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Chapter 1: Theatre Language

Drama: a particular kind of literature written to be performed; a pattern of words and

actions with the potential for becoming living words and actions
Theatre as an Art Form is different from other art forms
It has unique properties not present in other forms:
Live event
The most important element of the theatre is the live interaction between
performer and audience.
For theatre to happen there must be an audience and performer.
Transitory Art
--It cannot be fixed or held in time
--This is the ephemeral nature of theatre. It is a temporary event that lasts only
for a finite amount of time, ie. the length of the actual performance.
--It is not possible to exactly reproduce the same event every time.
--Each production is unique; each performance in that production is unique.
--A film or television show is static--it never changes because it is recorded.
--Each production and performance of Master Harold and the Boys will be
different from others.
--This is different from the written play script, which remains static.
--Plot, dialogue, basic stage directions, etc. always remain the same in the written
Interpretive art
--The production team interprets the script and finds ways to translate the
meaning of the written words into a live production for a live audience.
Collaborative Art
--The creation of the stage production is a collaborative art.
--The production team works together (collaborates) to translate the meaning of
the written text into a staged performance.
The Production Team
--Includes the playwright, director, designers, and actors.
--Together they will interpret the playwrights work by filling in details of character,
action, scenery, costumes, lighting and sound.
--They communicate meaning to the audience using visual, verbal and emotional cues.
The Playwright
--The playwright is the theatre artist who authors the script that is frequently the starting
point for theatrical creation.
--uses language to express dramatic action.
--responsible for determining the subject matter of the play.
--decides where the action will take place and over how long a period of time.

--decides how the events of the drama will unfold.

--For a play to make sense, it must have a beginning, middle and end.
The Playwrights Vision
--The playwright creates a text that is the starting point or jumping off place for the
creation of a production.
--The production team collaborates to interpret the meaning of the script and realize the
playwrights vision through scenery, costumes, lights, sound, etc.
--The ensemble works to bring this interpretation to life through characterization, actor
behavior, blocking, etc.
--Together these people create a production for a live audience.
Script or Playtext
--The dialogue, stage directions, and character descriptions that together constitute the
printed text of a play.
Performance Text
--The interpretive production of the playtext; what the audience sees and hears.
-- The specific choices by the principal decision makers that create the fictive world
through the use of Theatre languages. Contrast with Play text.
Theatrical Conventions: devices of dramatic construction and performance that facilitate
the presentation of stories on stage
Theatre Languages--the verbal and nonverbal tools of communication used by theatre
artists to organize the audiences perceptions and to create the fictive world of the play.
--Scenery, Lighting, Costume, Makeup, Actorly behavior
--Actorly Behaviorall the actor does, through his/her own person to create a
character living through fictive circumstances. Includes physical stance,
movement, vocal quality, volume, timing, intellectual focus and interaction with
other characters, props, and scenery.
Fictive World: the world of the play; an alternate reality designed to be perceived by
spectators. Fictive because its an illusion created out of imagination; a world because it
is a complete image.
--It is in the fictive world that characters exist and pursue their goals. Actors are not
characters, theywith other theatre makerssimulate characters. The fictive world is
the imaginative envisioning of many theatre workers made accessible to a spectator. It is
a complex idea-driven form made palpable to the senses.
--The spectator witnesses the work of the theatre workers and imagines the fictive world.
The willing suspension of disbelief allows the fictive world to exist for and be
responded to by the spectator.
--The fictive world is the imagined universe where a plays action takes place. Because it
is imagined, it operates according to the laws devised by its makers. The creative artists,

esp. the principal decision makers, shape the performance text to make it correspond to
the imagined fictive world. They create it out of their own private fund of impressions,
drawing upon the real world only when they want to and only to the extent that seems
appropriate. Audiences imagine the fictive world but do so by allowing the stimuli of the
performance text to shape their thinking.
--The term action refers to the movement of the actors and the unfolding of a plays
events. Action may be physical or psychological.
--The term plot refers to the sequence of actions that determine what happens in a play;
the events that make up the plays story.
--Exposition is a strategy used by playwrights to give information or explain events not
seen in the action of the play. This is information the audience needs to know in order to
understand the plot and characters of a play; describing.
--literally, to act out. The events presented on stage that the audience sees; doing.
Emergent Meaning
--The unfolding of events at enactment speed; a movement of consciousness or
--The significance seen in each succeeding moment of the event alters with the observers
shifting awareness.
--Conflict is the problem or problems faced by the characters of the play that must be
resolved. It can also be defined as the collision of two opposing forces. The way conflict
is resolved is what makes a play interesting and compelling.
--A unit of the dramatic action that brings about a significant change or climax. It is a
situation in which opposing forces are clearly arrayed against each other, thereby forcing
a decisive moment when things will go in either one direction or another. A crisis
precipitates a climax. In a crisis, a major dramatic question is vividly set forth and an
answer to that question is actively pursued.
--There can be, and usually are, many crises in a play. Each crisis promotes a climax
which moves the action forward. A major crisis is one which resolves the dramatic action
as a whole. Often it is a scene in which the protagonist and antagonist meet in a way in
which there can be no backing off or avoidance.

-- Any point in a dramatic story when a crisis, either major or subsidiary, reaches a point
of resolution. It is a moment at which opposing forces are so engaged that they create a
high point of tension. It is the point at which the conflicts between those opposing forces
resolve the immediate action. It is the culmination of the crisis, it grows from it.
--end the conflict, wrap up the action, and/or bring the events to a conclusion. Chaos and
disruption are smoothed away and loose ends are tidied up.
Protagonist and Antagonist
--The protagonist is the leading character of a play. S/he is the character the play is about
and the one who changes the most over the course of the play.
--The antagonist is the person or force opposing the protagonist.
--The ensemble is the group of actors who work closely together and share the
responsibility for the performance of the play.
--All the movement of the actors on the stage during a play.
--Dialogue is spoken language. The playwright writes the dialogue for the actors to speak
out loud.
--Sometimes, the playwright will indicate in the script that the actors are to improvise
spoken language. The actors speak as their characters would.
--A device used by playwrights to bring all the events to a conclusion.
Polar Conditions--a comparison between the circumstances in place early in the
script/performance with those in place late in the script/performance; useful for analyzing
the psychological changes in a character.

Master Haroldand the boys by Athol Fugard

Athol Fugard is a prominent playwright, novelist, director, and actor whose work is
mostly based on and around the South African apartheid. He has won multiple awards
and has received numerous honorary degrees.
Harold Athol Lannigan Fugard was born June 11th, 1932 in Middleburg, Cape Province,
South Africa. His father was Polish/Irish and his mother was an Afrikaner. Because
Fugard's father was disabled, his mother ran the family businesses: The Jubilee
Residential Hotel and the St. Georges Park Tea Room. Fugard and his father had a tense
relationship, which is why the writer decided to go by Athol (his grandfather's name)
instead of Harold, his father's name.
Fugard attended the University of Cape Town until he dropped out to travel around
Africa, and later, he served on a merchant ship. He then worked as a journalist in Port
Elizabeth. He married Sheila Meiring, an actress, and the two formed the Cape Town
Circe Players, a theater workshop. His first play, Klaas and the Devil, premiered in 1957.
Fugard first became aware of the harsh realities resulting from apartheid when he took a
job as a clerk in the Native Commissioners Court in Fordsburg. There, he dealt with
cases of black South Africans violating the pass laws (passports laws making it difficult
for black South Africans to travel and/or migrate). The experience had a deep impact on
In order to have more opportunities in the theater, Fugard and his wife moved to London.
By this time, he had written the play The Blood Knot about two African brothers, one
with lighter skin and one with darker skin, as they navigate their familial relationship and
their racially segregated society. He had tried to show it in South Africa but it was banned
because it depicted interracial relationships. Fugard could finally stage the play in
The Blood Knot premiered as a television broadcast in 1967, which led to the British
government revoking Fugards passport for four years and keeping him under state
surveillance. While he was detained, he wrote and staged Boesman and Lena, which won
an Obie award. Most of Fugards writing focuses on anti-apartheid themes. His body of
work can be separated into the Port Elizabeth plays, the Township plays, the Exile plays,
Statements, the My Africa plays, and the Sorrows. The Port Elizabeth plays are deeply
personal and deal with apartheids effects on South African families. One of Fugard's
most renowned plays, Master Harold and the boys, is part of this series.
As apartheid came to a bloody and chaotic end in the 1980s and 1990s, Fugards work
began to address the post-apartheid struggle. Plays like My Children! My Africa! and
Valley Song deal with the resulting familial and political turmoil. He published his
memoir, Cousins, in 1994.

Most of Fugard's work was banned in South Africa until 1994. The majority of his plays
premiered in London or America. He first staged several of his plays at the Yale
Repertory Theater, and a handful had Broadway openings. In 2005, South Africa granted
Athol Fugard the Order of Ikhamanga for his excellent contribution and achievements in
the theater. His debut as a film director was The Road to Mecca (1992). In 2006, the film
adaptation of Fugard's novel Tsotsi won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language
Athol Fugard currently teaches acting, directing, and playwriting at the University of
California, San Diego. His most recent play was Coming Home (2009).
Master Haroldand the boys is a multifaceted, stirring testament to the cruelty of
apartheid in South Africa. It is Athol Fugards most frequently performed and most
popular play. Based on events from Fugards life, Master Harold is renowned for its
evocation of painful memories from South Africa's troubled history. He strikingly
portrays the pervasive racism and patriarchy of the time while working to exorcise his
own personal demons.
When Athol Fugard was a child, his mother managed the Jubilee Residential House and
the St. George Tea Room in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Meanwhile, Fugard's father was
disabled, which kept him from working. He was also an alcoholic, going in and out of
hospitals, and he held extremely racist opinions. The younger Fugard went by Hally as
a young man and was very close to two of his family's older black servants, Sam and
Willie. When he was ten, Fugard had an argument with Sam and spat on him. He wrote in
his journal that he immediately felt regret and shame. This journal entry served as the
inspiration for Master Harold.
In a 1982 interview, Athol Fugard explained that he wrote the play at one level, in an
attempt to understand how and why I am the man that I am. In the same interview,
Fugard accused his father of being full of pointless, unthoughtout prejudices, but that
his mothers outrage over the injustice of [South African] society helped him to
develop his progressive moral perspective.
Fugard was forbidden from staging his plays in South Africa because white and black
actors could not be onstage together. As a result, Fugard directed the world premiere of
"Master Harold"... and the boys at the Yale Repertory Theater in March 1982. Zakes
Mokae played Sam, Danny Glover played Willie, and Zeljko Ivanek was Hally. A few
months later, the play moved to the Lyceum Theater on Broadway. It received excellent
reviews. The New York Times critic wrote that the play forced [the audience] to confront
our own capacity for cruelty and to see all too clearly just who it is we really hurt when
we give in to it.
By March of 1983, the South African ban on the play was lifted, and Master Harold...
and the boys premiered at a theater in Johannesburg. The Times reviewer for the South
African show observed that audience members were visibly stunned many, blacks and
whites, were crying.

