A tragedy according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary is a ” drama in prose or verse of elevated theme and diction and with unhappy events or endings “. A comedy is defined as a ” stage play of light, amusing and often satirical character, chiefly representing everyday life and with happy endings “. If a play can host elements of the two ” genres “, it is called a tragi-comedy. A study of action, characters and themes in The Tempest would reveal if it is an apt classification of the play.The proximity to death is the main criteria that defines tragic events.The opening scene of The Tempest has an obvious tragic potential : a boat conveying the King of Naples and his court is caught in a fierce sea storm. The passengers are in immediate danger of drowning. Although noble and powerful, they seem at the mercy of superior powers. Another tragic event , previous to the action of the play but recalled in Act I, Scene 2, is the betrayal of Prospero by his brother Antonio followed by the exile of the Duke and his daughter Miranda. The plot of Sebastian and Antonio to murder Alonso and his old councillor, Gonzalo is an echo to this. Also Prospero’s ” passion that works him strongly ” in Act IV, Scene 1 produces a very strong effect on the other characters on stage.But some events in the play clearly belong to comedy. The sub-plot concerning Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban from Act II onwards is grotesque. The three servants of little moral and dignity meet and conspire to take over the island by murdering Prospero. Their ridiculous behaviour calls for laughs. Indeed, when they come together in Act II, Scene 2, the episode of the ” monster ” is purely designed by Shakespeare to amuse. And afterwards they drink, tell stories, laugh, sing… In Act II, Shakespeare uses a classic device of Commedia dell’arte : misunderstanding followed by beatings. Ariel, Prospero’s faithful spirit, plays more tricks on them as leading them through a thorns and brambles and then into a swamp. The end is one of a comedy :a happy one. Indeed, nobody dies, order is restored when Prospero has his dukedom returned, enemies are forgiven and Ferdinand and Miranda will get married.Shakespeare in The Tempest has created many diverse characters. Some lower class characters like Trinculo and Stephano, the boatswain obviously are comic. Ferdinand and Miranda are the young noble lovers, the base of many shakespearian comedies. The give a light, refreshing tone to the play by their innocence and kindness. Gonzalo, Alonso’s old councillor is a very positive figure, noble, honest, optimistic but he is too simple to be be tragic.Antonio and Sebastian by their desire for power and lack of moral values could be considered as a distant image of Macbeth. Both intelligent, courageous, they encourage one another to betray and murder. Alonso, King of Naples during the play is exposed to considerable torment. He is not clearly defined because he is in an unusual state of mind : he suffers severly from the lose of his son Ferdinand.Prospero and Caliban are extremely complex characters which makes them more difficult to classify. Prospero has a tragic background : the spectator hears about his career and his downfall and witnesses to his return to power. Although he can be selfish and harsh with his servants, he is compassionate, forgiving, moderate and he doesn’t die at the end which excludes him from the category of the tragic heros. But he is too noble to be anything like to comic. Caliban is very difficult to understand. Half animal, half human, he sems to obey his wildest instincts whilst having the conscience of a human being.The main theme of the play, the possession and the use of power could have been that of a tragedy.There are many king/subject relationships and most of them go wrong. Prospero loses his dukedom because of his selfish desire to study arts. Sebastian and Antonio seek to murder Alonso and Gonzalo. Both Ariel and Caliban want to break free of Prospero’s authority. Treachery and usurpation are present all through the play. Madness, a frequent device in tragedies appears in The Tempest. But another important theme is forgiveness and this is typical of an end of a comedy as is the wedding of two young people.It is clear that The Tempest is the perfect example of a tragi-comedy. In the action, the characters and the themes, the spectator is presented with elements of tragedy and comedy intertwined in a very subtle way by Shakespeare in order to entertain and to present a vivid picture of the troubles of a leader faced with his responsabilities.


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