The Tempest as a tragicomedy and a romance | Is The Tempest a comedy?

‘The Tempest’ is a romance written by William Shakespeare, which we can also call a tragicomedy. We cannot properly categorize Shakespeare’s plays as ‘comedy’ and ‘tragedy’ that he has written during the closing years of his dramatic career.

These plays are ‘The Tempest’, ‘Cymbeline’, ‘Pericles’, and ‘The Winter’s Tale’. Romance plays do not end on a sad note instead end happily with scenes of reunion and resolution. The vision of final happiness dismisses the effect of sadness and immorality. ‘The Tempest’, despite having tragic elements, ends with a happy note and incorporates elements of both comedy and tragedy that is why we can call ‘The Tempest’ a tragicomedy and a romance. 

The Tempest is not a Comedy:

We cannot call ‘The Tempest’ an out-and-out comedy because there are many scenes in this play that create sadness. It is a story mostly of miseries and adversities. Miranda and Prospero were inhumanly exposed to storms and they had an unbelievable rescue from drowning. Aerial, a spirit, endured imprisonment in a tree for a period of twelve years. Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian are taught in a violent tempest by Prospero and, though they get away from the shipwreck, they suffer on the island. Alonso is saddened in most parts of the play by thinking that his son Ferdinand is dead but he is not actually dead. There are several such tragic scenes in the play. Apart from that Shakespeare’s comedy is normally distinguished by a spirit of joy, levity, wit, and humor, but ‘The Tempest’ does not have that spirit of joy, levity, wit, and humor.

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The Tempest is not a tragedy:

If ‘The Tempest’ isn’t a true comedy, then it isn’t a true tragedy either. Generally, a tragedy includes sad endings and events but ‘The Tempest’ ends on a happy note. Many injustices were inflicted on Prospero and Miranda but those injustices do not continue as the later part of the play exhibits their prowess. ‘The Tempest’ is a story of reunion, and forgiveness; of injustices exonerated by way of repentance, not vengeance. There are many tragic scenes in the play like Prospero’s account of earlier miseries and sufferings to Miranda and Aerial’s condemnation of the three wrongdoers Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian. But all these tensions resolve by the end of the play. 

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The Tempest is a tragicomedy and romance:

As we have seen, Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ is neither a pure comedy nor a pure tragedy. ‘The Tempest’ has appropriately been called a “romance” and a “tragicomedy”. It incorporates not only the features of tragedy but also of comedy with the overall formation of the play advancing from devastating beginning to happy ending. “The Tempest” also involves aspects of the supernatural and miracles. For instance, the devastating tempest that begins the play is the outcome of Prospero’s magic. From beginning to the end, Prospero employs his magic to control and shine other characters. Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” varies from the genre of comedy in that although it ends with a marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda, the story of the play does not develop by that. Actually the play’s main conflict – Prospero’s ambition to reclaim his title – was irrelevant to Ferdinand and Miranda’s uniting or parting. Marriage is an important characteristic of Shakespeare’s romances but only as an element of story not as a motive of the action. 

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The major events of the play are romantic in so far as they differ from the scope of usual occurrence. The events of the play have been handled with poetic liberty that ignores the laws of probability. Most of the incidents of ‘The Tempest’ take place on an isolated and magical island. We are brought to an enchanted island accessible only to our imagination. 

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On this magical island, Prospero practices his supernatural powers extensively. He orders the services of Aerial and Caliban. He can cause storms and can make lightning strikes. All these supernatural powers of Prospero are the core of romance play. Aerial is an exceptional production of Shakespeare’s imagination. This airy, elegant spirit of the air imparts a romantic appeal to the play. The love story of Ferdinand and Miranda develops on this island. Then there is another character Caliban, half-human, half-savage is also a product of pure fancy. All these characters and incidents make ‘The Tempest’ a tragicomedy as well as a comedy.


It has at times been argued that the incidents in ‘The Tempest’ are not realistic for example the shipwreck and the love relationship of Miranda and Ferdinand etc. It is Prospero who causes the ship to wreck and controls the love relationship of Miranda and Ferdinand. However, one should remember that a union finishes a Shakespearean comedy or tragicomedy just as assuredly as death finishes tragedy. Besides, one does not read a drama or a novel for chronological accuracy or logical precision. The thing that is more important is a truth that gives unity to the many fictional strands that are entwined together by the artist. 

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