When the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays was published in 1623, The Tempest appeared under the genre category “comedy.” Like all of Shakespeare’s other comedies, the play resolves happily, with the promise of a wedding between Miranda and Ferdinand. Also as in other comedies, the plot of The Tempest revolves around a series of misunderstandings that are resolved over the course of the play. The tempest, or storm, that gives the play its title causes a shipwreck, stranding many characters on an island. Several of the characters mistakenly believe their shipmates are dead. However, none of the characters actually die in the storm, and everyone is happily reunited at the play’s end. The Tempest also features not one but two attempted assassinations: Alonso and Antonio’s attempted assassination of Prospero, which lead to Prospero fleeing to the island, and Antonio and Sebastian’s plot to murder Alonso. But, again, neither attempt is successful, and no one dies. The play ends with Alonso repenting of his schemes against Prospero, and Prospero reclaiming his title of Duke of Milan. The fact that no one dies in the play, discord is repaired, misunderstandings are resolved, and lovers and united in marriage all contribute to the play’s classification as a comedy.
Although The Tempest contains many elements of comedy, it also deviates significantly from Shakespeare’s other comedies, which is why scholars now classify it as a romance. Romance is a genre scholars began assigning to a group of plays Shakespeare wrote at the end of his career. These plays, while categorized in the First Folio as either comedies or tragedies, don’t neatly fit the conventions of either genre. Along with Shakespeare’s other late plays Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest contains elements of both tragedy and comedy, with the overall structure of the play moving from “tragic” beginning to “comedic” ending. These four plays also all contain elements of magic and the supernatural. For example, the massive storm that opens Tempest is the result of Prospero’s conjuring. Throughout the play, Prospero (and his magical spirit Ariel) use magic to manipulate and dazzle the other characters. Finally, The Tempest differs from the comedic genre in that while the play ends in marriage, the story of the lovers doesn’t drive the plot. In fact, Miranda and Ferdinand don’t meet until well into the action of the play, and the essential conflict—Prospero’s desire to regain his title—has nothing to do with their separation or reunion. All of Shakespeare’s romances also feature marriage as an element of their plots, but not the driving force of the action.