“Play the Men”: A Study of Pedagogy in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest
Boyko, Wesley Michael
In this paper I consider the theatricality as a mimetic mode in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I aim to explore how various scenes of pedagogy and misprision intersect with each other at the site of hierarchy and the regulation of social roles—and also how these instances correspond to humanist practices of imitation which dominated the educational institutions of the Renaissance. I find that the social relationships among the characters frequently develop as pedagogical relationships, with the teachers of the play, most notably Prospero, Gonzalo, and Stephano, securing and reinforcing social order through their teachings. These lessons depict a certain theatricality of social order, by which several characters come to ‘learn’ and perform their appointed roles in society. In the latter half of my analysis, though, I look at the moments where the regulation of social scripts proves to not be totalizing and begins to break down. Sebastian, Antonio, and Caliban are all characters/students who mishear the lessons imposed upon them and obtain a certain amount of freedom to renegotiate their positions in society. I also turn to Jacques Lacan’s theories of metaphor for insight into this process of misprision and how characters are able to deviate from their assigned scripts while still being implicated in the theatricality of social order. I conclude that the themes of pedagogy, imitation, and misprision all compose a major part of characterization throughout The Tempest, and to appreciate the play’s representation of social dynamics, we must likewise reflect upon these questions of theatricality.