Unity at the beginning and end

I love bookends. Not the physical, tangible kind, but the framing devices for works of literature. There’s just something about it that makes it seem at least that the creator had this all in mind…that it’s of a piece. And no, The Tempest does not have a framing device.

But–in a sense–it itself is the back half of a framing device.

Way back when, when we were starting this behemoth of a Project, we started out with The Comedy of Errors. When discussing that play, I touched upon the concept of Aristotelian unities of action, place, and time (or at least when people assume to be Aristotle’s views on the unities).

[to recap]

In Aristotle’s thesis on drama and dramatic theory, Poetics, he discusses the “rules” for composing poetry, which included play-writing.


The play has to be about one thing, so that if you remove any part of it, the whole thing falls apart. Shakespeare pretty much adheres to this in The Tempest (as he did in The Comedy of Errors); take any scene out of the play and it won’t make sense… he tends to play fast and loose with it elsewhere in his career (Fortinbras, anyone?), but here, it’s pretty tightly written.


The play should try to take place over the course of a single day. The Tempest is one of only two (count ’em, TWO) plays that conform to the unity of time; the other is The Comedy of Errors, the first play in the Bill / Shakespeare Project (first and last… interesting, no?).

And note the difference in verbs used: Aristotle gives a rule about Action, yet makes only an observation (it isn’t really even a suggestion) about Time. And Place? Aristotle didn’t discuss this at all. People just assume it’s there (it makes it easier for a theater to have only one set) … but Shakespeare rarely adheres to this at all: our bookend plays are confined to a broad location (a city in the first, and an island in the last) but they travel all over said area.

Yeah, I love me some bookends.