The New Yorker proclaimed that the play works on two levels: as the story of a loving
but lacerating relationship between a black man and a white boy; andas a powerful
political statement about apartheid. In 1989, Time Magazine called Fugard the greatest
active playwright in the English-speaking world.
In 1985, "Master Harold"...and the boys was adapted into a television movie starring
Matthew Broderick and Mokae. A film version starring Freddy Highmore and Ving
Rhames was released in 2010. The play has gone through numerous revivals at
playhouses, theaters, and colleges throughout the world.
The play is set in the St. George Tea Room in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Sam and
Willie, two middle-aged black servants, are cleaning up the room on a rainy day. They
banter while they do their work, and Sam helps Willie learn ballroom dancing. Willie is
going to participate in an upcoming competition but is struggling with the steps. He is
also irritated with his girlfriend and partner, Hilda, for supposedly being unfaithful. Sam
gently rebukes Willie for slapping her around.
Sam and Willie are interrupted when Hally enters. Hally is the young teenage son of the
Tea Room's proprietors. He has just finished his school day and sits down to have lunch.
He is clearly very familiar and friendly with Sam and Willie. Today, however, Hally is
distressed to learn that his father might be coming home from the hospital. It soon
becomes apparent that his father an alcoholic and disabled. The news about his father
makes Hally weary, prickly, and apathetic about his schoolwork. Sam encourages him to
do his homework, though. Hally and Sam discuss who might be considered a "man of
magnitude." Sam first names Napoleon, but Hally disagrees. They discuss Tolstoy,
Shakespeare, Darwin, Jesus, and others. Hally, an atheist, evinces disgust when Sam
mentions religious figures.
Following this discussion, Hally starts to reminisce about his childhood - which
contained both his happiest and unhappiest days. He used to wander down to the servants'
quarters and hang out with Sam and Willie. He arranges Sam and Willie in a fictional
scene and imagines himself coming down to play games with them. Hally's fondest
memory was when Sam made him a kite. At first, Hally was embarrassed about the
rudimentary toy, thinking it might not fly. However, once they got to the park and the kite
flew, Hally felt exhilarated. Recalling that day, Hally wonders why Sam could not sit
down on the bench with him to watch Willie run around with the kite.
Hally muses how strange it was that he, a white boy, could be so close to Sam and Willie,
two black men. However, Hally's good mood vanishes when his mom calls. He argues
with her on the phone and insists that his father should not be coming home because he is
not ready. When Hally gets off the phone, he vents his frustration about his mom's
weakness to Sam and Willie. He concludes that life is worthless and messy. Morose, he
returns to his studies.
Sam and Willie talk about the upcoming ballroom dance competition and continue to joke
around. Willie throws a rag that hits Hally, who explodes with anger. Hally insists that
there can be no more of the ballroom dancing nonsense. Sam counters by saying that

Hally ought to try dancing, but Hally scoffs that it is not intellectual enough. They discuss
the merits of ballroom dance for a bit, and Sam conjures up the scene at the dance
competition, describing the judge, the dancers, and the trophy. Sam's passion starts to
pique Hally's interest. He is inspired to write about the dance competition for his school
essay about an important cultural event.
Sam waxes poetic about how ballroom dancing is a world of beauty and grace because
professional dancers do not collide with each other like people do in the real world. Hally
is touched and affected by Sam's words. Unfortunately, Hally's mom calls again. The
second conversation between them is more strained than the last. Hally is frustrated that
he will have to take care of his dad. However, when his dad comes on the phone, Hally
changes his tone and pretends to be upbeat.
After he gets off the phone, Hally is bitter and angry and starts to lash out against his dad.
Sam warns him not speak ill of his own father, so Hally starts to shout at Sam and Willie
instead. He becomes increasingly belligerent, and starts commanding the men to get back
to work. He reminds Sam and Willie that they have to listen to him, his dad, and any
other white man in South Africa. Hally then informs Sam he must call him "Master
Harold." Sam remains quiet for a beat and tells Hally that if he really wants that, Sam will
never call him anything else. Hally is offended by the threat. He sneers at Sam and
repeats a cruel, racist joke that he and his father both find funny. Sam pulls down his
trousers and shows the boy his rear end to demonstrate the absurdity of Hally's behavior.
Hally is shocked and spits in Sam's face. Willie groans in despair. Sam wipes the spit off
and wonders aloud if he should hit the boy but accedes to Willie's request that he should
not. Then he tells Hally that he is sorry to see that Hally is this ashamed of his father and
himself. He is sad to see that after all this time, his efforts to teach Hally how to be a
better man than his father have failed. He then tells Hally that the reason he could not sit
beside him while Willie flew the kite all those years ago was because the bench was for
"Whites Only."
Hally is clearly morose after the conflict and starts to silently gather up his things. Sam
softly asks Hally if they should make a new kite, but Hally responds hopelessly that it is
raining, and leaves. Left alone, Willie and Sam continue to close up the Tea Room. Willie
sacrifices the money for his ride home to play a song on the jukebox. The two men
practice dancing and Willie tells his friend that he won't beat Hilda anymore.
Hally-A seventeen-year old white boy living in South Africa during apartheid. Hally is
the son of the proprietors of St. George's Park Tea Room. Hally is smart but apathetic,
prone to laziness and bouts of anger. He is also stubborn and cynical. He struggles with
the shame of his father's alcoholism, racism, and physical disability, and finds his
mother's weakness to be annoying. He has always found comfort with Sam and Willie but
the pervasive racism of apartheid-era society creates a barrier between them by the end of
the play.
Sam--Sam is a middle-aged black man who works at St. George's Park. He has worked
for Hally's family for years, and is educated, smart, and patient. He has a deep friendship

with Willie and is like a father figure to Hally. He is understanding but he also has a
breaking point. Race complicates Sam's relationship with Hally, and by the end of the
play, he experiences profound disillusionment with the petulant teenager.
Willie--Willie is a middle-aged black man who works at St. George's with Sam. Willie is
friendly and not as well-read as Sam. He is sweet most of the time but has a quick temper.
He has a tempestuous relationship with Hilda, his lover and the mother of his children.
Hilda and Willie are practicing to dance in the ballroom competition together, which
Willie is very dedicated to although he has difficulty with the steps.
Hilda--Never seen onstage. Willie's lover and the mother of his children; they have a
tempestuous relationship. She is supposed to be doing the ballroom competition with
him, but is mad at him for beating her.
Hally's mom--Hally's mother is the proprietor of St. George's Park Tea Room but never
appears onstage. She is weak-willed and does not stand up to her alcoholic, violent
husband. She is also racist, instructing Hally not to spend too much time with the
Hally's dad--Hally's father is disabled and in the hospital throughout the duration of the
play. He is an alcoholic, a bully, and is deeply racist. Hally does not respect his father and
they do not have a good relationship. Hally's father comes is an example of white
patriarchy at its worst. Fugard has openly said that Hally's father in "Master Harold"...
and the boys is based on his own father.
Apartheid--The events of "Master Harold" ... and the boys take place within the historical
context of South African apartheid. Even though there is no discussion of the actual laws
or conditions of this forced segregation, apartheid permeates the characters behavior,
beliefs, and status in society. Hally is deeply fond of Sam, who is more of a father figure
than Hally's biological dad. However, from the beginning of the play, Hally makes some
insensitive toss-away comments about race. Later, though, he lets out his anger about his
father by spitting in Sams face. Hally has proven unable to exercise control over the
situation with his father. However, he knows that because Sam is black, he cannot
retaliate against Hally, his white master. In this way, Hally selfishly abuses the structure
of apartheid and creates an irreparable rift in his relationship with Sam.
Friendship--Inside St. George's Tea Room, there is clearly real affection and sense of
camaraderie between Hally, Sam, and Willie. Hally has always found solace in the
presence of these older men. He enjoys spirited intellectual debates with Sam and gently
teases Willie. However, outside the cafe, this friendship is at odds with the institutional
racial divide of South Africa. The politics of apartheid slowly encroach on the bond
between Willie, Sam, and Hally over the course of the play. Sam and Willie also share a
meaningful friendship that is not complicated by race. Willies respect for Sam leads him
to take his friend's advice and apologize to Hilda at the end of the play. Sam and Willie's
friendship thus helps to ameliorate Sam's disappointment in Hally after he reveals himself
to possess the same racism that his family propagates.

Father/Son Relationships--Hallys father never appears on stage but his imminent return
catalyzes the main arc of the play, just as he exercises power over his son in his absence.
Hally's father is an alcoholic bully who wields power disproportionate to his physical and
mental condition simply because he is white and middle class. Hally is profoundly
ashamed of his fathers behavior but refuses to admit his feelings. Regardless, Hallys
father has impacted his son's perspective in many ways without him realizing it. Hally is
arrogant, prickly, and depressed. He has a tendency to lash out when he feels powerless.
In addition, Hally has internalized his fathers racism which manifests itself in his
treatment of Sam and Willie. Hally cringes and subordinates himself before his father,
even after he mocks his mother for doing so. In fact, Sam has been more of a father figure
to Hally, but the apartheid mindset prevents Hally from understanding the importance of
Sam in his life.
Coming of Age--As a seventeen-year old boy, Hally is at an important stage in his life.
He is growing up and trying to decide where he belongs in the world and what he
believes in. In some ways, Hally demonstrates potential to overcome the apartheid
mindset that his parents embrace. He possesses intellectual curiosity, holds a sincere
commitment to atheism, and celebrates Sam's vision of hope. Like many teenagers,
though, Hally is prone to fits of anger, depression, apathy, and stubbornness. He lashes
out at some of the only people who care for him and revels in his power over the black
servants. He lacks self-awareness. Fugard leaves Hally in a vague position at the end of
the play - it is unclear whether he will learn from his mistakes or if he will further burrow
himself in his bitterness and despair.
Ballroom Dancing--From the very first scene to the very last scene, ballroom dancing is
one of the most prevalent symbols in the play. At first, dancing is source of amusement
and entertainment for Sam and Willie. It is a hobby for them, something to aspire to
outside the humdrum tedium of work. Over the course of the play, dance emerges as an
important cultural mainstay for the black community. Sam evokes the dance competition
as a symbol of an ideal world in which people can live together in harmony without
colliding with each other. Dance provides a safe space for Sam and Willie, away from the
struggles of apartheid-era South Africa.
Nonviolence--Fugard subtly threads the message of nonviolence throughout the play.
After Hally spits on Sam, the normally patient Sam badly wants to hit the boy. He checks
himself, however, and asks for Willie's advice. Willie, who has the tendency to beat his
girlfriend, realizes that Sam should desist. Willie prevents a "collision" between Sam and
Hally, effectively diffusing their spat. Earlier in the play, Sam evokes Mahatma Gandhi as
an example of someone trying to teach India's British colonizers how to "dance" without
colliding, and Hally agrees. However, all the intellectualizing in the world cannot
suppress Hally's misdirected anger, which leads him to spit in Sam's face. While Hally
seems determined to bump into Sam, though, Sam eventually steps back. He and Willie
end the play dancing alone together.
Teaching--Teaching permeates the text and the plot of "Master Harold" ... and the boys.
Sam teaches Willie to dance, patiently explaining the steps to him. Hally teaches Sam
what he learns in school, giving the older man access to an education that his race
prevents him from obtaining. Sam tries to teach Hally how to become a decent man and


avoid turning out like his father. However, Hally revolts against Sam's advice, refusing to
learn the lessons Sam is trying to teach him. Hally's outburst does not mitigate the
importance of Sam's actions, but it does illustrate the difficulty in combating apartheid's
cruel influence.
History of Apartheid
Apartheid was the South African race policy that separated black and white citizens and
remains a terrible stain on the country's history. It began in 1948 and ended in 1994
resulting in terrible violence, persecution, and suffering. The roots of apartheid run deep.
In the 1650s, Dutch settlers arrived in South Africa and formed the Cape of Good Hope.
Then, the Dutch East India Company brought in slaves from all over the world. The
Dutch, later known as the Afrikaners, struggled to hold onto power as more Englishspeaking settlers arrived. The Anglo-Boer war resulted in a loss of sovereignty for the
Dutch Boers, and the British established slavery officially in the wake of their victory.
In the early 1900s, the British began implementing race separation laws for blacks and
whites in South Africa. One of these laws forced the country's black population (which
formed the racial majority) to live on a restricted territory. Meanwhile, the white National
Party used black South Africans as cheap labor. This arrangement lasted throughout the
WWII era. However, Afrikaner farmers started to lament the migration of cheap black
laborers to urban areas. In 1948, Daniel Malan was elected Prime Minister of South
Africa and outlined policies for complete segregation. Any non-white South Africans,
including black, Asian, and mixed-race citizens, were forced out of cities and into
"homelands." In addition, they were no longer considered citizens in the "white" parts of
South Africa. Malan introduced four major laws intended to keep tabs on South Africa's
non-white population, including the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages and the Prohibition
Registration Act.
The following Prime Minister, Hendrick Verwoerd, is known as the most prominent
architect of apartheid. After his election in 1958, he tried to make apartheid more
palatable to the public, referring to the oppressive policies as "separate development."
Within their homelands, black South Africans now had economic, social and political
freedom. Despite the positive rhetoric, non-white South Africans could still not vote, own
land, move to another country, or choose their own jobs. They had to carry passbooks at
all times containing their personal documents, like birth certificates and marriage
licenses. If a non-white South African was caught without his or her passbook, it could
lead to imprisonment and torture.
Resistance against apartheid began in the 1950s with the formation of the African
National Congress, which boasted Nelson Mandela as a member. The group staged the
peaceful Defiance Campaign of Unjust Laws and called for equal civil rights for all South
Africans. Many of the ANC activists were arrested, but were put on trial in 1961 and
subsequently acquitted.
The Pan Africanist Congress focused on an Anti-Pass Laws campaign. Their movement
resulted in the infamous Sharpsville Massacre that took place in March of 1960. A few
years later, the ANC formed a military wing, resulting in the imprisonment and exile of


