Explain the Unities in The Tempest By William Shakespeare

It is remarkable that Shakespeare, who had always flouted the unities of time and place, observes them in The Tempest and contradicts the practice of a life time. Though the theme of the play is romantic, its form is classical in so far as it conforms to the unities of time and place which Sidney and others tried unsuccessfully to impose on English drama as rigid laws. The more remarkable thing about the observance of unities in this play is that just before in The Winter’s Tale he had thrown them to the winds. Why did Shakespeare observe them in his last play? In his earlier play The Comedy of Errors he had of course submitted himself to the unities. In The Tempest, however, the observance of unities was not natural taking into consideration the material with which he was working. The theme of the play is surely romantic. Why does he them observe the unities now? Perhaps he elected to observe them to show that he, too could write under those rules. It is equally possible that he remained indifferent and that the unity followed naturally from the setting of an island, or that his instinct of rightness led him to do so. So the play abides by the authority of the ancient world. The setting of the play is Prospero’s island, the time which elapses is roughly four hours; and the parts of the action are bound together tightly into a whole.

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Shakespeare observes the unity of time in the play. Unity of time demands that the time of the play should not exceed twenty four hours. The time taken by the play is roughly four hours and performance of the play fills about the same space of time. Shakespeare who usually plays with time freely, condensing months in one scene or letting sixteen years pass between two acts, counts the time of The Tempest up to a minute. It is about two when Alanson’s ship catches fire. It is six p.m. when the characters go to supper.

Within the four-hour limit Shakespeare gives us a view of much longer time. The amount of action unfolded is too great for the time span. The unity of time, place and action is satisfactory.



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