Shakespeare's dramaturgy and the education of the audience in "The Tempest"

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Jean E. Howard


British and Irish literature

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles


The Tempest has spawned many widely divergent interpretations because its elusive, open-ended nature invites speculation, and the play in fact imposes certain burdens of free choice and responsibility upon those who confront it. Its dramaturgy suggests that it has deliberate, self-conscious designs upon an audience: that it shapes viewer perceptions and manipulates responses in particular ways in order to educate the audience about the relationship between art and life, including the spectator's own relationship to the play in performance. This dissertation explores the correlation of The Tempest's dramaturgical strategies, its themes, and the experience of an audience watching it in the theater. By focusing on what the play does to its viewers from moment to moment, we discover the process by which they are controlled, gradually enlightened, and eventually set free to choose their own response to the play's vision. Such an approach is essential to understanding both the rich complexity of Shakespeare's fictional world and the more general relationship of art to our own lives which is reflected in The Tempest's metadramatic design.

This dissertation has a six-chapter organization as follows. In the Introduction (Chapter 1), I review the major criticism of the play and outline my argument and method. Chapter 2 examines Act I of The Tempest sequentially in order to disclose the shifting and multiplying perspectives which surprise, confuse, and dislocate the audience--a characteristic strategy in the play. The next three chapters deal with Acts II through IV from different, though related, focuses. In Chapter 3 I discuss techniques of characterization that prompt the audience to make more complex and generous assessments of other characters than Prospero does, thereby establishing an ethical framework for the play. The fourth chapter explores devices of recurrence in the middle acts that impel the audience to perceive correspondences between different incidents or elements, then to make distinctions and revise previous assumptions. Chapter 5 describes techniques in Acts II-IV which present Prospero in alternatingly attractive and disagreeable postures, keeping the audience's view of him destabilized. The final chapter shows how Shakespeare completes the audience's education in Act V by permitting it a new clarity and stability of vision that emphasizes the fruitful possibilities in the union of art and life. In the closing section of this chapter, I look particularly at The Tempest's Epilogue, which invites the audience to assume a role in the play, then challenges it to respond actively to the art it has beheld.


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