Nelson Mandela and many others. Soon thereafter, Verwoerd's government deemed
resistance to apartheid to be illegal.
The world began to focus on the trouble in South Africa, and in response, the country
withdrew from the United Nations and the British Commonwealth. Verwoerd was
assassinated in 1966 by a mixed-race parliamentary messenger. His successor, Baltazar
Johannes Vorster, relaxed some of more petty laws of the apartheid era, but in theory, he
remained committed to white supremacy.
In 1983, six hundred South African organizations came together to form the United
Democratic Front. It called for the elimination of homelands and the government's
endorsement of the Freedom Charter. In response, the government claimed a state of
emergency, and federal soldiers began to mercilessly arrest, beat, and torture non-white
South Africans. Other countries stopped business transactions with South Africa as a
result of the violent oppression, and the country plunged into an economic depression.
In 1989, National Party leader Frederik Willem de Klerk released all of South Africa's
black political prisoners and announced to Parliament that apartheid was a failure. Racial
violence continued even though the South African government legally allowed all
political parties. Nelson Mandela was freed in 1993. The next year, apartheid officially
ended. Mandela became the first freely elected President of South Africa and instituted
full equality for all South Africans. He quickly implemented democratic elections,
abolished the homelands, and implemented a new constitution.
Osborne, Kristen. Boghani, A. ed. "Master Harold... And the Boys Study Guide".
GradeSaver, 31 March 2014 Web. 30 June 2014.

Fugard has traced his sense of guilt and remorse over what happens to black people to a
specific incident in his Port Elizabeth childhood: I spat in the face of a black man. I
cannot talk about it to this day. I bear the guilt. He calls himself the classic example of
the impotent white liberal. Yet such feelings provide the impetus for his plays. And that
painful childhood incident has finally found a place in Master Haroldand the boys. The
black man involved was Sam Semela, a Basuto waiter in the Fugard boarding-house who
went on to work for the family for some fifteen years. Fugard remembers him as the
most significantthe onlyfriend of his boyhood years. When he was about thirteen,
and helping behind the counter in the St. Georges Park tearoom while Semela waited at
table, he and the man had a rare quarrel, the subject of which is now forgotten.
In a truculent silence we closed the cafe, Sam set off home to New
Brighton on foot and I followed a few minutes later on my bike. . I saw
him walking ahead of me and, coming out of a spasm of acute loneliness,
as I rode behind him I called his name, he turned in mid-stride to look
back , and as I cycled past, I spat in his face. Dont suppose I will ever
deal with the shame that overwhelmed me the second after I had done
(Athol Fugard and Barney Simon: bare stage, a few props, great theatre. Mary Benson,
1997, pg 22-23.)


Chapter 2: Dramatic Structure/Spectatorship

The Six Elements of Drama
From Aristotles Poetics (Poetics--335-323 B.C.E.)
Plot: Aristotle states the Plot is the most important of the Drama. Some would argue that
Character is more important than plot.
Plot is the spine of the play and is made up of all the essential character actions or
incidents. The significant events, the sequence and pace of character entrances, the
confrontations between characters, the changes in the situations, and the outcome of the
various actions contribute to the development of the plot. Plots can be simple, complex or
Thought (Theme/Ideas): What the play means as opposed to what happens (the plot).
Sometimes the theme is clearly stated in the title. It may be stated through dialogue by a
character acting as the playwrights voice. Or it may be the theme is less obvious and
emerges only after some study or thought. The abstract issues and feelings that grow out
of the dramatic action.
Character(s): the fictive beings in a play; the inhabitants of the fictive world.
Characters are defined by:

Moral traits
Words that make up their vocabularies
We learn about characters through:
What they say about themselves

What others say about them

What they do


The physical descriptions given by the playwright

Language: Although language is not present in all forms of drama and many twentiethcentury theatre practitioners have looked to modify the centrality of words in the theatre,
language is one of the great sources of vitality in the theatre.
Music: When Aristotle included music as one of the structural elements of the drama, he
was referring to the musical accompaniment for the choruses and to the chorus members
themselves chanting parts of their test in Greek tragedies. Almost all forms use music in
one way or another.
Spectacle: Spectacle comes at the end of Aristotles discussion of dramatic structure and
he calls it the least important and least artistic element of the drama. Spectacle may
include everything from acting style and the blocking and movement of the play to
structural elements, lights, and special effects.
Antonin Artaud--Theatre and its Double-- "The stage is a concrete physical place which
asks to be filled, and to be given its own concrete language to speak.

Additional Important Elements in Dramatic Structure:

Given Circumstances
The five W's: Who, What, Where, When & Why. Each of these elements exists in every
Freytags Pyramid: According to Gustav Freytag, a drama is divided into five parts, or
acts: exposition; rising action; climax (or turning point); falling action; and (depending
upon whether the drama is a comedy or a tragedy) either a denouement or a catastrophe.
(A comedy is a drama in which the protagonist, or main character, is better off at the end
of the story than he or she was at the beginning; a tragedy is the opposite.)

Freytags Pyramid


Exposition (including inciting moment)

In the exposition, the background information that is needed to understand the story
proper is provided. Such information includes the protagonist, the antagonist, the basic
conflict, the setting, and so forth.
The exposition ends with the inciting moment, which is the single incident in the story's
action without which there would be no story. The inciting moment sets the remainder of
the story in motion, beginning with the second act, the rising action.
Because plays often begin in a state of chaos or crisis (i.e. before the play opens several
events have been taking place. Most of them will involve conflict. The play begins at the
convergence of all of these conflicts). Because of the complexity of the previous action
before the beginning of a play, the audience needs information. They need to know some,
if not all of the five W's and what the past action is. This information is usually
disseminated in the first act.
Rising action
During the rising action, the basic conflict is complicated by the introduction of related
secondary conflicts, including various obstacles that frustrate the protagonist's attempt to
reach his or her goal. Secondary conflicts can include adversaries of lesser importance
than the story's antagonist, who may work with the antagonist or separately, by and for
Climax (turning point)
The third act is that of the climax, or turning point, which marks a change, for the better
or the worse, in the protagonists affairs. If the story is a comedy, things will have gone
badly for the protagonist up to this point; now, the tide, so to speak, will turn, and things
will begin to go well for him or her. If the story is a tragedy, the opposite state of affairs
will transpire, with things going from good to bad for the protagonist.
Falling action
During the falling action, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist
unravels, with the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist. The falling action
may contain a moment of final suspense, during which the final outcome of the conflict is
in doubt.
Denouement or catastrophe
The comedy ends with a denouement in which the protagonist is better off than he or she
was at the story's outset. The tragedy ends with a catastrophe in which the protagonist is
worse off than he or she was at the beginning of the narrative
Structures of Spectator Response
Paradigm (mental template)a model or pattern of thinking that we use to make sense of
the world; a belief system; worldview.


As we encounter new experiences and thoughts, our paradigms are continually

--Most of our day-to-day experiences fit (or fit pretty closely) our existing templates.
Such experiences support what we already know, or gently help us to modify our
worldview slightly and take our understanding just a step further. The programming we
receive through the structured educational system and the general cultural environment
augments this process.
--However, we also encounter situations and ideas that seem strongly contrary to our
belief systems or completely at odds with them. We have three choices: 1) alter our
templates to accommodate the new experience or information; 2) rationalize and/or
distort what we experience to make it fit our existing model or 3) ignore the experience or
information by pretending it is meaningless, did not happen, or does not exist.
--These mental behaviors help us and hinder us as we try to make sense of theatre
Paradigm/Template/Perceptual Grid
--our ways of seeing the world; frames of reference
--living in society conditions us to think/value/believe certain things
--we bring these models of thought/value/belief to the theatre
--theatre targets these structures: plays aim to reinforce or subvert common structures of
Spectatorship structures
--spectatorship: cluster of mental and physical behaviors a person engages in when
witnessing theatre
Dissonance (clash):
--occurs when the spectators perception of the world and the image of the world being
shown on stage dont match

3 reactions to dissonance
1. alter our paradigm to accommodate new information
2. distort the information to fit the existing paradigm
3. ignore the new information
--the psychological urge to have our observations come to a point where they all fit
--this drive motivates the spectator to resolve things so that any nagging inconsistencies
are muted
--an urge to eliminate dissonance / to have our template fit the information presented by
the performance text
--the spectators ally: when it stimulates the spectator to keep thinking about difficult
--the spectators enemy: when it compels the spectator to ignore data in order to reach a
speedy conclusion


Ways of thinking: building a more sophisticated spectator
Convergent thinking

Convergent refers to things that move toward a central point

Mode of thought that tends to reduce diversity and complexity in order to arrive at
single answer

The closure junkies favorite way of thinking

Divergent thinking

Divergent refers to things which move away from a central point

Thinking characterized by the willingness to imagine multiple possibilities
Playful responses are likely
Closure likely to be postponed

Disjunctive thinking

Either/or thinking
Establishes a relationship of contrast or opposition
Separates or divides information into discrete categories
Advantages: closure facilitated quickly and cleanly
Disadvantages: false dichotomies established, range of possibilities discounted

Continuum thinking

Takes in consideration a range between two extremes; constructs a scale of


An alternative to disjunctive thinking


Advantages: facilitates sophisticated consideration of subtle distinctions

Non-valuative consideration

Another form of thinking that contrasts with disjunctive thinking

Rather than calling a performance good or bad and stopping there, a spectator
attempts to open him or herself to the array of stimuli being offered and then
describe the experience in nuanced, rather than simply judgmental, terms

Requires effort, but its worth it!

