Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Tragic Tempest

            The debate over classifying Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a classical tragedy, medieval tragedy, renaissance tragedy, or a romance is often clouded by the many different tragic and romantic elements that are included in Shakespeare’s work. However, the tragic elements that pervade the structure of The Tempest and drive the plot of the play most clearly classify it as a classical tragedy. The play not only ends as most of the characters’ lives devolve into chaos, but some characters even contemplate the end of their lives on stage. The tragic flaw of the protagonist Prospero is the most prominent example of The Tempest’s elements of classical tragedy.

            Tragic flaws are the most recognizable characteristics of classical tragedies. A tragic flaw is an error caused by a fundamental human frailty or weakness that contributes to the protagonist’s fall from success and into depression. Debora Schwartz elaborates on the genre of tragedy by stating that, “tragedy involves irreversible choices made in a world where time leads inexorably to the tragic conclusion…. In tragedies, characters are destroyed as a result of their own actions and choices” (Schwartz). Prospero’s tragic flaw is selfishness and self-absorption. Prospero lost interest in his selfless responsibilities as a duke to pursue his own studies of magic, recounting to Miranda, “and Prospero the prime duke, being so reputed in dignity, and for the liberal arts without a parallel; those being all my study, the government I cast upon my brother and to my state grew stranger, being transported and rapt in secret studies” (Act I Scene II). Such selfishness by Prospero started the conflict with Antonio and Alonso and contributed significantly to the structure of The Tempest. Furthermore, Prospero craves fulfillment before he dies and dwells on his tragic death by stating, “let them be hunted soundly. At this hour lie at my mercy all mine enemies: shortly shall all my labors end, and thou shalt have the air at freedom: for a little follow, and do me service” (Act IV Scene I). Since Prospero’s tragic flaw is crucial to the development and structure of major characters in the play, The Tempest is more closely aligned with the genre of classical tragedy.

Works Cited
Schwartz, Debora B. "Romance (Tragi-comedy)." California Polytechnic State University, n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.
Shakespeare, William. N.p.: n.p., n.d. The Tempest. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your post and take on the classification of The Tempest, yet I have to disagree with a few points. You point out that at the end of the play, the characters are left in chaos, yet it seems that most of them are very settled and much happier/calmer than at the beginning of the play. In fact, it is quite a happy ending which is unlike most tragedies. Your point about Prospero's tragic flaw is very valid and really raises the doubt against The Tempest being a comedy, which in my opinion, forces it to be labelled as a romance. It seems, as you pointed out, to blend both the tragic elements that Prospero maintains as well as comedic reliefs and a fairly resolved, happy ending.