The Tempest: Shakespeare’s Dynamic Duos

It’s no secret that Shakespeare favours the dynamic duos: From Benvolio & Mercurio (Romeo and Juliet), to Antonio & Bassanio (Merchant of Venice), to even Rosencrantz & Guildenstern (Hamlet), Shakespeare continually strives to break up tension in his tragedies by providing comedic relief. One unique example of this rule: The Tempest.

Though The Tempest is traditionally considered a comedy rather than a tragedy, Shakespeare still uses comedic duos to alleviate tense scenes. However, he does something particularly unique in this play: he provides two sets of comedic relief that parody one other, Antonio & Sebastian versus Trinculo & Stephano.

Many different parallels can be seen between the two pairs. While Antonio and Sebastian provide internal comedic relief via sly comments, Trinculo and Stephano provide external comedic relief via inebriated physicality. In this since, either pair could be mocking the other. The over-exaggerated movements and dialogue of Trinculo and Stephano mimic just how ridiculous and childish Antonio and Sebastian can be, despite nobody noticing their private antics. Similarly, Antonio and Sebastian being so juvenile and idiotic despite their high status lowers them to that of the commoners, also known as “savages.”

Throughout the play, the character of Caliban is frequently referred to as a savage, but he is not the only savage in The Tempest: Antonio and Sebastian could be considered “savage nobles”, while Trinculo and Stephano could be considered “noble savages.” Both pairs attempt to murder the rightful kings, and the deceit by the little brothers Antonio and Sebastian of their older brothers demonstrates how they are no better than the drunken butlers and jesters that are usually deemed the savages. Anybody can be a sh***y person, regardless of socioeconomic status!

We see ourselves in these two dynamic duos: we all crave power that can sometimes drive us to stoop to low level regardless of our intelligence or our place in society. And sometimes, we all just need to have some good ol’ fashioned drunken fun.

One comment

  1. I hadn’t noticed these two pairs connecting to each other until you brought it up in class–very interesting!

    I can see how Trinculo and Stephano can be used to mock Antonio & Sebastian; we do get a better sense of how ridiculous they are by comparing them to the former. I thought it espcially interesting how someone pointed out in class that in a way, at least Trinculo and Stephano (and Caliban) had a plan and were trying to carry it out. In some ways Antonio and Sebastian might be considered less adept. Though this could still be questioned, I think: at least A & S had the presence of mind to capture an opportune moment, and T & S squandered their opportune moment by getting distracted by clothing!

    It makes sense to me to call A&S “savage nobles”–that works, I think. I wonder, though, what is noble about T & S? I can see Caliban being noble, perhaps. When we read and discuss Rousseau we’ll talk more about the idea of the “noble savage,” which Rousseau talks about without using that term directly (I don’t think he does, at least…now I can’t remember for certain!).

    We had a great discussion from your question in class–thanks for that!

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