Greek Theater
Greek Theater was very different from what we call theater today. It was, first of
all, part of a religious festival. To attend a performance of one of these plays was an act
of worship, not entertainment or intellectual pastime. But it is difficult for us to even
begin to understand this aspect of the Greek theater, because the religion in question was
very different from modern religions. The god celebrated by the performances of these
plays was Dionysus, a deity who lived in the wild and was known for his subversive
revelry. The worship of Dionysus was associated with an ecstasy that bordered on
madness. Dionysus, whose cult was that of drunkenness and sexuality, little resembles
modern images of God
A second way in which Greek theater was different from modern theater is in its
cultural centrality: every citizen attended these plays. Greek plays were put on at annual
festivals (at the beginning of spring, the season of Dionysus), often for as many as 15,000
spectators at once. They dazzled viewers with their special effects, singing, and dancing,
as well as with their beautiful language. At the end of each years festivals, judges would
vote to decide which playwrights play was the best.
In these competitions, Sophocles was king. It is thought that he won the first prize
at the Athenian festival eighteen times. Far from being a tortured artist working at the
fringes of society, Sophocles was among the most popular and well-respected men of his
day. Like most good Athenians, Sophocles was involved with the political and military
affairs of Athenian democracy. He did stints as a city treasurer and as a naval officer, and
throughout his life he was a close friend of the foremost statesman of the day, Pericles. At
the same time, Sophocles wrote prolifically. He is believed to have authored 123 plays,
only seven of which have survived.
Sophocles lived a long life, but not long enough to witness the downfall of his Athens.
Toward the end of his life, Athens became entangled in a war with other city-states
jealous of its prosperity and power, a war that would end the glorious century during
which Sophocles lived. This political fall also marked an artistic fall, for the unique art of
Greek theater began to fade and eventually died. Since then, we have had nothing like it.
Nonetheless, we still try to read it, and we often misunderstand it by thinking of it in
terms of the categories and assumptions of our own arts. Greek theater still needs to be

read, but we must not forget that, because it is so alien to us, reading these plays calls not
only for analysis, but also for imagination.
Antigone was probably the first of the three Theban plays that Sophocles wrote, although
the events dramatized in it happen last. Antigone is one of the first heroines in literature, a
woman who fights against a male power structure, exhibiting greater bravery than any of
the men who scorn her. Antigone is not only a feminist play but a radical one as well,
making rebellion against authority appear splendid and noble. If we think of Antigone as
something merely ancient, we make the same error as the Nazi censors who allowed Jean
Anouilhs adaptation of Antigone to be performed, mistaking one of the most powerful
texts of the French Resistance for something harmlessly academic.
Oedipus the King (aka Oedipus Rex)
The story of Oedipus was well known to Sophocles audience. Oedipus arrives at Thebes
a stranger and finds the town under the curse of the Sphinx, who will not free the city
unless her riddle is answered. Oedipus solves the riddle and, since the king has recently
been murdered, becomes the king and marries the queen. In time, he comes to learn that
he is actually a Theban, the kings son, cast out of Thebes as a baby. He has killed his
father and married his mother. Horrified, he blinds himself and leaves Thebes forever.
The story was not invented by Sophocles. Quite the opposite: the plays most powerful
effects often depend on the fact that the audience already knows the story. Since the first
performance of Oedipus Rex, the story has fascinated critics just as it fascinated
Sophocles. Aristotle used this play and its plot as the supreme example of tragedy.
Sigmund Freud famously based his theory of the Oedipal Complex on this story,
claiming that every boy has a latent desire to kill his father and sleep with his mother. The
story of Oedipus has given birth to innumerable fascinating variations, but we should not
forget that this play is one of the variations.
Oedipus at Colonus
Beginning with the arrival of Oedipus in Colonus after years of wandering, Oedipus at
Colonus ends with Antigone setting off toward her own fate in Thebes. In and of itself,
Oedipus at Colonus is not a tragedy; it hardly even has a plot in the normal sense of the
word. Thought to have been written toward the end of Sophocles life and the conclusion
of the Golden Age of Athens, Oedipus at Colonus, the last of the Oedipus plays, is a quiet
and religious play, one that does not attempt the dramatic fireworks of the others. Written
after Antigone, the play for which it might be seen as a kind of prequel, Oedipus at
Colonus seems not to look forward to the suffering that envelops that play but back upon
it, as though it has already been surmounted.
Oedipus - The protagonist of Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus. Oedipus
becomes king of Thebes before the action of Oedipus the King begins. He is renowned
for his intelligence and his ability to solve riddleshe saved the city of Thebes and was
made its king by solving the riddle of the Sphinx, the supernatural being that had held the


city captive. Yet Oedipus is stubbornly blind to the truth about himself. His names literal
meaning (swollen foot) is the clue to his identityhe was taken from the house of
Laius as a baby and left in the mountains with his feet bound together. On his way to
Thebes, he killed his biological father, not knowing who he was, and proceeded to marry
Jocasta, his biological mother.
Jocasta - Oedipuss wife and mother, and Creons sister. Jocasta appears only in the final
scenes of Oedipus the King. In her first words, she attempts to make peace between
Oedipus and Creon, pleading with Oedipus not to banish Creon. She is comforting to her
husband and calmly tries to urge him to reject Tiresiass terrifying prophecies as false.
Jocasta solves the riddle of Oedipuss identity before Oedipus does, and she expresses her
love for her son and husband in her desire to protect him from this knowledge.
Antigone - Child of Oedipus and Jocasta, and therefore both Oedipuss daughter and his
sister. Antigone appears briefly at the end of Oedipus the King, when she says goodbye to
her father as Creon prepares to banish Oedipus. She appears at greater length in Oedipus
at Colonus, leading and caring for her old, blind father in his exile. But Antigone comes
into her own in Antigone. As that plays protagonist, she demonstrates a courage and
clarity of sight unparalleled by any other character in the three Theban plays. Whereas
other charactersOedipus, Creon, Polynicesare reluctant to acknowledge the
consequences of their actions, Antigone is unabashed in her conviction that she has done
Creon - Oedipuss brother-in-law, Creon appears more than any other character in the
three plays combined. In him more than anyone else we see the gradual rise and fall of
one mans power. Early in Oedipus the King, Creon claims to have no desire for kingship.
Yet, when he has the opportunity to grasp power at the end of that play, Creon seems
quite eager. We learn in Oedipus at Colonus that he is willing to fight with his nephews
for this power, and in Antigone Creon rules Thebes with a stubborn blindness that is
similar to Oedipuss rule. But Creon never has our sympathy in the way Oedipus does,
because he is bossy and bureaucratic, intent on asserting his own authority.
Polynices - Son of Oedipus, and thus also his brother. Polynices appears only very briefly
in Oedipus at Colonus. He arrives at Colonus seeking his fathers blessing in his battle
with his brother, Eteocles, for power in Thebes. Polynices tries to point out the similarity
between his own situation and that of Oedipus, but his words seem opportunistic rather
than filial, a fact that Oedipus points out.
Tiresias - Tiresias, the blind soothsayer of Thebes, appears in both Oedipus the King and
Antigone. In Oedipus the King, Tiresias tells Oedipus that he is the murderer he hunts,
and Oedipus does not believe him. In Antigone, Tiresias tells Creon that Creon himself is
bringing disaster upon Thebes, and Creon does not believe him. Yet, both Oedipus and
Creon claim to trust Tiresias deeply. The literal blindness of the soothsayer points to the
metaphorical blindness of those who refuse to believe the truth about themselves when
they hear it spoken.


Haemon - Creons son, who appears only in Antigone. Haemon is engaged to marry
Antigone. Motivated by his love for her, he argues with Creon about the latters decision
to punish her.
Ismene - Oedipuss daughter Ismene appears at the end of Oedipus the King and to a
limited extent in Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. Ismenes minor part underscores her
sisters grandeur and courage. Ismene fears helping Antigone bury Polynices but offers to
die beside Antigone when Creon sentences her to die. Antigone, however, refuses to
allow her sister to be martyred for something she did not have the courage to stand up for.
Theseus - The king of Athens in Oedipus at Colonus. A renowned and powerful warrior,
Theseus takes pity on Oedipus and defends him against Creon. Theseus is the only one
who knows the spot at which Oedipus descended to the underworlda secret he
promises Oedipus he will hold forever.
Chorus - Sometimes comically obtuse or fickle, sometimes perceptive, sometimes
melodramatic, the Chorus reacts to the events onstage. The Choruss reactions can be
lessons in how the audience should interpret what it is seeing, or how it should not
interpret what it is seeing.
Eurydice - Creons wife.
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Power of Unwritten Law
When Oedipus and Jocasta begin to get close to the truth about Laiuss murder, in
Oedipus the King, Oedipus fastens onto a detail in the hope of exonerating himself.
Jocasta says that she was told that Laius was killed by strangers, whereas Oedipus
knows that he acted alone when he killed a man in similar circumstances. This is an
extraordinary moment because it calls into question the entire truth-seeking process
Oedipus believes himself to be undertaking. Both Oedipus and Jocasta act as though the
servants story, once spoken, is irrefutable history. Neither can face the possibility of what
it would mean if the servant were wrong. This is perhaps why Jocasta feels she can tell
Oedipus of the prophecy that her son would kill his father, and Oedipus can tell her about
the similar prophecy given him by an oracle (867875), and neither feels compelled to
remark on the coincidence; or why Oedipus can hear the story of Jocasta binding her
childs ankles (780781) and not think of his own swollen feet. While the information in
these speeches is largely intended to make the audience painfully aware of the tragic
irony, it also emphasizes just how desperately Oedipus and Jocasta do not want to speak
the obvious truth: they look at the circumstances and details of everyday life and pretend
not to see them.
The Limits of Free Will


Prophecy is a central part of Oedipus the King. The play begins with Creons
return from the oracle at Delphi, where he has learned that the plague will be lifted if
Thebes banishes the man who killed Laius. Tiresias prophesies the capture of one who is
both father and brother to his own children. Oedipus tells Jocasta of a prophecy he heard
as a youth, that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother, and Jocasta tells
Oedipus of a similar prophecy given to Laius, that her son would grow up to kill his
father. Oedipus and Jocasta debate the extent to which prophecies should be trusted at all,
and when all of the prophecies come true, it appears that one of Sophocles aims is to
justify the powers of the gods and prophets, which had recently come under attack in
fifth-century B.C.E. Athens.
Sophocles audience would, of course, have known the story of Oedipus, which
only increases the sense of complete inevitability about how the play would end. It is
difficult to say how justly one can accuse Oedipus of being blind or foolish when he
seems to have no choice about fulfilling the prophecy: he is sent away from Thebes as a
baby and by a remarkable coincidence saved and raised as a prince in Corinth. Hearing
that he is fated to kill his father, he flees Corinth and, by a still more remarkable
coincidence, ends up back in Thebes, now king and husband in his actual fathers place.
Oedipus seems only to desire to flee his fate, but his fate continually catches up with him.
Many people have tried to argue that Oedipus brings about his catastrophe because of a
tragic flaw, but nobody has managed to create a consensus about what Oedipuss flaw
actually is. Perhaps his story is meant to show that error and disaster can happen to
anyone, that human beings are relatively powerless before fate or the gods, and that a
cautious humility is the best attitude toward life.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop
and inform the texts major themes.
Sight and Blindness
References to eyesight and vision, both literal and metaphorical, are very frequent
in all three of the Theban plays. Quite often, the image of clear vision is used as a
metaphor for knowledge and insight. In fact, this metaphor is so much a part of the Greek
way of thinking that it is almost not a metaphor at all, just as in modern English: to say I
see the truth or I see the way things are is a perfectly ordinary use of language.
However, the references to eyesight and insight in these plays form a meaningful pattern
in combination with the references to literal and metaphorical blindness. Oedipus is
famed for his clear-sightedness and quick comprehension, but he discovers that he has
been blind to the truth for many years, and then he blinds himself so as not to have to
look on his own children/siblings. Creon is prone to a similar blindness to the truth in
Antigone. Though blind, the aging Oedipus finally acquires a limited prophetic vision.
Tiresias is blind, yet he sees farther than others. Overall, the plays seem to say that human
beings can demonstrate remarkable powers of intellectual penetration and insight, and
that they have a great capacity for knowledge, but that even the smartest human being is
liable to error, that the human capability for knowledge is ultimately quite limited and


Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or
Oedipuss Swollen Foot
Oedipus gets his name, as the Corinthian messenger tells us in Oedipus the King, from
the fact that he was left in the mountains with his ankles pinned together. Jocasta explains
that Laius abandoned him in this state on a barren mountain shortly after he was born.
The injury leaves Oedipus with a vivid scar for the rest of his life. Oedipuss injury
symbolizes the way in which fate has marked him and set him apart. It also symbolizes
the way his movements have been confined and constrained since birth, by Apollos
prophecy to Laius.
The Three-way Crossroads
In Oedipus the King, Jocasta says that Laius was slain at a place where three roads meet.
This crossroads is referred to a number of times during the play, and it symbolizes the
crucial moment, long before the events of the play, when Oedipus began to fulfill the
dreadful prophecy that he would murder his father and marry his mother. A crossroads is
a place where a choice has to be made, so crossroads usually symbolize moments where
decisions will have important consequences but where different choices are still possible.
In Oedipus the King, the crossroads is part of the distant past, dimly remembered, and
Oedipus was not aware at the time that he was making a fateful decision. In this play, the
crossroads symbolizes fate and the awesome power of prophecy rather than freedom and
Plot Overview
Oedipus the King
A plague has stricken Thebes. The citizens gather outside the palace of their king,
Oedipus, asking him to take action. Oedipus replies that he already sent his brother-inlaw, Creon, to the Oracle at Delphi to learn how to help the city. Creon returns with a
message from the Oracle: the plague will end when the murderer of Laius, former king of
Thebes, is caught and expelled; the murderer is within the city. Oedipus questions Creon
about the murder of Laius, who was killed by thieves on his way to consult an oracle.
Only one of his fellow travelers escaped alive. Oedipus promises to solve the mystery of
Laiuss death, vowing to curse and drive out the murderer.
Oedipus sends for Tiresias, the blind prophet, and asks him what he knows about
the murder. Tiresias responds cryptically, lamenting his ability to see the truth when the
truth brings nothing but pain. At first he refuses to tell Oedipus what he knows. Oedipus
curses and insults the old man, going so far as to accuse him of the murder. These taunts
provoke Tiresias into revealing that Oedipus himself is the murderer. Oedipus naturally
refuses to believe Tiresiass accusation. He accuses Creon and Tiresias of conspiring
against his life, and charges Tiresias with insanity. He asks why Tiresias did nothing
when Thebes suffered under a plague once before. At that time, a Sphinx held the city
captive and refused to leave until someone answered her riddle. Oedipus brags that he
alone was able to solve the puzzle. Tiresias defends his skills as a prophet, noting that


