Dryden's Adaptation of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'

Term Paper, 2006

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introductory remarks – adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays

2. Shakespeare in the Restoration period
2.1 Restoration drama
2.2 Restoration theatres and performances

3. Dryden’s adaptation of The Tempest
3.1 The Tempest, or the Enchanted Island
3.2 What is different in the “new” Tempest ?
3.2.2 Major changes with regard to plot and characters
3.2.3 Themes differing from the original
3.2.4 English opera – an example of a different staging by means of new theatrical facilities
3.2.5 Dryden’s language and style

4. Dryden as the better Shakespeare? – an attempt at a conclusion



1. Introductory remarks – adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays

In the course of the last four centuries many authors have made good use of Shakespeare’s wealth of ideas and his unique style of elaborate and figurative writing, be it in the form of adopting Shakespearean thoughts in order to create new literary works or by adapting one or several of the genius’ plays and thus making Shakespeare accessible to a particular contemporary audience. The latter applies to John Dryden who tried to reinvent The Tempest for the Restoration public at large.

This term paper is intended to examine in how far Dryden managed to contribute his own ideas to this adaptation without neglecting the basic framework of Shakespeare’s Tempest. First, I will concentrate on the Restoration period itself and the repercussions on drama and theatrical performances that the re-establishment of the monarchy involved. On second thoughts I will draw attention to Dryden’s adaptation of the Tempest; in particular, I will try to analyze and elucidate to what extent it differs from the original with regard to plot, staging possibilities and language.

2. Shakespeare in the Restoration period

When in 1660 the son of the former King Charles I was proclaimed King of England as Charles II, monarchy, that is to say the Stuart dynasty, was restored in a country that had had to bear atrocious years of civil war between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads as well as an unstable Commonwealth under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. In the course of this restoration process all laws and resolutions passed between 1642 and 1660 were abrogated, including the closing down of theatres and the ban on all plays initiated by the Puritans in 1642. As a result of this quondam prohibition of theatrical performances, the only possibility to preserve the artistic value of plays was to perform in secret. But as only few people dared to expose themselves to imminent punishment on account of infringing the law, Shakespeare and all other playwrights fell into oblivion (cf. Taylor 7-10).

2.1 Restoration drama

The Restoration took place on a literary level as well. Therefore, the re-establishment of the monarchy could be considered to mark a kind of resurrection, or rather reinvention of Shakespeare and his legacy. Hence, the old English maxim “The king is dead; long live the king.” (Taylor 13) could be turned into “Shakespeare is dead; long live Shakespeare.” This new emerging principle points out that Shakespeare was revived after 1660; nevertheless, he had to be invented or considered in a new way in order to match the needs and wants of the Restoration audience. In other words: Restoration plays had to be different in contrast to Elizabethan and Jacobean drama – and they really differed from these older dramatic models.

At the beginning of the Restoration period, stagings of old, popular plays, among them Shakespeare’s works, were preferred to the staging of new plays – on the one hand due to a lack of new productions in the early Restoration era, on the other hand in order to create a nostalgic atmosphere by reviving the glorious past, or just because these plays guaranteed success because they had been successful in pre-Restoration times.

However, over the years, ideas for new plays crystallized into what is now known as the “comedy of manners”. These comedies dealt with immorality, loose-living, love and lust as well as with sex, intrigues and revenge; but the term “comedies of manners” rather stems from the fact that they reflected the manners of those people who had returned with King Charles II from his exile in France, or rather the habits of the upper classes of society, which the plays frequently made fun of. In this connection, the role of France was that of a dramatic pioneer and influential source. The restored king had come into contact with the court of the French King Louis XIV where he was introduced to the rather sophisticated French drama. Being taken with the overwhelming plays Charles II thus transferred their wit and stylishness to England in general, to the English drama in particular (cf. Carter and McRae 67). It follows that from now on English dramatists attempting to attract attention relied on French – in some cases even on Spanish – dramatic modes and models.

