Common Themes and Characters in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night and the Tempest

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Analogs in The Tempest

Many of Shakespeare’s works share common themes and characters. The similarities between his many plays allow readers to draw parallels which can provide deeper understanding to the individual plays as well as Shakespeare’s works as a whole. In his final play entitled The Tempest, Shakespeare draws from many of his earlier works to create a meaningful piece that is uniquely Shakespearean. Although there are many familiar elements in The Tempest, the initial storm which allows for the rest of the plot is the most intriguing. Similar storms can be found both in Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night. In each of these plays, the storm is one of the first events and plays a role in breaking up a family. The storm at sea has become a recurring motif among Shakespeare’s works to foreshadow the emotional storms that are to come.

In the opening scene of Comedy of Errors, Egeon reveals the fateful incident which has brought him to Ephesus where he is now imprisoned. He describes the storm for the Duke, saying, the sailors sought for safety by our boat/ And left the ship, then sinking-ripe, to us./ My wife, more careful for the latter-born,/ Had fastened him unto a small spare mast,/ Such as seafaring men provide for storms./ To him one of the other twins was bound,/ Whilst I had been like heedful of the other./ The children thus disposed, my wife and I,/ Fixing our eyes on whom our care was fixed,/ Fastened ourselves at either end the mast/ And, floating straight, obedient to the stream,/ Was carried towards Corinth, as we thought. (1.1.76-87)

After the storm, Emilia, Antipholus E., and Dromio E. are taken to Ephesus, while Egeon, Antipholus S., and Dromio S. are taken to Syracuse. The storm sets up the rest of the plot and allows for the confusion that later ensues. Although Comedy of Errors is, in fact, a comedy, there is still an underlying sadness in the years lost as a family.

In Twelfth Night, another family is broken up by a similar storm. This time, twin siblings Viola and Sebastian are separated at sea. Both believe that the storm was too great for the other to survive. When Viola arrives in Illyria, the sea captain tells her, “…after our ship did split,/ When you and those poor number saved with you/ Hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother,/ Most provident in his peril, bind himself/ (Courage and hope both teaching him the practice)/ To a strong mast that lived upon the sea…” (1.2.10-15). Again, without the storm, the sequence of events that followed would not have been possible. Twelfth Night is also considered a comedy, but that does not discount the emotional toll of losing a sibling (or so they thought).

Finally, the storm in The Tempest is the culmination of all the storms before. This time, the storm at sea has a slightly different purpose. One family is broken up (temporarily), but another family is reunited, much to their dismay. The cause of this storm is no mystery, for it is revealed that Prospero conjured the storm with magic to bring his enemies to the island where he has been exiled. The storm again foreshadows the turmoil that is to come. Immediately following the storm, Alonso discovers that his son, Ferdinand, is nowhere to be found. He fears that his heir has been lost at sea. Meanwhile, Ferdinand awakes on another part of the island, fearing he is the only survivor. Unlike the other stories, one family is reunited because of the storm. Prospero’s brother, Antonio, is brought to the island to face Prospero. This is a twist on Shakespeare’s typical storm scene.

There are many reasons for using the storm as an analog between stories. First, it enables the drama of the story that follows. Secondly, the physical storm symbolizes the emotional storms that are to follow. Finally, it serves as a metaphor for life. Storms cannot last forever, and in each of these plays, neither does the turmoil. The two Antipholi, Viola, Sebastian, and Ferdinand all overcome the storms of life to find their happy ending. In The Tempest, Shakespeare uses a familiar symbol to guide his audience, but he manages to give the storm a new twist to set his final work apart.

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