Oedipuss parents found him trustworthy. At this mention of his parents, Oedipus, who
grew up in the distant city of Corinth, asks how Tiresias knew his parents. But Tiresias
answers enigmatically. Then, before leaving the stage, Tiresias puts forth one last riddle,
saying that the murderer of Laius will turn out to be both father and brother to his own
children, and the son of his own wife.
After Tiresias leaves, Oedipus threatens Creon with death or exile for conspiring
with the prophet. Oedipuss wife, Jocasta (also the widow of King Laius), enters and asks
why the men shout at one another. Oedipus explains to Jocasta that the prophet has
charged him with Laiuss murder, and Jocasta replies that all prophecies are false. As
proof, she notes that the Delphic oracle once told Laius he would be murdered by his son,
when in fact his son was cast out of Thebes as a baby, and Laius was murdered by a band
of thieves. Her description of Laiuss murder, however, sounds familiar to Oedipus, and
he asks further questions. Jocasta tells him that Laius was killed at a three-way
crossroads, just before Oedipus arrived in Thebes. Oedipus, stunned, tells his wife that he
may be the one who murdered Laius. He tells Jocasta that, long ago, when he was the
prince of Corinth, he overheard someone mention at a banquet that he was not really the
son of the king and queen. He therefore traveled to the Oracle of Delphi, who did not
answer him but did tell him he would murder his father and sleep with his mother.
Hearing this, Oedipus fled his home, never to return. It was then, on the journey that
would take him to Thebes that Oedipus was confronted and harassed by a group of
travelers, whom he killed in self-defense. This skirmish occurred at the very crossroads
where Laius was killed.
Oedipus sends for the man who survived the attack, a shepherd, in the hope that
he will not be identified as the murderer. Outside the palace, a messenger approaches
Jocasta and tells her that he has come from Corinth to inform Oedipus that his father,
Polybus, is dead, and that Corinth has asked Oedipus to come and rule there in his place.
Jocasta rejoices, convinced that Polybuss death from natural causes has disproved the
prophecy that Oedipus would murder his father. At Jocastas summons, Oedipus comes
outside, hears the news, and rejoices with her. He now feels much more inclined to agree
with the queen in deeming prophecies worthless and viewing chance as the principle
governing the world. But while Oedipus finds great comfort in the fact that one-half of
the prophecy has been disproved, he still fears the other halfthe half that claimed he
would sleep with his mother.
The messenger remarks that Oedipus need not worry, because Polybus and his
wife, Merope, are not Oedipuss biological parents. The messenger, a shepherd by
profession, knows firsthand that Oedipus came to Corinth as an orphan. One day long
ago, he was tending his sheep when another shepherd approached him carrying a baby, its
ankles pinned together. The messenger took the baby to the royal family of Corinth, and
they raised him as their own. That baby was Oedipus. Oedipus asks who the other
shepherd was, and the messenger answers that he was a servant of Laius.
Oedipus asks that this shepherd be brought forth to testify, but Jocasta, beginning
to suspect the truth, begs her husband not to seek more information. She runs back into
the palace. The shepherd then enters. Oedipus interrogates him, asking who gave him the
baby. The shepherd refuses to disclose anything, and Oedipus threatens him with torture.
Finally, he answers that the child came from the house of Laius. Questioned further, he
answers that the baby was in fact the child of Laius himself, and that it was Jocasta who


gave him the infant, ordering him to kill it, as it had been prophesied that the child would
kill his parents. But the shepherd pitied the child, and decided that the prophecy could be
avoided just as well if the child were to grow up in a foreign city, far from his true
parents. The shepherd therefore passed the boy on to the shepherd in Corinth.
Realizing who he is and who his parents are, Oedipus screams that he sees the
truth and flees back into the palace. The shepherd and the messenger slowly exit the
stage. A second messenger enters and describes scenes of suffering. Jocasta has hanged
herself, and Oedipus, finding her dead, has pulled the pins from her robe and stabbed out
his own eyes. Oedipus now emerges from the palace, bleeding and begging to be exiled.
He asks Creon to send him away from Thebes and to look after his daughters, Antigone
and Ismene. Creon, covetous of royal power, is all too happy to oblige.
SparkNotes Staff. SparkNote on The Oedipus Plays. 17 Aug. 2005
Oedipus Rex
Character List
Oedipus: the king of Thebes, married to Jocasta. His name means swollen foot.
Jocasta: wife of Oedipus and queen of Thebes. Before Oedipus, she was married to Laius.
Creon: Jocasta's brother, he shares one third of Thebes's riches with Oedipus and Jocasta.
Teiresias: a blind prophet who knows the truth about Oedipus's parentage.
Messenger from Corinth: he arrives to tell Oedipus that his father (the man Oedipus
believes to be his father) Polybus is dead, and that the people of Corinth would like
Oedipus to be their king. He also reveals to Oedipus that Polybus and Merop are not his
real parents. He says that long ago a stranger from Thebes gave him a baby, and that he
gave the baby to the king and queen of Corinth. This baby was, of course, Oedipus.
Shepherd: the man who gave the baby to the messenger and witness to Laius's death.
Priest: his followers are making sacrifices to the gods at the beginning of the play, hoping
that the gods will lift the blight that has struck the city.
Attendant: a servant of Oedipus and Jocasta who reveals what happened in the palace
after Oedipus discovered his parentage.
Ismene and Antigone: Oedipus's young daughters who are led out at the end of the play.
Oedipus laments the fact that they will never find husbands with such a cursed lineage
and begs Creon to take care of them.
Chorus of Theban Elders: a group of men who serve as an emotional sounding board and
exposition device in the play, reflecting on the happenings and asking questions. The


Chorus speaks as one person, although sometimes single Chorus members will deliver


Chapter 3: Theatre and Society: Historical Theatre Languages

I. Why study historical theatres?
A. The theatre that a community produces reflects its values and concerns--studying
theatre, therefore, is studying a cultures value system
B. Understanding how our theatre differs from a historical model tells us something
about our concerns and values
II. Theatre Language
A. definition: the verbal and nonverbal tools of communication used by theatre artists to
organize the audiences perceptions and to create the fictive world of the play.
B. compare to Arnolds term theatrical conventions: devices of dramatic construction and
performance that facilitate the presentation of stories on stage
III. Greek Theatre (5th century B.C.E.)
A. Social functions
1. Religious observance: theatre had sacred roots
a. worship of Dionysus (the god of nature, wine, and fertility)
b. City Dionysia=a festival held each spring to celebrate and enact the
renewal associated with Dionysus
c. actors transformation into character during plays presented at festival
paralleled the transformation nature undergoes in the spring to sustain
human life
2. Political practice: theatre and politics were interrelated institutions in 5th
century BCE Athens
a. City Dionysia was lavishly funded by the government
b. all public and private business shut down during the festival
c. the average citizen could serve the city either by military service or by
theatrical service--as member of a chorus
d. the Theoric Fund, established by Pericles in 440, made it so that citizens
received payment for all civic duties: jury service, attending council
meetings, and attending the theatre
B. Thematic interests
1. Humanitys relationship to the divine
2. The ideal social order
3. Concern with death and violence, but these acts almost always take place out
of view of the audience
C. Major playwrights
1. Aeschylus
2. Sophocles


3. Euripides
IV. Greek theatre language
A. Physical structure
1. Open-air
2. Located on a hill side for the natural angle of audience seating (15,000
3. Seating formed crescent around a circular dancing area 60-70 ft. wide called
the orchestra
4. In the middle of the orchestra was an altar at which offerings to Dionysus were
5. To the rear of the orchestra was a scene house 50-60 ft wide
B. Scenery
1. Minimal
2. The scene house was probably used as background
3. Some painted panels may have helped localize action
4. Probably playwrights words were the primary tool for designating place
C. Costume
1. Basic garment was a simple tunic pinned at the shoulder falling to the knee or
2. May have derived from robes worn by Dionysian priests
3. A cloak, either long or short, was usually worn over it
4. Lace-up boots that may have had thick platform soles
5. Some characters wore ornate headdresses
D. Mask
1. Probably the most significant costume element
2. Identified the characters age, gender, and personality
3. Enlarged facial features making them more visible
4. Enabled actor to play more than one part
5. Aided audibility of actors voice
E. Actorly behavior
1. All roles played by men
2. Actors played multiple roles
3. Simple, broad gestures that could be seen in large space
4. Facial expression not a factor due to masks
5. Emphasis on aural elements of performance--beauty and skill in vocal delivery


F. The chorus
1. Varied in size: 12-50 actors
2. Can act as a character: expressing opinions, asking questions, etc.
3. Spectators stand-in on the stage
4. Sets mood
5. Adds movement, spectacle, song, dance
V. Choices for period style
A. Emulate theatre languages of the period in which the play was written and first
B. Contemporize it: use theatre languages of the audiences period
C. Place play in a period different from the one in which the author wrote and from
which the audience is viewing it
D. Period collage: using elements of disparate periods
VI. Why emulate period style?
A. Allow a contemporary audience to hear and see the play the way the original
audience heard it
B. Immerse the audience in the feeling of another time and place
C. Preserve older performance traditions
Characteristics of Tragedy
--deals with serious subjects
--characters have to confront their own mortality
--characters come from aristocratic or noble families and usually exhibit
admirable behavior
--characters often have personality traits or make decisions that cause their
--characters act alone and take responsibility for their actions
--plots frequently involve a crisis over succession to a throne, representing a
rupture in the bonds that tie families and society together
--murder and death frequently occur at the end of tragedies as a result of the
transgression of sacred principles
--the audience often empathizes with tragic characters, identifies with their
suffering, and experiences catharsis


