Although in the previous act we were briefly introduced to the characters, their statuses were made clearer than their personalities which are conveyed in further depth in this scene. Prospero’s story told to Miranda gives the audience a grasp of the identities of the people on stage in relation to him and why he may want them on the island in the certain groups, which is imperative if the audience is to understand the motives behind the characters actions both beforehand and presently.
This is shown in the conversation between Antonio and Sebastian, as we were made aware of their crudeness and selfishness in the first scene, but it is only now that the relationship between them is conveyed. This is depicted by the continuation of each other’s jokes, and the similar way in which they view the situation: “ADRIAN: The air breathes upon us here most sweetly. SEBASTIAN: As if it had lungs and rotten ones. ANTONIO: Or as’twere perfumed by a fen. ” The motive of Antonio’s subjugation over his brother is also explained sub-textually.
Shakespeare never states specifically, but it is suggested towards the end of this scene when Antonio’s pure ambition and lack of conscience is expressed. The audience could have believed that he had honest intention beforehand, as maybe he took Prospero’s position as he was neglecting his duty, but this scene proves differently. Although him and Sebastian both share the same sardonic cynicism, with Antonio it conceals an underlying cunning and manipulative nature, unseen and unheard of formerly. “O, If you but knew how you the purpose cherish
Whiles thus you mock it! ” Sebastian on the other hand, displays a weaker disposition and so Antonio grasps the opportunity to use this to his advantage and use him for his own personal gain, giving an element of suspense to this scene as the act is not completed. It is important that each scene has a certain element of this, as if it seems that nothing is to happen, the audience will loose interest. Antonio has not changed at all from 12 years ago when we were first informed of him, unlike Alonso.