Article Title

Puppets Dallying: Thoughts on Shakespearean Theatricality


Kenneth Gross


The essay studies Shakespeare's few, and always brief, references to puppet theater—focusing on instances in Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Winter's Tale, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest. Slight as they are, these moments speak to Shakespeare's fascination with, and shrewd intuitions about, this minor theatrical mode. They also allow him to comment on both the power and vulnerability of theater in general. The mentions of puppets often help him to dramatize the danger of masks, or to illustrate a sharp sense that our words, and our identities, are never quite our own, but always in the hands of others. Contrasting Shakespeare with Ben Jonson—whose penchant for rigidly typed, satirical, and puppet-like characters is exposed most bluntly in the actual puppet show of Bartholomew Fair—the essay suggests that Shakespeare's references to puppets represent a lens on a vision of character at once more humane and more deeply ironic. It closes with a reflection on how Prospero, the would-be puppet-master of his island, is in the end a failed puppeteer, and at once most human and most puppet-like in his failure.

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