Exploring the Nontraditional Genre Classification of Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Exploring the Nontraditional Genre Classification of Shakespeare's The Tempest

When we think of Shakespeare’s plays, we often categorize them into traditional genres such as comedy, tragedy, or history. However, his play The Tempest has always been a bit more elusive when it comes to classification. It is a unique creation that defies the confines of these related genres, making it both ambiguous and fascinating to study.

At first glance, The Tempest may seem like just a dream, with its magical setting on a deserted island and its mythical characters. But beneath the surface, this play delves into deeper themes that are both funny and thought-provoking. Shakespeare’s exploration of power, manipulation, and the struggles of humanity can be seen through the character of Prospero, who learns to let go and embrace forgiveness.



In terms of classification, some scholars have linked The Tempest to the genre of romantic comedy, while others argue that it is more of a problem play. It is easy to see why it could fit into both categories, as it combines elements of humor and romance with profound themes and moral dilemmas. It challenges the traditional notions of genre and pushes the boundaries of what a play can achieve.

The setting of The Tempest is also worth exploring. While most of Shakespeare’s plays are set in a specific location, The Tempest takes place on a remote island. This isolated setting adds to the mysterious and otherworldly atmosphere of the play, allowing the characters to exist outside the confines of society and explore deeper existential questions.

The “problem” plays

What sets these plays apart is the way Shakespeare explores complex and controversial themes. While “The Tempest” tackles issues of colonialism and power, “Romeo and Juliet” delves into themes of love, violence, and family feuds. The characters in these plays are not just simple archetypes but complex individuals with their own struggles and motivations.

One of the most notable examples of a “problem” play is “The Tempest,” where Shakespeare challenges traditional notions of power and control. Prospero, the main character and a powerful sorcerer, is both the manipulator and the manipulated. Through his actions, Shakespeare questions the nature of authority and the morality of manipulation.



Another aspect that makes these “problem” plays unique is their setting. While many of Shakespeare’s comedies are set in motionless, rustic landscapes, these plays take place in mythical and exotic locations. The tempest, for example, acts as a catalyst for the events of the play, representing the chaotic forces of nature.

In studying these plays, scholars and theater practitioners alike are faced with numerous questions. Are they tragedies with comic elements or comedies with tragic undertones? Do they resist classification altogether? The link between the comic and the tragic is something that Shakespeare explores throughout his works, but in these “problem” plays, this link is especially prominent.

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Though these plays share a classification as “problem” plays, it is important to note that they are not all the same. Each play has its own unique themes, characters, and storylines. For example, while “Romeo and Juliet” explores themes of romance and passion, “Measure for Measure” examines issues of justice and morality.



The Genre and Themes of “Romeo and Juliet”

One of the central themes of “Romeo and Juliet” is the power of love and its ability to transcend societal boundaries. The play explores the idea of two young lovers, Romeo and Juliet, who come from feuding families. Despite the challenges and obstacles they face, their love for each other remains strong and ultimately leads to their tragic ending. This theme of forbidden love and the struggles it brings resonates with audiences to this day.

Another theme that “Romeo and Juliet” addresses is the nature of fate and how it can shape our lives. Throughout the play, there are several references to the idea of fate and how it controls the actions and destinies of the characters. For example, Romeo exclaims, “I am fortune’s fool!” when he realizes the consequences of his impulsive actions. This theme raises philosophical questions about free will and the extent to which we have control over our own lives.

In addition to these themes, “Romeo and Juliet” also explores the concept of youth and its associated impulsiveness. The characters in the play are young and driven by their emotions, often making rash decisions without considering the consequences. This aspect of youth adds an element of realism to the play, as it reflects the impetuousness and naivety that are often associated with young love.

Furthermore, “Romeo and Juliet” can also be viewed through a sociopolitical lens, as it touches on topics related to class and privilege. The feud between the Montagues and the Capulets represents a divide between the upper and lower classes, highlighting the inequality and social tensions of the time. This aspect of the play resonates with audiences today, as issues of social inequality and division continue to be relevant.

In What Way Does Shakespeare’s The Tempest Resist Traditional Genre Classification

One reason why The Tempest resists traditional genre classification is its unique setting. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s other plays, which are typically set in ancient Rome or Elizabethan England, The Tempest takes place on a remote island. This setting adds an element of the mythical and the fantastical to the play, as well as a sense of ambiguity and a dream-like quality.

Furthermore, the characters in The Tempest are complex and multi-dimensional, which also challenges traditional genre classification. Prospero, the manipulator and protagonist of the play, learns important lessons about power, forgiveness, and equality. The play also features characters like Ariel, a spirit who can travel between worlds, and Caliban, a motionless and withered man who questions his place in the world.

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Another aspect that resists traditional genre classification is the themes explored in The Tempest. While there are comedic elements and moments of light-heartedness, the play delves into deeper issues such as colonialism, power dynamics, and the nature of forgiveness. These themes are not typically found in traditional comedies, adding another layer of complexity to the play.

Moreover, The Tempest has a unique structure that sets it apart from Shakespeare’s other plays. It is considered a problem play, as it blends elements of comedy, tragedy, and romance. This ambiguous mix of genres makes it difficult to neatly classify The Tempest, further contributing to its resistance against traditional genre classification.

