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Shakespeare's storms

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:26 authored by Gwilym John Jones
This thesis seeks to provide a new perspective on storms in Shakespeare. Rather than a recurrent motif, the storm is seen as protean: each play uses the storm in a singular way. The works of Shakespeare’s contemporaries are explored for comparison, whilst meteorological texts and accounts of actual storms are examined for context. Using close reading and theories of ecocriticism throughout, I show that Shakespeare’s storms are attentive to the environmental conditions of experience. Although the dominant practice of staging storms in early modern England is to suggest the supernatural, Shakespeare writes storms which operate quite differently. I argue that this is a compelling opportunity to see Shakespeare develop a complex engagement with audience expectations. Five plays are explored in separate chapters, each with respect to performative conditions and through close reading of the poetry. Firstly, I argue that the Globe’s opening in 1599 demanded a spectacular showcase, to which Julius Caesar responded, shaping the play’s language and staging. With King Lear (c.1605), the traditional, non-Shakespearean location of the heath betrays a tendency to misread the play in terms of location rather than event. King Lear’s storm withholds the supernatural, a manifestly different approach from that in Macbeth (c.1606); Shakespeare both adheres to and resists convention in this respect. The relationship between storm and the supernatural in Macbeth is shown to be fundamental to the play’s equivocation. Shakespeare’s next storm is in Pericles (c.1608), which also contains a storm by George Wilkins. The two writers’ approaches are explored with respect to the Bible, alluded to extensively throughout the play. Finally, with The Tempest (c.1611), I argue that Shakespeare’s manipulation of audience expectation through the storm demands a reading which combines the metatheatrical and the ecocritical. Foregrounded as expressions of dramatic and environmental awareness, I bring new insights to Shakespeare’s storms.


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