Antigone by Sophocles
Plot Overview
Antigone and Ismene, the daughters of Oedipus, discuss the disaster that has just
befallen them. Their brothers Polynices and Eteocles have killed one another in a battle
for control over Thebes. Creon now rules the city, and he has ordered that Polynices, who
brought a foreign army against Thebes, not be allowed proper burial rites. Creon
threatens to kill anyone who tries to bury Polynices and stations sentries over his body.
Antigone, in spite of Creons edict and without the help of her sister Ismene, resolves to
give their brother a proper burial. Soon, a nervous sentry arrives at the palace to tell
Creon that, while the sentries slept, someone gave Polynices burial rites. Creon says that
he thinks some of the dissidents of the city bribed the sentry to perform the rites, and he
vows to execute the sentry if no other suspect is found.
The sentry soon exonerates himself by catching Antigone in the act of attempting to
rebury her brother, the sentries having disinterred him. Antigone freely confesses her act
to Creon and says that he himself defies the will of the gods by refusing Polynices burial.
Creon condemns both Antigone and Ismene to death. Haemon, Creons son and
Antigones betrothed, enters the stage. Creon asks him his opinion on the issue. Haemon
seems at first to side with his father, but gradually admits his opposition to Creons
stubbornness and petty vindictiveness. Creon curses him and threatens to slay Antigone
before his very eyes. Haemon storms out. Creon decides to pardon Ismene, but vows to
kill Antigone by walling her up alive in a tomb.
The blind prophet Tiresias arrives, and Creon promises to take whatever advice he
gives. Tiresias advises that Creon allow Polynices to be buried, but Creon refuses.
Tiresias predicts that the gods will bring down curses upon the city. The words of Tiresias
strike fear into the hearts of Creon and the people of Thebes, and Creon reluctantly goes
to free Antigone from the tomb where she has been imprisoned. But his change of heart
comes too late. A messenger enters and recounts the tragic events: Creon and his
entourage first gave proper burial to Polynices, and then heard what sounded like
Haemons voice wailing from Antigones tomb. They went in and saw Antigone hanging
from a noose, and Haemon raving. Creons son then took a sword and thrust it at his
father. Missing, he turned the sword against himself and died embracing Antigones body.
Creons wife, Eurydice, hears this terrible news and rushes away into the palace. Creon
enters, carrying Haemons body and wailing against his own tyranny, which he knows
has caused his sons death. The messenger tells Creon that he has another reason to
grieve: Eurydice has stabbed herself, and, as she died, she called down curses on her
husband for the misery his pride had caused. Creon kneels and prays that he, too, might
die. His guards lead him back into the palace.
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Power of Unwritten Law--After defeating Polynices and taking the throne of Thebes,
Creon commands that Polynices be left to rot unburied, his flesh eaten by dogs and birds,
creating an obscenity for everyone to see (Antigone, 231). Creon thinks that he is

justified in his treatment of Polynices because the latter was a traitor, an enemy of the
state, and the security of the state makes all of human lifeincluding family life and
religionpossible. Therefore, to Creons way of thinking, the good of the state comes
before all other duties and values. However, the subsequent events of the play
demonstrate that some duties are more fundamental than the state and its laws. The duty
to bury the dead is part of what it means to be human, not part of what it means to be a
citizen. That is why Polynices rotting body is an obscenity rather than a crime. Moral
dutiessuch as the duties owed to the deadmake up the body of unwritten law and
tradition, the law to which Antigone appeals.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop
and inform the texts major themes.
Suicide--Almost every character that dies in the three Theban plays does so at his or her
own hand (or own will, as is the case in Oedipus at Colonus). Jocasta hangs herself in
Oedipus the King and Antigone hangs herself in Antigone. Eurydice and Haemon stab
themselves at the end of Antigone. Oedipus inflicts horrible violence on himself at the
end of his first play, and willingly goes to his own mysterious death at the end of his
second. Polynices and Eteocles die in battle with one another, and it could be argued that
Polynices death at least is self-inflicted in that he has heard his fathers curse and knows
that his cause is doomed. Incest motivates or indirectly brings about all of the deaths in
these plays.
Graves and Tombs--The plots of Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus both revolve around
burials and beliefs about burial are important in Oedipus the King as well. Polynices is
kept above ground after his death, denied a grave, and his rotting body offends the gods,
his relatives, and ancient traditions. Antigone is entombed alive, to the horror of everyone
who watches. At the end of Oedipus the King, Oedipus cannot remain in Thebes or be
buried within its territory, because his very person is polluted and offensive to the sight of
gods and men. Nevertheless, his choice, in Oedipus at Colonus, to be buried at Colonus
confers a great and mystical gift on all of Athens, promising that nation victory over
future attackers. In Ancient Greece, traitors and people who murder their own relatives
could not be buried within their citys territory, but their relatives still had an obligation to
bury them. As one of the basic, inescapable duties that people owe their relatives, burials
represent the obligations that come from kinship, as well as the conflicts that can arise
between ones duty to family and to the city-state.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or
Antigones Entombment--Creon condemns Antigone to a horrifying fate: being walled
alive inside a tomb. He intends to leave her with just enough food so that neither he nor
the citizens of Thebes will have her blood on their hands when she finally dies. Her
imprisonment in a tomb symbolizes the fact that her loyalties and feelings lie with the


deadher brothers and her fatherrather than with the living, such as Haemon or
Ismene. But her imprisonment is also a symbol of Creons lack of judgment and his
affronts to the gods. Tiresias points out that Creon commits a horrible sin by lodging a
living human being inside a grave, as he keeps a rotting body in daylight. Creons actions
against Antigone and against Polynices body show him attempting to invert the order of
nature, defying the gods by asserting his own control over their territories.
SparkNotes Staff. SparkNote on The Oedipus Plays. 17 Aug. 2005
Antigone - The play's tragic heroine. In the first moments of the play, Antigone is
opposed to her radiant sister Ismene. Unlike her beautiful and docile sister, Antigone is
scrawny, sallow, withdrawn, and recalcitrant brat.
Creon - Antigones uncle. Creon is powerfully built, but a weary and wrinkled man
suffering the burdens of rule. A practical man, he firmly distances himself from the tragic
aspirations of Oedipus and his line. As he tells Antigone, his only interest is in political
and social order. Creon is bound to ideas of good sense, simplicity, and the banal
happiness of everyday life.
Ismene - Blonde, full-figured, and radiantly beautiful, the laughing, talkative Ismene is
the good girl of the family. She is reasonable and understands her place, bowing to
Creon's edict and attempting to dissuade Antigone from her act of rebellion. As in
Sophocles' play, she is Antigone's foil. Ultimately she will recant and beg Antigone to
allow her to join her in death. Though Antigone refuses, Ismene's conversion indicates
how her resistance is contagious.
Haemon - Antigones young fianc and son to Creon. Haemon appears twice in the play.
In the first, he is rejected by Antigone; in the second, he begs his father for Antigone's
life. Creon's refusal ruins his exalted view of his father. He too refuses the happiness that
Creon offers him and follows Antigone to a tragic demise.
Nurse - A traditional figure in Greek drama, the Nurse is an addition to the Antigone
legend. She introduces an everyday, maternal element into the play that heightens the
strangeness of the tragic world. Fussy, affectionate, and reassuring, she suffers no drama
or tragedy but exists in the day-to-day tasks of caring for the two sisters. Her comforting
presence returns Antigone to her girlhood. In her arms, Antigone superstitiously invests
the Nurse with the power to ward off evil and keep her safe.
Chorus - Anouilh reduces the Chorus, who appears as narrator and commentator. The
Chorus frames the play with a prologue and epilogue, introducing the action and
characters under the sign of fatality. In presenting the tragedy, the Chorus instructs the
audience on proper spectatorship, reappearing at the tragedy's pivotal moments to
comment on the action or the nature of tragedy itself. Along with playing narrator, the


Chorus also attempts to intercede throughout the play, whether on the behalf of the
Theban people or the horrified spectators.
Jonas - The three Guardsmen are interpolations into the Antigone legend, doubles for the
rank-and-file fascist collaborators or collabos of Anouilh's day. The card-playing trio,
made all the more mindless and indistinguishable in being grouped in three, emerges
from a long stage tradition of the dull-witted police officer. They are eternally indifferent,
innocent, and ready to serve.
Second Guard - Largely indistinguishable from his cohorts, the Second Guard jeeringly
compares Antigone to an exhibitionist upon her arrest.
Third Guard - The last of the indifferent Guardsmen, he is also largely indistinguishable
from his cohorts.
Messenger - Another typical figure of Greek drama who also appears in Sophocles'
Antigone, the Messenger is a pale and solitary boy who bears the news of death. In the
prologue, he casts a menacing shadow: as the Chorus notes, he remains apart from the
others in his premonition of Haemon's death.
Page - Creon's attendant. The Page is a figure of young innocence. He sees all,
understands nothing, and is no help to anyone but one day may become either a Creon or
an Antigone in his own right.
Eurydice - Creons kind, knitting wife whose only function, as the Chorus declares, is to
knit in her room until it is her time to die. Her suicide is Creon's last punishment, leaving
him entirely alone.
Tan, Michael.
SparkNote on Antigone. 17 Aug. 2005 <>.
Chapter 4: Theatre and Society: Historical Theatre Languages (Part 2)
I. Elizabethan theatre (1570-1603)
A. Social function
1. A secular theatre
Elizabeth forbade performance of religious dramas in an effort to invest
her government with more authority
2. A professional theatre
Actors werent performing a civic duty; they were making a living
3. Theatre operated year-round, not just at a special season: more regularly
integrated into social fabric
B. Thematic Interests


1. Exploration of human possibility

2. Reflects desire of audience for moments of heightened experience: tumult of
war, myth, passionate love stories
3. Developing sense of nationalism and patriotism leads to interest in history plays
bloodshed, mutilation, murder graphically depicted on stage
C. Major playwrights
1. William Shakespeare
2. Christopher Marlowe
3. Ben Jonson
II. Elizabethan theatre language
A. Physical structure of The Globe
1. Open air
2. 20 sided (circular in appearance)
3. Stage jutted well into the yard and was visible from three sides (THRUST)
4. Stage was raised 4-6 ft off the ground
5. 3 tiers of roofed galleries surrounded the yard containing benches and boxes
6. Capacity: approximately 3000
B. Scenery
1. Main acting area=platea, or place
2. Minimal use of set pieces to alter platea
3. Places were depicted largely through the playwrights words
C. Costume
1. Probably the most elaborate visual element
2. Most actors wore contemporary dress regardless of the period depicted in the
3. As costly and elegant as the player/company could afford--often cast-offs from
D. Actorly behavior
1. Men play all roles
2. Proximity of audience made broad gestures and exaggerated speech unnecessary
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
The Tempest probably was written in 16101611, and was first performed at Court by the
Kings Men in the fall of 1611. It was performed again in the winter of 16121613 during
the festivities in celebration of the marriage of King Jamess daughter Elizabeth. The
Tempest is most likely the last play written entirely by Shakespeare, and it is remarkable
for being one of only two plays by Shakespeare (the other being Loves Labors Lost)
whose plot is entirely original. The play does, however, draw on travel literature of its
timemost notably the accounts of a tempest off the Bermudas that separated and nearly
wrecked a fleet of colonial ships sailing from Plymouth to Virginia. The English colonial
project seems to be on Shakespeares mind throughout The Tempest, as almost every

character, from the lord Gonzalo to the drunk Stephano, ponders how he would rule the
island on which the play is set if he were its king. Shakespeare seems also to have drawn
on Montaignes essay Of the Cannibals, which was translated into English in 1603. The
name of Prosperos servant-monster, Caliban, seems to be an anagram or derivative of
The extraordinary flexibility of Shakespeares stage is given particular prominence in The
Tempest. Stages of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period were for the most part bare and
simple. There was little on-stage scenery, and the possibilities for artificial lighting were
limited. The Kings Men in 1612 were performing both at the outdoor Globe Theatre and
the indoor Blackfriars Theatre and their plays would have had to work in either venue.
Therefore, much dramatic effect was left up to the minds of the audience. We see a
particularly good example of this in The Tempest, Act II, scene i when Gonzalo,
Sebastian, and Antonio argue whether the island is beautiful or barren. The bareness of
the stage would have allowed either option to be possible in the audiences mind at any
given moment.
At the same time, The Tempest includes stage directions for a number of elaborate special
effects. The many pageants and songs accompanied by ornately costumed figures or
stage-magicfor example, the banquet in Act III, scene iii, or the wedding celebration
for Ferdinand and Miranda in Act IV, scene igive the play the feeling of a masque, a
highly stylized form of dramatic, musical entertainment popular among the aristocracy of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is perhaps the tension between simple stage
effects and very elaborate and surprising ones that gives the play its eerie and dreamlike
quality, making it seem rich and complex even though it is one of Shakespeares shortest,
most simply constructed plays.
It is tempting to think of The Tempest as Shakespeares farewell to the stage because of
its theme of a great magician giving up his art. Indeed, we can interpret Prosperos
reference to the dissolution of the great globe itself (IV.i.153) as an allusion to
Shakespeares theatre. However, Shakespeare is known to have collaborated on at least
two other plays after The Tempest: The Two Noble Kinsmen and Henry VIII in 1613, both
probably written with John Fletcher. A performance of the latter was, in fact, the occasion
for the actual dissolution of the Globe. A cannon fired during the performance
accidentally ignited the thatch, and the theater burned to the ground.
Prospero - The plays protagonist, and father of Miranda. Twelve years before the events
of the play, Prospero was the duke of Milan. His brother, Antonio, in concert with Alonso,
king of Naples, usurped him, forcing him to flee in a boat with his daughter. The honest
lord Gonzalo aided Prospero in his escape. Prospero has spent his twelve years on the
island refining the magic that gives him the power he needs to punish and forgive his
Miranda - The daughter of Prospero, Miranda was brought to the island at an early age
and has never seen any men other than her father and Caliban, though she dimly
remembers being cared for by female servants as an infant. Because she has been sealed


