Is ‘The Tempest’ a tragedy or a comedy? Why?

William Shakespeare’s, ‘The Tempest’, includes aspects of both tragedy and comedy. Generally considered Shakespeare’s final play, it is considered the last of his love romance plays. The Tempest includes the tragic element of the treacherous death plans followed by Prospero’s revenge in addition to many comic movements, including the love interests of Miranda and Ferdinand, the trickster Ariel and the monstrous Caliban.

The Tempest is a tragicomedy because although the story starts out in a serious tone and difficult situations and fears around, there is no death and destruction. There are funny moments throughout the play as the characters on the island have funny experiences. There is also a background of tragedy about the ill-treatment received by Prospero and his daughter. But death itself does not come upon any of the characters in the play and there is a happy end. Everyone is content and they celebrate the love and forthcoming marriage of Miranda and Ferdinand, the King’s son.

The genre of tragicomedy during the Renaissance became more accepted. In this genre, the ending was happy but solemn topics of danger, fall from position and important public figures or events were dealt with. Looking at tragicomedy through this lens, we can see it applies to Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ perfectly. Serious issues normally portrayed in tragedies are present, including Prospero’s fall from power, the low sub-human villain of Caliban, the murder plot of Sebastian and Antonio against Alonso and the theme of revenge. On the other hand, we have a romance between Miranda and Ferdinand, a humourous sub-plot with the lower class Stephano and Trinculo and the lighter elements of the bridal masque and other harmless magic. Ultimately, when Prospero draws those who have wronged him into the magic circle, the play hangs in the balance between tragedy and comedy. When he forgives those who had wronged him and puts on his ducal robes, order is restored and the happy ending for everyone ensures the confirming of the play to be a perfect example of tragicomedy.

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