Study Guide

The Tempest Betrayal

By William Shakespeare


Act 1, Scene 1
Sebastian and Antonio

Let's all sink wi' th' king.
Let's take leave of him. (1.1.66-67)

From the first sign that things might not be rosy, Sebastian shows he has no loyalty to his brother or his king (Alonso is both).  He has a partner in callousness in Antonio—this foreshadows their later treachery on the island.

Act 1, Scene 2

I pray thee, mark me.
I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated 
To closeness and the bettering of my mind
With that which, but by being so retired,
O'erprized all popular rate, in my false brother
Awaked an evil nature, and my trust,
Like a good parent, did beget of him 
A falsehood in its contrary as great
As my trust was, which had indeed no limit,
A confidence sans bound. (1.2.108-117)

Prospero suggests that Antonio's taste of power awakened in him an even bigger desire for power. Prospero's loyalty to his brother was so great, and his trust so complete, that he really didn't see this coming.  That, of course, allowed Antonio to take it farther.

Both, both, my girl.
By foul play, as thou sayst, were we heaved thence, 
But blessedly holp hither. (1.2.77-79)

Prospero has the distance and perspective of wisdom when thinking about how they ended up on the island. Antonio's treachery put them there, but the help of the natural elements, and Gonzalo's loyalty, allowed them to survive and prosper.

Being once perfected how to grant suits,
How to deny them, who t' advance and who
To trash for over-topping, new created
The creatures that were mine, I say, or changed 'em,
Or else new formed 'em, having both the key
Of officer and office, set all hearts i' th' state
To what tune pleased his ear, that now he was 
The ivy which had hid my princely trunk
And sucked my verdure out on 't. (1.2.98-106)

Prospero values the brotherly bond more than Antonio; Prospero assumed his brother would be loyal to him.  Instead, Antonio learned all the tricks of political treachery while serving in the place of Prospero, and used them to betray his brother.


All hail, great master! Grave sir, hail! I come
To answer thy best pleasure. Be 't to fly,
To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride
On the curled clouds, to thy strong bidding task 
Ariel and all his quality. (1.2.224-228)

Ariel is loyal to Prospero, but he is also loyal to nature—his source of power and home. Ariel serves two masters, but seems to delight in the natural more than the community service aspect of his job.

Act 2, Scene 1
Sebastian and Antonio

I remember
You did supplant your brother Prospero.
And look how well my garments sit upon me,
Much feater than before. My brother's servants
Were then my fellows; now they are my men.
But, for your conscience?
Ay, sir, where lies that? (2.1.310-317)

Antonio comes easily to his acts of betrayal because he has no conscience, or at the least he represses it well.  (Actually, we think he doesn't have one.)  Antonio is an example of how one's conscience can get worn out; evil acts become easier and easier with practice.

Nor I. My spirits are nimble.
They fell together all, as by consent.
They dropped as by a thunderstroke. What might,
Worthy Sebastian? O, what might—? No more.
And yet me thinks I see it in thy face  
What thou shouldst be. Th' occasion speaks thee, and
My strong imagination sees a crown
Dropping upon thy head.
                                        What, art thou waking?
Do you not hear me speak? 
                                            I do, and surely
It is a sleepy language and thou speak'st
Out of thy sleep. (2.1.224-236)

The betrayal Antonio suggests is so heinous as to be unfathomable to Sebastian at first. It seems that once you gain something by betrayal, you're willing to do it over and over again, because it works so well… until it doesn't. (Think of Macbeth's gains and downfall here.)


Now, good angels preserve the
King! (2.1.351-352)

Gonzalo is loyal to a fault. On hearing that big monsters are running around the island, he calls upon the angels to protect not all of them, or just him, but the king. Is this a hint that Gonzalo suspects Sebastian and Antonio are plotting to betray Alonso?

Act 3, Scene 2

I say by sorcery he got this isle; 
From me he got it. If thy greatness will,
Revenge it on him, for I know thou dar'st,
But this thing dare not. (3.2.59-62)

If we can believe what Caliban says, then Prospero won the isle from him through betrayal. Why then does Caliban not dare to betray Prospero? Is it anything more than the pinches and cramps he knows he'll get as punishment?

Act 3, Scene 3
King Alonso of Naples

O, it is monstrous, monstrous!
Methought the billows spoke and told me of it;
The winds did sing it to me, and the thunder, 
That deep and dreadful organ pipe, pronounced
The name of Prosper. It did bass my trespass.
Therefore my son i' th' ooze is bedded, and
I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded,
And with him there lie mudded.                         He exits 
But one fiend at a time,
I'll fight their legions o'er.
                                            I'll be thy second. (3.3.116-126)

Alonso is willing to face his treachery against Prospero, even though it horrifies him. Sebastian and Antonio will not, though. Is this because they're strong, stubborn, or completely removed from their own personal accountability?

Act 4, Scene 1

Give me thy hand. I do begin to have bloody
TRINCULO [seeing the apparel]
O king Stefano! O
peer! O worthy Stefano! look what a wardrobe
here is for thee! (4.1.245-249)

Again, Stefano and Trinculo provide a foil to the actual ill-intentioned treachery of Sebastian and Antonio. They are distracted by shiny things, and don't necessarily mean harm, whereas Sebastian and Antonio are not shaken from their purpose, even by the King's grief over his lost son. Where Stefano and Trinculo are just foolish, Sebastian and Antonio are honest-to-goodness evil.

Act 5, Scene 1

The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance. They being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. (5.1.35-38)

Prospero is honest here, as he forgives everyone that's wronged him as soon as they're in front of him. It is pretty clear, though, that neither Antonio nor Sebastian is penitent about their awful behavior.  Does it make sense that Prospero entirely ignores this?

ANTONIO [aside to Sebastian]
I am right glad that he's so out of hope.
Do not, for one repulse, forego the purpose
That you resolved t' effect. (3.3.13-15)

Antonio rejoices at the fact that Alonso has given up hope that his son might still live. This is pretty awful, but has Sebastian changed so much that he can see the King's misfortune (over his own nephew) as his opportunity? Is Sebastian also immoral by nature, and was he just waiting for the right person to set him off on his path of treachery and evil?