A Summer in Shakespeare: Why is The Tempest Considered a Comedy?

Welcome to A Summer in Shakespeare! Over the 13 weeks of summer, from the beginning of June to the end of August, I will be reading all 39 plays by Shakespeare and reviewing 3 each week. Let’s get started with the comedies!

The Tempest

No, seriously, why is The Tempest considered a comedy? People literally drown in the opening scene. There’s a terrible storm that’s literally brought on because Prospero hates some people and invokes a spirit (Ariel) to do his dirty work. Is it considered a comedy because everyone makes fun of Caliban? Because if that’s the reason, it’s a poor one, and shame on you if you think those scenes are funny. I mean, I get that, in Shakespeare’s time, it was the norm to think people of color were lesser and to treat them so, but we’re in the 21st century now, guys, and we really haven’t thought to reevaluate how his plays are categorized and taken this out of comedies?

Speaking of Ariel, two things. I discovered that this notable quote is from Ariel: “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.” I’ve read this play before, but I hadn’t caught that the first time, and now I’m having a quiet chuckle about it. Also, Prospero sucks–he apparently promises Ariel freedom upon completion of sinking the king’s ship, and when that’s done and Ariel asks for his freedom, Prospero does the whole “do you remember from whence I saved you, do you remember how good I’ve been to you, and this is how you repay me, by asking to be free of me?” And of course Ariel backs down and apologizes, giving power to his abuser once more. Maybe I’m more sensitive because Ben Whishaw plays Ariel in the film, but still. (As a note: I don’t like Prospero’s brother more than him. Neither of them deserve to be Duke.)

This play annoys me. I’m pretty sure it annoyed me the first time, too. It’s literally just Prospero being angry, forcing a spirit he was supposed to free already to sink a ship, and then everyone’s fine at the end once the king finds out Prospero’s actually alive and Prospero gets to be duke of Milan again. Like, it’s all pointless.

The Two Gentleman of Verona

I haven’t read this one yet, so I’m pretty excited!

Okay, to preface, I was up until 2AM watching Queer Eye, so this may affect my interpretation, but this play is SO GAY. Proteus & Valentine basically confess their hidden feelings for each other in the first scene, and then Proteus is all sad that Valentine’s gone and he’s alone. He also is definitely more affected by the letter he receives from Valentine than the one he receives from Julia.

Nah, I take that preface back, this play is gay af. So basically, Proteus & Valentine are both “in love” with these two women, Julia & Silvia. But Julia is meh about Proteus and Silvia doesn’t really give Valentine the time of day. So instead Proteus just waxes poetic about what a good “friend” Valentine is and Valentine gets all mopey saying how his former, forbidden love must be forgotten in wake of Silvia. Like, this is literally a line, “for he, being in love, could not see to garter his hose; and you, being in love, cannot see to put on your hose.” (The puns in this are excellent, by the way. This one definitely makes sense as a comedy.)

The rest of the play just continued to prove my point. Though Valentine is banished & Proteus is basically a womanizer, all they can think about is each other, and the last scene is literally them being reunited. Overall, this was good, but I’m probably going to forget what it’s about by the time I reach the end of these.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

There are some plays that you go into automatically knowing what genre they fall under, and this is one of them with characters named Shallow, Slender, and Simple. My favorite thing about Shakespeare and humor, though, is that his humor often lands in the least expected places. Often, you can clearly see where he’s dropping a joke, and there’s the kind of studio recorded laughter, ah yes we’re supposed to find this funny. But some of his gems come quietly and don’t hit you right away until, suddenly, you’re giggling a few lines later.

This is not one of those plays. None of it’s funny because all of it’s about sleeping with other people’s wives and treating women like they can just be passed around. Sometimes, Shakespeare is really gay, and sometimes, he’s just an asshole.

I’ll be honest, I only got halfway through this one. I’ll finish it tomorrow night, but I was aggravated with the men in this and it was late, so I did set it aside for now.

Have you read any of these? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!

Next: Measure for Measure, The Comedy of Errors, Much Ado About Nothing

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