How is Shakespeare's The Tempest different from his other major works? How is it similar?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

TheTempest, often believed to be Shakespeare's last play, is considered a later comedy. The comedy designation distinguishes it from a tragedy , for reasons including that it does not end with many deaths and the hero has no tragic flaw. It resembles his other comedies in having lighter...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The Tempest, often believed to be Shakespeare's last play, is considered a later comedy. The comedy designation distinguishes it from a tragedy, for reasons including that it does not end with many deaths and the hero has no tragic flaw. It resembles his other comedies in having lighter moments interjected by some minor characters but is weightier than A Midsummers Night's Dream.

The Tempest has a lot in common with The Merchant of Venice. Although Prospero is very much alive and Portia's father is dead, both fathers go to great lengths to steer their daughter's marriage. Both daughters follow their father's plan, although Miranda doesn't know it, and both end up loving the man their father chose or could have chosen. The daughters are different. Miranda is not one of Shakespeare's strong females, however; she is more passive like Bianca in Taming of the Shrew. Portia is very strong, and usually grouped with Rosalind and Viola.

Another similarity is in the dark element of having a complex, tormented character who has only some elements of the traditional antagonist. As a mature writer, Shakespeare looked more deeply into the psyche. Caliban, the half-human whom Prospero has enslaved, has become a social outcast on his own island and suffers greatly from his loss. In Merchant, Shylock is a more prominent antagonist (as well as being fully human) but is also given sympathetic aspects, including the speech about shared humanity ("if you prick us...").

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Tempest is a Shakespearean romance and has many elements in common with the other romances (including The Winter's Tale and other plays). As the source from Cal Poly below states, these plays, written late in Shakespeare's career, combine elements of comedy and tragedy and are often characterized as "tragicomedies." Romances feature love affairs and misunderstandings, as Shakespeare's comedies do, but they also feature plot lines that deal with weighty issues, such as the aftermath of a serious loss (see the source about romances below). Romances also often contain elements of the supernatural and magic.

Critics have discussed the relative scarcity of women characters in The Tempest (see the course from Academia, below). In contrast with other Shakespearian plays, The Tempest has very few female characters (only Miranda and Sycorax, who is already technically dead), and the society it describes is ruled by men.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the ways that Shakespeare's The Tempest is different from his other major works is that it seems to deal most directly with the concept of colonialism. Many scholars, for instance, have seen Prospero as a kind of colonizer, while Caliban is seen as the oppressed or enslaved native. While it can be difficult to ascertain if Shakespeare developed this theme intentionally, it's important to recognize that the play certainly does seem to deal with issues at least similar to colonialism: Prospero, a European individual, arrives at the island and establishes himself as a kind of king and forces Caliban, the native, into service. Caliban, likewise, is portrayed as a savage, while Prospero is portrayed as wise and learned. While connection to colonialism is not the only major difference in The Tempest, it certainly is one of them, and it's important to recognize, as it fundamentally changes the way you read the text or view the play.

However, for all that, Shakespeare still employs some conventions seen in his other plays. There is, for instance, the usurping brother Antonio who resembles the usurper in Hamlet, Claudius (although, to be fair, Antonio doesn't kill his brother and marry his sister-in-law) or the treacherous brother in King Lear, Edmund. Additionally, much of the plot centers around Ferdinand and Miranda's romance, thus connecting it to any number of romantic Shakespearean plays. Finally, at the end Shakespeare surprises us by showing that the ship was not actually shipwrecked after all, thus conveniently saving all the characters from spending the rest of their lives marooned on the island. This surprising and miraculous solution to one of the play's major problems resembles the quick fix at the end of The Merchant of Venice, which reveals that Antonio's ships didn't actually sink, making him fabulously rich once again. As such, though The Tempest is certainly groundbreaking in many ways, it still ascribes to some familiar Shakespearean conventions.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team