The setting and characters are mythical but their struggles are realistic

Despite the ambiguous and mythical setting, the struggles faced by the characters in The Tempest are all too realistic. Prospero, for example, is a complex character who is not just a manipulator, but also a man who yearns for revenge. His struggles are relatable and highlight the complexities of human nature.

Similarly, the character of Caliban represents the struggles of colonialism and inequality. Caliban is a native of the island who is mistreated by Prospero, representing the exploitation of indigenous people by colonizers. His quest for freedom and equality resonates with audiences even today.

The play also explores themes related to love, power, and forgiveness. While the ending of the play may seem like a fairy tale, with all the characters finding their happy endings, Shakespeare does not shy away from addressing challenging questions and themes. The study of The Tempest offers a deeper understanding of the complexities of human relationships and the consequences of our actions.

In this sense, the mythical setting of the play serves as a means of highlighting the realistic struggles and themes. It is as if Shakespeare is using the fantastical elements to reflect and comment on the real world. Just as his other plays like Romeo and Juliet and King Lear explore realistic and relatable themes, The Tempest does so in a unique and thought-provoking way.

It has themes of colonialism but also themes of equality

On one hand, the character of Prospero can be seen as a manipulator and a colonialist figure, exerting control over the other characters on the island. He uses his magical powers to manipulate the actions of those around him, creating an unequal power dynamic. This reflects the historical context of colonialism, where colonizers sought to dominate and control the indigenous peoples of the lands they occupied.

However, the play also challenges this power dynamic and questions the notion of superiority and control. Prospero learns lessons about forgiveness and equality throughout the course of the play. He realizes the limitations of his power and begins to question his own actions. This theme of self-reflection and growth is a common element in Shakespeare’s plays.

The Tempest also incorporates elements of comedy, with its mix of humorous and fantastical events. The character of Ariel, a magical spirit, adds a comedic element to the play with his tricks and mischief. The play’s ending, where Prospero forgives his enemies and sets them free, is both funny and thought-provoking.

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In What Way Does Shakespeare’s The Tempest Resist Traditional Genre Classification

One of the ways in which The Tempest resists traditional genre classification is through its blending of comedic and dramatic elements. While the play has many funny moments and comic characters, it also explores deeper themes of colonialism, power struggles, and equality. This combination of light-hearted humor and serious social commentary makes it difficult to label The Tempest as purely a comedy or a tragedy.

Another aspect of the play that goes against traditional genre classification is its dream-like and ambiguous nature. The plot is set on a remote island, disconnected from the real world, and populated by enchanting spirits and magical creatures. This fantastical setting adds to the overall otherworldly atmosphere of the play and further blurs the lines between genres.

In addition, The Tempest can be seen as a “problem play”, a term coined by scholars to describe works that do not neatly fit into existing genre categories. The play raises questions about power, manipulation, and the nature of reality, challenging the audience’s expectations and forcing them to think beyond the conventions of traditional theater.

Furthermore, The Tempest shares some similarities with Shakespeare’s comedies, such as the theme of reconciliation and the use of mistaken identities. However, it also diverges from the typical comedic structure and ending. The play ends with Prospero’s introspection and his decision to relinquish his powers, which is a departure from the usual comic resolution. This unconventional ending adds to the overall resistance to traditional genre classification.

FAQ

How does Shakespeare’s The Tempest resist traditional genre classification?

Shakespeare’s The Tempest resists traditional genre classification in several ways. First, the setting and characters are mythical and magical, but their struggles and conflicts are portrayed in a realistic manner. This blend of the mythical and the realistic challenges traditional genre boundaries. Additionally, the play explores themes of colonialism and power dynamics, but it also delves into themes of equality and redemption. This combination of contrasting themes further complicates its genre classification.

What are the main characteristics of The Tempest that make it difficult to classify into a traditional genre?

The main characteristics of The Tempest that make it difficult to classify into a traditional genre are its blend of the mythical and the realistic, as well as its exploration of diverse and contrasting themes. The play takes place on a magical island with supernatural characters, yet their struggles and conflicts are portrayed in a realistic manner. This mix of the mythical and the realistic challenges the boundaries of traditional genre classification. Additionally, the play explores themes of colonialism and power dynamics, but it also delves into themes of equality and redemption. This combination of contrasting themes further complicates its genre classification.

How do the setting and characters in The Tempest contribute to its resistance to traditional genre classification?

The setting and characters in The Tempest contribute to its resistance to traditional genre classification by blending the mythical and the realistic. The play takes place on a magical and mythical island, with characters like the sorcerer Prospero and the spirit Ariel. However, despite the mythical elements, the struggles and conflicts faced by these characters are portrayed in a realistic manner. This blend of the mythical setting and characters with realistic emotions and conflicts challenges traditional genre boundaries.

What themes in The Tempest contribute to its resistance to traditional genre classification?

The themes of colonialism and power dynamics, as well as themes of equality and redemption, contribute to The Tempest’s resistance to traditional genre classification. The play explores the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, shedding light on the injustices of colonization. Simultaneously, it delves into themes of equality and redemption, highlighting the potential for personal growth and the pursuit of justice. This combination of contrasting themes complicates the genre classification of the play.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.