A ship carrying Alonso King of Naples, his son Ferdinand, Antonio, and other nobles, is wrecked in a storm created by the spirit Ariel, under the magic art of Prospero. Prosperos daughter Miranda, afraid for the voyagers, is told they are safe.
He explains to her that he is the rightful Duke of Milan, usurped by Antonio, and that they had arrived on their island many years before after being sent out to sea by some of those whom he now has in his power.
As Miranda sleeps, Ariel reports that the lords are on the island as he had commanded, with Ferdinand separated from the others. Caliban, a savage inhabitant of the island, who is also controlled by Prospero, expresses his hostility to Prospero, but is forced to do his bidding.
Prospero gets Ariel to lead Ferdinand across the island so that he meets Miranda, and they fall in love. To test his worth, Prospero makes Ferdinand carry out menial tasks.
Alonso and the lords begin their search for Ferdinand, though they fear him drowned. Antonio persuades Alonso's brother Sebastian to kill the king and claim his throne, but Ariel intervenes and stops them.
Caliban encounters Alonso's jester Trinculo and butler Stephano, whom he decides to serve with the aim of persuading them to kill Prospero. They get drunk, and Prospero sends Ariel to confuse and play tricks on them. A magical banquet is placed before the lords. As they prepare to eat, Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio are fiercely reprimanded for their past deeds by Ariel. Alonso runs off, followed by the others.
Prospero brings Iris, Juno, and Ceres into a ceremony celebrating Ferdinand and Miranda's betrothal. He has Ariel and other spirits chase Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo away through the marshes, to foil their plot against him. He then vows to give up his magical powers once he has achieved his ends, and to free Ariel, who has been asking for liberty.
Ariel leads the lords to Prospero, and they stand in a trance before him. He rouses them, and they beg forgiveness, which Prospero grants, and he is restored to his dukedom. Ferdinand and Miranda are revealed to them. Ariel leads in the sailors from their ship, and then Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano. Caliban regrets his service to Stephano and Trinculo, and promises to behave.
Prospero sets Ariel free, and finally asks the audience for his own release, through their applause.