“Hear My Soul Speak” – Finding Prospero in the Verbal Music of Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Hurrell, Christopher. 2019. “Hear My Soul Speak” – Finding Prospero in the Verbal Music of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis investigates the capacity of the verbal music of Shakespeare’s poetry in The Tempest, to suggest an account of the complexity, irrationality and nuance of human experience in the character of Prospero, through its somatic impact on the actor. In Shakespeare’s “verbal music”, Peter Brook sees, beyond “concept and image … an infinitely powerful further dimension which comes from sound”. The research question has its origins in my enquiry as a stage director into how rehearsal process might best sensitise actors to the presence of this verbal music and orient their process towards a relationship with it.

No protagonist in Shakespeare has proven so consistently mystifying to readers and audiences, in both personality and intentions, as Prospero. Past generations, satisfied to see in this ambiguity the representation of a divine mystery—a Prospero somehow above humanity—were content to trust his claim to a divinely sanctioned, supernatural authority, and frequently to perceive in that authority a meta-theatrical avatar of Shakespeare himself. Twentieth century performance and criticism reacted violently against this hegemony, and as a result no protagonist in Shakespeare has undergone such an interpretive reversal as Prospero. Once a benign, serene, dispassionate lawgiver, he became instead a corrupted, violent oppressor and more recently a despairing neurotic, fighting his own frailty and an overwhelming sense of both guilt and victimhood.

This apparent elusiveness of authorial intent regarding the persona of the protagonist is used as a locus to explore not only the implications of auricular effect in the complex poetry of Prospero’s utterance—amongst the most knotted, ornate and ethereal language in the Shakespearean canon—but also to consider the broader questions raised regarding the theatrical language of the play, including its use of music, the mode of representation of personality it adopts and the Early Modern paradigms of individual identity which inform it.

Extensive practice research laboratories, leading to a performance, were conducted in collaboration with the principal co-informant to the practice research: the actor and director Gerrard McArthur. The performance, which explicates both the process adopted in the laboratories and the view which emerged of Prospero’s persona and its function in the play’s dramaturgy, forms the conclusion to this thesis.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



William Shakespeare, acting, poetry, The Tempest, Prospero, Robert Johnson

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Theatre and Performance (TAP)


31 March 2019

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

18 Jun 2019 09:36

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:14



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