2.2 Restoration theatres and performances

In 1660, Charles II resuscitated English theatre by conferring two theatrical monopolies, that is to say only two licensed theatres were allowed to stage plays. He commissioned two noblemen, Thomas Killigrew and William Davenant, old adherents of the former King Charles I, to set up – each of them – a players’ company. Accordingly, Killigrew founded the King’s Company which performed at the Theatre Royal, whereas Davenant, whose godfather was Shakespeare himself (cf. Taylor 14), paved the way for the Duke’s Company at Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, from now on also known as “The Duke’s Theatre” (cf. Bimberg 9). Since Davenant had more success with his stagings of Shakespearean plays than Killigrew could attain by means of staging plays of dramatists different from Shakespeare, a strong rivalry between the two actors’ companies dominated the first part of the Restoration.

In contrast to the partially covered Elizabethan and Jacobean playhouses, where daytime performances had taken place on a stage that could offer neither a scenery nor special costumes, Restoration theatres changed radically in that former tennis courts were transformed into fully-roofed custom-built edifices with decreasing capacities, which in turn led to an increase in prices in order to guarantee the companies’ further existence; the audience that wanted to attend the performances – mostly taking place in the evening and thus lit by candles and candelabras (cf. Raddadi 34) – could take a seat either in the pits, the boxes, or the upper galleries (see appendix). Moreover, a Restoration playhouse could be distinguished from earlier theatres by a smaller stage that was divided into a proscenium in the foreground, on which the “outdoor” action was performed, and a rear stage, separated from the proscenium by a proscenium arch and used for scenic action. To both sides of the proscenium stage two balconies could be found above four proscenium doors, through which the actors usually entered and left the stage. Behind the stage itself, tiring rooms for the actors to have a rest and to rehearse their parts could be found as well as scene rooms where the scenery and the stage properties were constructed and stored (cf. Raddadi 25-26).

Furthermore, scenery began to play a part of its own for the first time. Flats were painted on wings and backshutters. “The wings were arranged in pairs behind the proscenium arch, and were often stationary but could at times slide in grooves. Each backshutter was capable of opening in the middle or sliding aside to reveal a new ‘scene’ on another backshutter or further back on a relieve” (Raddadi 25-26). This means that from now on the performances could profit by a variable and movable scenery, an innovation that was first used by William Davenant. That is to say performances on the Restoration stage could be accounted to depict a new “pictorial representation of place” (Taylor 15). The novel type of adjustable scenery was for the most part made up of stock flats that were used whenever “islands, castles, woods, and the like” (Raddadi 27) had to be displayed. Besides, the Restoration period saw the sustainable introduction of theatrical machines significant of emphasizing staging effects. As a result, all these newly introduced facilities led to highly decorated and ornamental productions; additionally, these mise en scènes were closer to reality, a change that was likewise accentuated by the fact that men no longer played women’s roles but that the latter themselves became professional actresses as it was the custom in French theatre; according to Wagner a “more realistic sexual atmosphere” (35) was therefore introduced on stage.

Moreover, not only theatre itself changed in the Restoration period, but a new kind of audience could be seen to emerge, too. Whereas in Elizabethan and Jacobean times all social classes had been offered the possibility of theatre-going, theatre “now became a monopoly of the upper class and the court” (Wagner 35) as well as a place of political intrigues. This does not mean to say that the lower and middle classes of society did not have access to performances, but they simply could not afford the rising prices; in addition, plays were for the most part performed according to the tastes of the court and the upper classes. These contributed themselves to the development of the Restoration theatre in that they watched, formed and supported theatre and players’ companies by means of patronage. That is to say, a vivid interaction between the court and the stage could be observed, not least because King Charles II himself was very involved in theatrical renewal as critic, connoisseur and shaper of dramatic works himself (cf. Bimberg 9), or as Taylor puts it: “Before 1642 plays went to the monarch; after 1660 the monarch went to plays” (16). The Restoration audience felt the need for comic diversity in order to overcome the rather menacing past, which was accomplished by the majority of dramatists preferably writing quick and bawdy comedies of manners.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Dryden's Adaptation of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'
University of Siegen
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Dryden, Adaptation, Shakespeare, Tempest
Quote paper
Stefan Kraus (Author), 2006, Dryden's Adaptation of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest', Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/68828


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