries to release the great tenseness on the ship by reassuring the men that they will not be killed by the storm because the boatswain has the mark of hanging on him and uses this superstitious belief to try and relax his shipmates. Another character whose personality is revealed well is that of Antonio.
He is a arrogant, rude and unpleasant character who does not agree with the way that the boatswain disrupts the hierarchy on board and does not realize that he is actually trying to help them. The way he keeps shouting and swearing does not help the tension already growing because it starts to scare the mariners more and more until they break out in disruption by shouting to everyone, ‘All lost! To Prayers, to prayers! All lost!’
The social hierarchy is irrelevant in this scene and disrupts everything because nature has now become in charge of them and has made the scene much more dramatic and people lower down in the hierarchy like the boatswain are starting to give orders like, ‘Take in the topsail’ and, ‘Tend to th’ master’s whistle’ to those higher up like Gonzalo, Antonio and even the king of Naples, Alonso. This produces outbursts from and creates conflict between those higher up at being spoken to by someone so low like the boatswain. The main dramatic part of Shakespeare’s play is in this opening scene because it challenges all theatrical convention. Nature does not care for social hierarchy and overrules this and the boatswain alerts the others on board by saying, ‘When the sea is. Hence! What cares these roarers for the name of the king?’ and silences the men arguing with him, namely Antonio, Sebastian and Gonzalo.
The language and punctuation in this scene is very important because their fear and nervousness is conveyed well in the short, punchy sentences. Shakespeare also involves the prose of his time into the play when he writes the phrase said by Antonio, ‘Hang, cur, hang, you whoreson insolent noisemaker! We are less afraid to be drowned than thou art.’ There are also some small comical moments in this scene such as when the mariners have just come on board saying, ‘All lost!
To prayers, to prayers! All lost!’ and then leave again and the boatswain says, ‘What, must our mouths be cold’ which refers to drinking and the fact that he does not want to give up without having a drink first. The scene provides an initial crisis and disruption which the rest of the play should hopefully resolve. As there would have been little scenery or any elaborate stage effects used in Shakespeare’s theatre, the language creates vivid pictures of the storm for the audience to imagine for themselves the conditions of this setting. The boatswains numerous correct nautical terms also let the mind imagine the scenery. The end of this opening scene is done so with tragic suggestion and acts as a cliffhanger that enters you into the next scene where the truth I discovered about the lives of the men on board the ship.