off from the world for so long, Mirandas perceptions of other people tend to be nave and
non-judgmental. She is compassionate, generous, and loyal to her father.
Ariel - Prosperos spirit helper. Ariel is referred to throughout this SparkNote and in most
criticism as he, but his gender and physical form are ambiguous. Rescued by Prospero
from a long imprisonment at the hands of the witch Sycorax, Ariel is Prosperos servant
until Prospero decides to release him. He is mischievous and ubiquitous, able to traverse
the length of the island in an instant and to change shapes at will. He carries out virtually
every task that Prospero needs accomplished in the play.
Caliban - Another of Prosperos servants. Caliban, the son of the now-deceased witch
Sycorax, acquainted Prospero with the island when Prospero arrived. Caliban believes
that the island rightfully belongs to him and has been stolen by Prospero. His speech and
behavior is sometimes coarse and brutal, as in his drunken scenes with Stephano and
Trinculo (II.ii, IV.i), and sometimes eloquent and sensitive, as in his rebukes of Prospero
in Act I, scene ii, and in his description of the eerie beauty of the island in Act III, scene ii
Ferdinand - Son and heir of Alonso. Ferdinand seems in some ways to be as pure and
nave as Miranda. He falls in love with her upon first sight and happily submits to
servitude in order to win her fathers approval.
Alonso - King of Naples and father of Ferdinand. Alonso aided Antonio in unseating
Prospero as Duke of Milan twelve years before. As he appears in the play, however, he is
acutely aware of the consequences of all his actions. He blames his decision to marry his
daughter to the Prince of Tunis on the apparent death of his son. In addition, after the
magical banquet, he regrets his role in the usurping of Prospero.
Antonio - Prosperos brother. Antonio quickly demonstrates that he is power-hungry and
foolish. In Act II, scene i, he persuades Sebastian to kill the sleeping Alonso. He then
goes along with Sebastians absurd story about fending off lions when Gonzalo wakes up
and catches Antonio and Sebastian with their swords drawn.
Sebastian - Alonsos brother. Like Antonio, he is both aggressive and cowardly. He is
easily persuaded to kill his brother in Act II, scene i, and he initiates the ridiculous story
about lions when Gonzalo catches him with his sword drawn.
Gonzalo - An old, honest lord, Gonzalo helped Prospero and Miranda to escape after
Antonio usurped Prosperos title. Gonzalos speeches provide an important commentary
on the events of the play, as he remarks on the beauty of the island when the stranded
party first lands, then on the desperation of Alonso after the magic banquet, and on the
miracle of the reconciliation in Act V, scene i.
Trinculo & Stephano - Trinculo, a jester, and Stephano, a drunken butler, are two minor
members of the shipwrecked party. They provide a comic foil to the other, more powerful
pairs of Prospero and Alonso and Antonio and Sebastian. Their drunken boasting and


petty greed reflect and deflate the quarrels and power struggles of Prospero and the other
Boatswain - Appearing only in the first and last scenes, the Boatswain is vigorously
good-natured. He seems competent and almost cheerful in the shipwreck scene,
demanding practical help rather than weeping and praying. And he seems surprised but
not stunned when he awakens from a long sleep at the end of the play.
Plot Summary
A storm strikes a ship carrying Alonso, Ferdinand, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo,
Stephano, and Trinculo, who are on their way to Italy after coming from the wedding of
Alonsos daughter, Claribel, to the prince of Tunis in Africa. The royal party and the other
mariners, with the exception of the unflappable Boatswain, begin to fear for their lives.
Lightning cracks, and the mariners cry that the ship has been hit. Everyone prepares to
The next scene begins much more quietly. Miranda and Prospero stand on the shore of
their island, looking out to sea at the recent shipwreck. Miranda asks her father to do
anything he can to help the poor souls in the ship. Prospero assures her that everything is
all right and then informs her that it is time she learned more about herself and her past.
He reveals to her that he orchestrated the shipwreck and tells her the lengthy story of her
past, a story he has often started to tell her before but never finished. The story goes that
Prospero was the Duke of Milan until his brother Antonio, conspiring with Alonso, the
King of Naples, usurped his position. Kidnapped and left to die on a raft at sea, Prospero
and his daughter survive because Gonzalo leaves them supplies and Prosperos books,
which are the source of his magic and power. Prospero and his daughter arrived on the
island where they remain now and have been for twelve years. Only now, Prospero says,
has Fortune at last sent his enemies his way, and he has raised the tempest in order to
make things right with them once and for all.
After telling this story, Prospero charms Miranda to sleep and then calls forth his familiar
spirit Ariel, his chief magical agent. Prospero and Ariels discussion reveals that Ariel
brought the tempest upon the ship and set fire to the mast. He then made sure that
everyone got safely to the island, though they are now separated from each other into
small groups. Ariel, who is a captive servant to Prospero, reminds his master that he has
promised Ariel freedom a year early if he performs tasks such as these without complaint.
Prospero chastises Ariel for protesting and reminds him of the horrible fate from which
he was rescued. Before Prospero came to the island, a witch named Sycorax imprisoned
Ariel in a tree. Sycorax died, leaving Ariel trapped until Prospero arrived and freed him.
After Ariel assures Prospero that he knows his place, Prospero orders Ariel to take the
shape of a sea nymph and make himself invisible to all but Prospero.
Miranda awakens from her sleep, and she and Prospero go to visit Caliban, Prosperos
servant and the son of the dead Sycorax. Caliban curses Prospero, and Prospero and
Miranda berate him for being ungrateful for what they have given and taught him.
Prospero sends Caliban to fetch firewood. Ariel, invisible, enters playing music and
leading in the awed Ferdinand. Miranda and Ferdinand are immediately smitten with
each other. He is the only man Miranda has ever seen, besides Caliban and her father.

Prospero is happy to see that his plan for his daughters future marriage is working, but
decides that he must upset things temporarily in order to prevent their relationship from
developing too quickly. He accuses Ferdinand of merely pretending to be the Prince of
Naples and threatens him with imprisonment. When Ferdinand draws his sword, Prospero
charms him and leads him off to prison, ignoring Mirandas cries for mercy. He then
sends Ariel on another mysterious mission.
On another part of the island, Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, and other
miscellaneous lords give thanks for their safety but worry about the fate of Ferdinand.
Alonso says that he wishes he never had married his daughter to the prince of Tunis
because if he had not made this journey, his son would still be alive. Gonzalo tries to
maintain high spirits by discussing the beauty of the island, but his remarks are undercut
by the sarcastic sourness of Antonio and Sebastian. Ariel appears, invisible, and plays
music that puts all but Sebastian and Antonio to sleep. These two then begin to discuss
the possible advantages of killing their sleeping companions. Antonio persuades
Sebastian that the latter will become ruler of Naples if they kill Alonso. Claribel, who
would be the next heir if Ferdinand were indeed dead, is too far away to be able to claim
her right. Sebastian is convinced, and the two are about to stab the sleeping men when
Ariel causes Gonzalo to wake with a shout. Everyone wakes up, and Antonio and
Sebastian concoct a ridiculous story about having drawn their swords to protect the king
from lions. Ariel goes back to Prospero while Alonso and his party continue to search for
Caliban, meanwhile, is hauling wood for Prospero when he sees Trinculo and thinks he is
a spirit sent by Prospero to torment him. He lies down and hides under his cloak. A storm
is brewing, and Trinculo, curious about but undeterred by Calibans strange appearance
and smell, crawls under the cloak with him. Stephano, drunk and singing, comes along
and stumbles upon the bizarre spectacle of Caliban and Trinculo huddled under the cloak.
Caliban, hearing the singing, cries out that he will work faster so long as the spirits
leave him alone. Stephano decides that this monster requires liquor and attempts to get
Caliban to drink. Trinculo recognizes his friend Stephano and calls out to him. Soon the
three are sitting up together and drinking. Caliban quickly becomes an enthusiastic
drinker, and begins to sing.
Prospero puts Ferdinand to work hauling wood. Ferdinand finds his labor pleasant
because it is for Mirandas sake. Miranda, thinking that her father is asleep, tells
Ferdinand to take a break. The two flirt with one another. Miranda proposes marriage,
and Ferdinand accepts. Prospero has been on stage most of the time, unseen, and he is
pleased with this development.
Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban are now drunk and raucous and are made all the more so
by Ariel, who comes to them invisibly and provokes them to fight with one another by
impersonating their voices and taunting them. Caliban grows more and more fervent in
his boasts that he knows how to kill Prospero. He even tells Stephano that he can bring
him to where Prospero is sleeping. He proposes that they kill Prospero, take his daughter,
and set Stephano up as king of the island. Stephano thinks this a good plan, and the three
prepare to set off to find Prospero. They are distracted, however, by the sound of music


that Ariel plays on his flute and tabor-drum, and they decide to follow this music before
executing their plot.
Alonso, Gonzalo, Sebastian, and Antonio grow weary from traveling and pause to rest.
Antonio and Sebastian secretly plot to take advantage of Alonso and Gonzalos
exhaustion, deciding to kill them in the evening. Prospero, probably on the balcony of the
stage and invisible to the men, causes a banquet to be set out by strangely shaped spirits.
As the men prepare to eat, Ariel appears like a harpy and causes the banquet to vanish.
He then accuses the men of supplanting Prospero and says that it was for this sin that
Alonsos son, Ferdinand, has been taken. He vanishes, leaving Alonso feeling vexed and
Prospero now softens toward Ferdinand and welcomes him into his family as the soon-tobe-husband of Miranda. He sternly reminds Ferdinand, however, that Mirandas virginknot (IV.i.15) is not to be broken until the wedding has been officially solemnized.
Prospero then asks Ariel to call forth some spirits to perform a masque for Ferdinand and
Miranda. The spirits assume the shapes of Ceres, Juno, and Iris and perform a short
masque celebrating the rites of marriage and the bounty of the earth. A dance of reapers
and nymphs follows but is interrupted when Prospero suddenly remembers that he still
must stop the plot against his life.
He sends the spirits away and asks Ariel about Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban. Ariel
tells his master of the three mens drunken plans. He also tells how he led the men with
his music through prickly grass and briars and finally into a filthy pond near Prosperos
cell. Ariel and Prospero then set a trap by hanging beautiful clothing in Prosperos cell.
Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban enter looking for Prospero and, finding the beautiful
clothing, decide to steal it. They are immediately set upon by a pack of spirits in the
shape of dogs and hounds, driven on by Prospero and Ariel.
Prospero uses Ariel to bring Alonso and the others before him. He then sends Ariel to
bring the Boatswain and the mariners from where they sleep on the wrecked ship.
Prospero confronts Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian with their treachery, but tells them
that he forgives them. Alonso tells him of having lost Ferdinand in the tempest and
Prospero says that he recently lost his own daughter. Clarifying his meaning, he draws
aside a curtain to reveal Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess. Alonso and his
companions are amazed by the miracle of Ferdinands survival, and Miranda is stunned
by the sight of people unlike any she has seen before. Ferdinand tells his father about his
Ariel returns with the Boatswain and mariners. The Boatswain tells a story of having
been awakened from a sleep that had apparently lasted since the tempest. At Prosperos
bidding, Ariel releases Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano, who then enter wearing their
stolen clothing. Prospero and Alonso command them to return it and to clean up
Prosperos cell. Prospero invites Alonso and the others to stay for the night so that he can
tell them the tale of his life in the past twelve years. After this, the group plans to return
to Italy. Prospero, restored to his dukedom, will retire to Milan. Prospero gives Ariel one
final taskto make sure the seas are calm for the return voyagebefore setting him free.


