Style of the play
When it was written (thought to have been in 1610-11), The Tempest was regarded as one of Shakespeare's comedies and as such features in the First Folio under this genre. However, as time has passed, there has been much debate between scholars over how to classify the play.
The beginning of the play holds great potential for tragedy; the wild tempest and wrecking of the ship and Prospero's passion for revenge. However, Prospero's choice to take Ariel's advice and spare his betrayers prevents the play from a possible tragic ending.
Obviously, the romance fostered between Ferdinand and Miranda is a key part of The Tempest and plays an important role in preventing the plot from becoming that of a tragedy. When Prospero realises that he can see Naples join with Milan through the marriage of his daughter and the Prince, he resolve to forgo exacting revenge upon his betrayers deepens as instead he works to cultivate the romance between Miranda and Ferdinand. (Confusing! - When Prospero realises that Naples can join with Milan through the marriage of his daughter to the Prince, he resolves to forgo exacting revenge upon his betrayers and instead, work to cultivate the romance between Miranda and Ferdinanad.)
Of course, The Tempest has comic elements as well. The two clown characters, Stephano and Trinculo, bring comic relief to the plot, however many other characters add humour to the play. As in all of Shakespeare's plays, the language is laced with double entendres and clever jokes and the many side plots of characters vying to usurp each other makes for many comic encounters.
In this version of The Tempest all of these genres are brought to the fore and used to complement each other to create a production that is dynamic, entertaining and accessible to a modern audience. This allows all characters and their roles within the play to be fully explored in the variety of genres.
King Louis XIII's reign had commenced in France during the time when Shakespeare wrote The Tempest. With him came French Neoclassicism which gradually spread to other countries across Europe, including England. The tenets of neoclassical theatre were strict and Shakespeare did not adhere to them in the majority of his plays. In The Tempest however, signs of this Neoclassical influence can be seen.
The Tempest comes very close to observing the three unities of Neoclassical theatre; time, place and action. The play takes place all at the one time; many scenes occurring at the same time as each other, and the play does not skip forward or backward over great lengths of time. Because of the island setting, the play is set in various locations around the same place and therefore adheres to the Neoclassical rule that the play must have a constant setting. The tenet of action is more loosely seen through The Tempest. In Neoclassical theatre, all action should be single and with the purpose of advancing a single plot. In this play, there are many subplots running constantly with various characters involved in each. Their actions, under the magic of Prospero's ‘power' bring conclusion to each story-line that rights any wrongs and ‘restores order'.
The concept of verisimilitude or of ‘very similar to' real life in Neoclassical theatre had a specific purpose; to demonstrate and teach how life is supposed to be lived. In The Tempest, Miranda demonstrates verisimilitude through her culture and choices. She is contrasted with the uncivilised Caliban and exemplifies the way in which a girl of her age and standing would have been expected to behave in renaissance times. By making an advantageous match which will also ensure her happiness, Miranda fulfils her female role. Verisimilitude is also evident in this play through the character of Prospero. Prospero's actions are that of a nobleman or even a god; his actions are to be observed from the audience as benevolent and kind, perhaps that of the Christian notion of God as exposed by Renaissance Protestantism.
The tenet of decorum held that any fighting or violent acts in the plot must occur offstage. This was not the case in Shakespearean plays which contained fight scenes and death on stage. It is seen that in The Tempest, however, violence is often alluded to, but never seen in action; the attempted rape of Miranda is often spoken about, but purposefully not shown as part of the performance. Many sinister plans go awry at the last minute throughout the play, allowing for the nature of characters' to be revealed, but keeping indecorous acts from being performed.