When John Heminges (died 1630) and Henry Condell (died 1627) assembled the first Folio edition of Shakespeare’s dramatic works for publication in 1623 they arranged them into three sections, Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, in that order, and they placed TheTempest in the first section. By doing so they made a contribution to a significant tendency that they may even have begun: the tendency, that is, to see this late play as the culmination of Shakespeare’s life’s work in the theatre. This tendency begets another (that may have started at the same time): the tendency to regard other plays, seen as similar, as precursor works. These plays together, Pericles (c. 1608), Cymbeline (c. 1610–11), The Winter’s Tale (c. 1611) and The Tempest (1611), form a loose grouping because they are not like the great comedies of the middle period (Much Ado About Nothing (c. 1598–9), Twelfth Night (c. 1601), As You Like It (c. 1600)) nor are they quite like the ‘problem plays’ (Troilus and Cressida (c. 1601–2), Measure for Measure (1604), TheMerchant of Venice (c. 1596–7)1) and, though they have tragic trajectories to start with, they are unlike the great tragedies. Indeed The Tempest buries its tragic part entirely in a long retrospective narrative and is not properly speaking even a ‘tragicomedy’.
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