Finally, Prospero delivers an epilogue to the audience, asking them to forgive him for his
wrongdoing and set him free by applauding.

The Illusion of Justice--The Tempest tells a fairly straightforward story involving an
unjust act, the usurpation of Prosperos throne by his brother, and Prosperos quest to reestablish justice by restoring himself to power. However, the idea of justice that the play
works toward seems highly subjective, since this idea represents the view of one
character who controls the fate of all the other characters. Though Prospero presents
himself as a victim of injustice working to right the wrongs that have been done to him,
Prosperos idea of justice and injustice is somewhat hypocriticalthough he is furious
with his brother for taking his power, he has no qualms about enslaving Ariel and Caliban
in order to achieve his ends. At many moments throughout the play, Prosperos sense of
justice seems extremely one-sided and mainly involves what is good for Prospero.
Moreover, because the play offers no notion of higher order or justice to supersede
Prosperos interpretation of events, the play is morally ambiguous.
As the play progresses, however, it becomes more and more involved with the idea of
creativity and art, and Prosperos role begins to mirror more explicitly the role of an
author creating a story around him. With this metaphor in mind, and especially if we
accept Prospero as a surrogate for Shakespeare himself, Prosperos sense of justice begins
to seem, if not perfect, at least sympathetic. Moreover, the means he uses to achieve his
idea of justice mirror the machinations of the artist, who also seeks to enable others to see
his view of the world. Playwrights arrange their stories in such a way that their own idea
of justice is imposed upon events. In The Tempest, the author is in the play, and the fact
that he establishes his idea of justice and creates a happy ending for all the characters
becomes a cause for celebration, not criticism.
By using magic and tricks that echo the special effects and spectacles of the theater,
Prospero gradually persuades the other characters and the audience of the rightness of his
case. As he does so, the ambiguities surrounding his methods slowly resolve themselves.
Prospero forgives his enemies, releases his slaves, and relinquishes his magic power, so
that, at the end of the play, he is only an old man whose work has been responsible for all
the audiences pleasure. The establishment of Prosperos idea of justice becomes less a
commentary on justice in life than on the nature of morality in art. Happy endings are
possible, Shakespeare seems to say, because the creativity of artists can create them, even
if the moral values that establish the happy ending originate from nowhere but the
imagination of the artist.
The Difficulty of Distinguishing Men from Monsters--Upon seeing Ferdinand for the
first time, Miranda says that he is the third man that eer I saw (I.ii.449). The other two
are, presumably, Prospero and Caliban. In their first conversation with Caliban, however,
Miranda and Prospero say very little that shows they consider him to be human. Miranda
reminds Caliban that before she taught him language, he gabbled like / A thing most
brutish (I.ii.359360) and Prospero says that he gave Caliban human care (I.ii.349),


implying that this was something Caliban ultimately did not deserve. Calibans exact
nature continues to be slightly ambiguous later. In Act IV, scene i, reminded of Calibans
plot, Prospero refers to him as a devil, a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never
stick (IV.i.188189). Miranda and Prospero both have contradictory views of Calibans
humanity. On the one hand, they think that their education of him has lifted him from his
formerly brutish status. On the other hand, they seem to see him as inherently brutish. His
devilish nature can never be overcome by nurture, according to Prospero. Miranda
expresses a similar sentiment in Act I, scene ii: thy vile race, / Though thou didst learn,
had that int which good natures / Could not abide to be with (I.ii.361363). The
inhuman part of Caliban drives out the human part, the good nature, that is imposed on
Caliban claims that he was kind to Prospero, and that Prospero repaid that kindness by
imprisoning him (see I.ii.347). In contrast, Prospero claims that he stopped being kind to
Caliban once Caliban had tried to rape Miranda (I.ii.347351). Which character the
audience decides to believe depends on whether it views Caliban as inherently brutish, or
as made brutish by oppression. The play leaves the matter ambiguous. Caliban balances
all of his eloquent speeches, such as his curses in Act I, scene ii and his speech about the
isles noises in Act III, scene ii, with the most degrading kind of drunken, servile
behavior. But Trinculos speech upon first seeing Caliban (II.ii.1838), the longest speech
in the play, reproaches too harsh a view of Caliban and blurs the distinction between men
and monsters. In England, which he visited once, Trinculo says, Caliban could be shown
off for money: There would this monster make a man. Any strange beast there makes a
man. When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a
dead Indian (II.ii.2831). What seems most monstrous in these sentences is not the
dead Indian, or any strange beast, but the cruel voyeurism of those who capture and
gape at them.
The Allure of Ruling a Colony--The nearly uninhabited island presents the sense of
infinite possibility to almost everyone who lands there. Prospero has found it, in its
isolation, an ideal place to school his daughter. Sycorax, Calibans mother, worked her
magic there after she was exiled from Algeria. Caliban, once alone on the island, now
Prosperos slave, laments that he had been his own king (I.ii.344345). As he attempts to
comfort Alonso, Gonzalo imagines a utopian society on the island, over which he would
rule (II.i.148156). In Act III, scene ii, Caliban suggests that Stephano kill Prospero, and
Stephano immediately envisions his own reign: Monster, I will kill this man. His
daughter and I will be King and Queensave our graces!and Trinculo and thyself shall
be my viceroys (III.ii.101103). Stephano particularly looks forward to taking
advantage of the spirits that make noises on the isle; they will provide music for his
kingdom for free. All these characters envision the island as a space of freedom and
unrealized potential.
The tone of the play, however, toward the hopes of the would-be colonizers is vexed at
best. Gonzalos utopian vision in Act II, scene i is undercut by a sharp retort from the
usually foolish Sebastian and Antonio. When Gonzalo says that there would be no
commerce or work or sovereignty in his society, Sebastian replies, yet he would be
king ont, and Antonio adds, The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the


beginning (II.i.156157). Gonzalos fantasy thus involves him ruling the island while
seeming not to rule it, and in this he becomes a kind of parody of Prospero.
While there are many representatives of the colonial impulse in the play, the colonized
have only one representative: Caliban. We might develop sympathy for him at first, when
Prospero seeks him out merely to abuse him, and when we see him tormented by spirits.
However, this sympathy is made more difficult by his willingness to abase himself before
Stephano in Act II, scene ii. Even as Caliban plots to kill one colonial master (Prospero)
in Act III, scene ii, he sets up another (Stephano). The urge to rule and the urge to be
ruled seem inextricably intertwined.

Motifs Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to
develop and inform the texts major themes.
Masters and Servants--Nearly every scene in the play either explicitly or implicitly
portrays a relationship between a figure that possesses power and a figure that is subject
to that power. The play explores the master-servant dynamic most harshly in cases in
which the harmony of the relationship is threatened or disrupted, as by the rebellion of a
servant or the ineptitude of a master. For instance, in the opening scene, the servant (the
Boatswain) is dismissive and angry toward his masters (the noblemen), whose
ineptitude threatens to lead to a shipwreck in the storm. From then on, master-servant
relationships like these dominate the play: Prospero and Caliban; Prospero and Ariel;
Alonso and his nobles; the nobles and Gonzalo; Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban; and so
forth. The play explores the psychological and social dynamics of power relationships
from a number of contrasting angles, such as the generally positive relationship between
Prospero and Ariel, the generally negative relationship between Prospero and Caliban,
and the treachery in Alonsos relationship to his nobles.
Water and Drowning--The play is awash with references to water. The Mariners enter
wet in Act I, scene i, and Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo enter all wet, after being
led by Ariel into a swampy lake (IV.i.193). Mirandas fear for the lives of the sailors in
the wild waters (I.ii.2) causes her to weep. Alonso, believing his son dead because of
his own actions against Prospero, decides in Act III, scene iii to drown himself. His
language is echoed by Prospero in Act V, scene i when the magician promises that, once
he has reconciled with his enemies, deeper than did ever plummet sound / Ill drown my
book (V.i.5657).
These are only a few of the references to water in the play. Occasionally, the references to
water are used to compare characters. For example, the echo of Alonsos desire to drown
himself in Prosperos promise to drown his book calls attention to the similarity of the
sacrifices each man must make. Alonso must be willing to give up his life in order to
become truly penitent and to be forgiven for his treachery against Prospero. Similarly, in
order to rejoin the world he has been driven from, Prospero must be willing to give up his
magic and his power.


Perhaps the most important overall effect of this water motif is to heighten the symbolic
importance of the tempest itself. It is as though the water from that storm runs through
the language and action of the entire playjust as the tempest itself literally and crucially
affects the lives and actions of all the characters.
Mysterious Noises--The isle is indeed, as Caliban says, full of noises (III.ii.130). The
play begins with a tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning (I.i.1, stage direction),
and the splitting of the ship is signaled in part by a confused noise within (I.i.54, stage
direction). Much of the noise of the play is musical, and much of the music is Ariels.
Ferdinand is led to Miranda by Ariels music. Ariels music also wakes Gonzalo just as
Antonio and Sebastian are about to kill Alonso in Act II, scene i. Moreover, the magical
banquet of Act III, scene iii is laid out to the tune of Solemn and strange music
(III.iii.18, stage direction), and Juno and Ceres sing in the wedding masque (IV.i.106
The noises, sounds, and music of the play are made most significant by Calibans speech
about the noises of the island at III.ii.130138. Shakespeare shows Caliban in the thrall of
magic, which the theater audience also experiences as the illusion of thunder, rain,
invisibility. The action of The Tempest is very simple. What gives the play most of its
hypnotic, magical atmosphere is the series of dreamlike events it stages, such as the
tempest, the magical banquet, and the wedding masque. Accompanied by music, these
present a feast for the eye and the ear and convince us of the magical glory of Prosperos
enchanted isle.
The Tempest--The tempest that begins the play, and which puts all of Prosperos enemies
at his disposal, symbolizes the suffering Prospero endured, and which he wants to inflict
on others. All of those shipwrecked are put at the mercy of the sea, just as Prospero and
his infant daughter were twelve years ago, when some loyal friends helped them out to
sea in a ragged little boat (see I.ii.144151). Prospero must make his enemies suffer as he
has suffered so that they will learn from their suffering, as he has from his. The tempest is
also a symbol of Prosperos magic, and of the frightening, potentially malevolent side of
his power.
The Game of Chess--The object of chess is to capture the king. That, at the simplest level,
is the symbolic significance of Prospero revealing Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess
in the final scene. Prospero has caught the kingAlonsoand reprimanded him for his
treachery. In doing so, Prospero has married Alonsos son to his own daughter without the
kings knowledge, a deft political maneuver that assures Alonsos support because Alonso
will have no interest in upsetting a dukedom to which his own son is heir. This is the final
move in Prosperos plot, which began with the tempest. He has maneuvered the different
passengers of Alonsos ship around the island with the skill of a great chess player.
Caught up in their game, Miranda and Ferdinand also symbolize something ominous
about Prosperos power. They do not even notice the others staring at them for a few
lines. Sweet lord, you play me false, Miranda says, and Ferdinand assures her that he
would not for the world do so (V.i.174176). The theatrical tableau is almost too


perfect: Ferdinand and Miranda, suddenly and unexpectedly revealed behind a curtain,
playing chess and talking gently of love and faith, seem entirely removed from the world
around them. Though he has promised to relinquish his magic, Prospero still seems to see
his daughter as a mere pawn in his game.
Prosperos Books--Like the tempest, Prosperos books are a symbol of his power.
Remember / First to possess his books, Caliban says to Stephano and Trinculo, for
without them / Hes but a sot (III.ii.8688). The books are also, however, a symbol of
Prosperos dangerous desire to withdraw entirely from the world. It was his devotion to
study that put him at the mercy of his ambitious brother, and it is this same devotion to
study that has made him content to raise Miranda in isolation. Yet, Mirandas isolation
has made her ignorant of where she came from (see I.ii.3336), and Prosperos own
isolation provides him with little company. In order to return to the world where his
knowledge means something more than power, Prospero must let go of his magic.
SparkNotes Editors. SparkNote on The Tempest. SparkNotes LLC. 2002. (accessed December 13, 2012).