“Forward and Backward”: Actants and Agency in Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”


  • Robert Sawyer East Tennessee State University, USA




Posthumanism, Actant, Agency, Prospero, Doctor Faustus, Mephistopheles, Ariel, Caliban, Transmedial, entanglement, daemons, Robert Boyle, Thomas Hobbes, Aristotle


This essay presents a posthumanist reading of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, two plays which feature a scientist/magus who attempts to control his environment through personal agency. After detailing the analogy between the agency of posthuman figures and the workings of computerized writing machines, as Katherine Hayles has proposed, my essay shows how Kott’s writing, especially his notion of the “Grand Mechanism” of history, anticipates the posthumanist theories that are currently dominating literary assessments. His critique of The Tempest makes this idea perfectly clear when he disputes the standard notion that Prospero represents a medieval magus; he instead argues that Prospero was more akin to Leonardo DaVinci, “a master of mechanics and hydraulics,” one who would have embraced revolutionary advances in “astronomy” as well as “anatomy” (1974: 321).


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Author Biography

Robert Sawyer, East Tennessee State University, USA

Robert Sawyer is Professor of English at East Tennessee State University, where he teaches Shakespeare, Victorian Literature, and Literary Criticism. Author of Victorian Appropriations of Shakespeare (2003), Marlowe and Shakespeare: The Critical Rivalry (2017), and Shakespeare Between the World Wars (2019). His most recent publication is Chapter 6: “Dramatic Escapes,” in the Shakespearean International Yearbook which focuses on the refugee crisis (2021).


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How to Cite

Sawyer, R. (2021). “Forward and Backward”: Actants and Agency in Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. Multicultural Shakespeare: Translation, Appropriation and Performance, 24(39), 105–119. https://doi.org/10.18778/2083-8530.24.07