Shakespeare – Module 4: Shakespearean Comedy- The Tempest – 2 of 3

Hello Year 7 and Year 8! Last session, you looked at the plot of ‘The Tempest’. You found out who the different characters are and explored the events in the story. This session, we will consider this question: why is ‘The Tempest’ considered to be a comedy play?

Trinculo and Stephano meet Caliban for the first time

WHAT: developing our understanding of Shakespearean comedy

By the end of this session you will be able to:


✓ explain why ‘The Tempest’ is considered to be a comedy play
✓ explain what a ‘comic foil’ is
✓ summarise the features of comedy in ‘The Tempest’

Today you will need:

✎ A pen
☰ A word document, notepad or paper to record your ideas

STARTER- YOU DO: What do you find funny? What makes you laugh? Make a list of your ideas.

Well, in 2020, comedy is very different to how it would have been in Elizabethan or Jacobean England. Audiences would have found things funny that we may not today. There are some similarities, but it is important to understand the main things that people would have found funny in a Shakespearean comedy.

YOU DO: Read the list of features/conventions below. As you read each feature, decide if and how this feature applies to ‘The Tempest’. Write down your ideas.

A Shakespearean comedy is a play that has a happy ending, usually involving marriages between the unmarried characters. Shakespearean comedies tend to also include:

1. A greater emphasis on situations rather than characters (this numbs the audience’s connection to the characters, so that when characters experience misfortune, the audience still finds it laughable)

2. A struggle of young lovers to overcome difficulty, often presented by elders

3. Separation and re-unification

4. Deception among characters (especially mistaken identity)

5. A clever servant

6. Tension between characters, often within a family

7. Multiple, intertwining plots

8. Use of all styles of comedy (slapstick, puns, dry humour, earthy humour, witty banter, practical jokes)

9. A happy ending, where all problems and misunderstandings are resolved

CHALLENGE: Make a poster to help you to revise the features of a Shakespearean comedy.

Now we are going to look at one of the most famous ‘comic’ scenes in ‘The Tempest’. Before we look at the scene, we are going to learn a new device…

Comic Foil: In literature, a foil is a character who shows qualities that are in contrast with the qualities of another character. In Shakespeare plays, a ‘comic foil’ will often be used to provide light relief to any tension.

In ‘The Tempest’, Trinculo & Stephano provide some of the comedy in the play. Trinculo, a jester, and Stephano, a drunken butler, are two minor members of the shipwrecked party. They provide a comic foil to the other, more powerful pairs of Prospero and Alonso and Antonio and Sebastian. Their drunken boasting and petty greed reflect and deflate the quarrels and power struggles of Prospero and the other noblemen.

Trinculo, a jester, and Stephano, a drunken butler

Now we will look at Act 2 Scene 2.

Act 2 Scene 2 Summary: In this scene Caliban hides under his cloak because he thinks Prospero has sent spirits to torment him for being too slow. Trinculo ( a jester/ clown) thinks a storm is brewing again and is looking for shelter. He decides he has no choice but to crawl under the cloak, despite the horrible smell. Stephano comes along, very drunk, and thinks Caliban and Trinculo are a strange monster with four legs and two mouths.

Exploring a comic scene

YOU DO: Click on the link below to download an extract from Act 2 Scene 2. Read the scene aloud. You might want to ask someone to read it with you. Can you spot the funny bits?!


Now watch the video below. The video is about 8 minutes long and has been produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company. In the video, an actor discusses the humour in the scene.

YOU DO: Answer the questions below to show what you have learned in this session. Write down your answers on paper then click on the question to reveal the correct answer.

1. In literature, what is a foil?

A foil is a character who shows qualities that are in contrast with the qualities of another character.

2. Complete the missing words: Shakespeare’s comedies often present a struggle of young l_ _ _ _ _ to overcome difficulty, often presented by e_ _ _ _ _

lovers, elders

3. Who is Caliban?

Caliban is a creature who lives on the island. Prospero has made him his slave.

4. What should always happen at the end of a Shakespearean comedy?

The story should end happily and any problems or misunderstandings should be resolved

5. Who is Trinculo?

Trinculo is a jester/ clown.

6. In Act 2 Scene 2, why does Trinculo hide under Caliban’s cloak?

Trinculo thinks there is another storm coming

CHALLENGE: Imagine you are Caliban just after you have met Trinculo and Stephano. Re-write the events from your perspective. Don’t forget to send your writing to your English teacher!

Well done! You should now have developed your understanding of the features of a Shakespearean comedy. Next session, we will look at Caliban in more detail…