Manipulation of time in The Tempest

Subject: Literature
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1467
Topics: Book, The Tempest, William Shakespeare

Table of Contents

According to Leach (2013), drama and plays do not only relate the story but also present the story within a limited timeframe. The common timeframe of a play is normally not more than 24 hours, and therefore, playwrights operate in a particular time and space. The allusion and reinforcement of time throughout the play helps to remind the reader that not only are they reading the play, they are also reading about what construction goes into the workings of creating a play. The Tempest is one of the latest yet the most popular plays by Shakespeare. The play exhibits an excellent manipulation of time to ensure the effectiveness of the play as a whole. In this play, the actions move through time and space as events take place after one another in a flawless manner. Shakespeare manipulates ime by using a chronological structure, creating suspense, climax, and imagery to create a short but an effective play of a duration of two hours as discussed in this essay.

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One of the ways in which Shakespeare manipulates time in The Tempest is the use of a chronological structure. The form of this play takes a chronological format where the events take place one after another from the start, middle, and the conclusion. For example, at the start of the play, Shakespeare introduces the shipwreck incident, which is followed by events in the Island, the encounter between Ferdinand and Miranda, and the marriage between Ferdinand and Miranda (Shakespeare, n.d.). Other key events in this play are also arranged in a chronological structure to ensure that the whole play fits within the appropriate timeframe of around two hours. This is followed by the complication in the second act, where the target audience are introduced the conflict in the play, for example, where Sebastian and Antonio as presented as evil characters (villains) who are plotting to kill the King. This is followed by a climax in act three, where readers can see courtship and marriage between Ferdinand and Miranda. Finally, the ends with a resolution when King Prospero finds a solution to his problems and promises to deliver his people. For example, he says “I’ll deliver all/ And promise you calm seas, auspicious gales.” (Shakespeare Act V, Scene 1, Line 366). In addition to this, the use of a chronological structure to manipulate time helps in establishing a full engagement of the target audience in the play since the chronological structure ensures credulity and coherence in the play (Leach, 2013). Credulity and coherence as established by the clear five-act structure enables the target audience to understand the characters as well as the storyline and the events that are taking place in the play. According to Leach (2013), the first act is referred to as the exposition since it establishes the scene of the play and puts forth the problem (shipwreck) and the main characters.

Another way through which Shakespeare manipulates time to create an effective play is the use of suspense in The Tempest Two hours may be a short time for a playwright to relate and present his or her story; however, for the reader or the viewer, two hours may prove to be a long time when they fail to find interest in the play. In this regard, Shakespeare manipulates time to create an effective play by using suspense in his work. To capture the attention and the interest of the readers and viewers, Shakespeare employs suspense in different scenes. An example of suspense is during the shipwreck at the start of the play. For example, “On a ship at sea: a tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard” (Shakespeare Act 1, Scene 1, Line 1). The use of suspense at the beginning of the play helps Shakespeare to immediately capture the attention of the target audience and maintains it throughout the play by employing suspense at different scenes of the play. For example, there is suspense at the middle of the play during the conflict between Ferdinand and Prospero over the relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda. The readers are left in suspense, anticipating the next event that is going to take place between the two lovers. Even after Prospero has agreed to the relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda, Prospero is still giving warnings to Ferdinand over his daughter Miranda. For instance, Prospero says “Worthily purchased take my daughter: but/ If thou dost break her virgin-knot before/ All sanctimonious ceremonies may/ With full and holy rite be minister’d,” (Shakespeare Act 1, Scene 1, Line 16). As a result, the readers are eager to know whether the two will succeed in their wedding plans. The use of suspense in this play engages the audience and enables time to pass in an interesting manner without their notice.

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Shakespeare manipulates time by through the use of hinting so as to create an effective play. According to Leach (2013), hinting refers to the highlighting of upcoming events to the audience through the characters. Similar to suspense, this strategy is effective since it keeps the audience engaged in the play while anticipating the next event or the outcome of the hinted action. An example where Shakespeare gives a hint to the audience is through King Prospero, who put forth his intention of reclaiming the kingdom that has been taken away from him in advance.

The use of imagery is another strategy that Shakespeare uses to manipulate time in The Tempest. According to Leach (2013), the use of imagery enables a playwright to tell readers more about the characters and provide in-depth insight into the themes that are contained in the plays using a few words and in the shortest time possible, and hence, saves time. For example, in the play, while describing how they ended in the dreaded Island, Shakespeare employs imagery in the words spoken by Prospero to his daughter Miranda. “’To cry, to th’sea, that roared to us; to sigh/ To th’winds, whose pity sighing back again/ Did us loving wrong.” (Shakespeare Act 1, Scene 1, Line 183). The use of such imagery enables the playwright to explain the previous event and their horrific or interesting nature without using many words to save time for the presentation of the play. Besides the manipulation of time, the use of imagery in The Tempest also enables Shakespeare to create clear images of events in the minds of the audience, capture their interest and maintain it throughout the play.

In a tight link to the use of imagery, Shakespeare employs flashback, and memory to manipulate time and create an effective play. Flashback and memory are brought forth by characters Prospero and Miranda. For example, when these two characters are in the island, the flashback is used to tell the removal of Prospero from the King’s position that he occupied in Milan. Prospero narrates to Miranda by saying “Canst thou remember/A time before we came unto this cell?/ I do not think thou canst, for then thou wast not/ Out three years old.” (Shakespeare Act 1, Scene 1). The use of flashback and memory provides the readers with more information on the story in a compressed yet in a dramatic manner.

Finally, Shakespeare manipulates time in The Tempest by introducing the climax early in the play. According to Leach (2013), plays are short, and hence, should not have long conflict section with the climax towards the end and for only a short duration. Shakespeare quickly introduces the climax in Scene III of Act III so as to produce a brief but a captivating play for the target audience. In Act III, Scene III, the three villains, Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio are presented as sinners who are plotting to kills the King by a monster that has a head of a woman (Ariel). “You are three men of sin, whom Destiny/That hath to instrument this lower world.” This marks the climax of the play and signals the readers that the play is coming to an end.


In conclusion, the ability to manipulate time is a vital tool for playwrights to create effective plays for their target audience. This is due to the limited timeframe within a play needs to be presented in a theater. Shakespeare effectively manipulates time in The Tempest to create an effective play. Shakespeare employs a five structure form to produce a play that can easily be comprehended by the audience. He also makes use of devices such as imagery and flashback to paint vivid images of events in the minds of readers. This helps in providing more information on events that otherwise would not be included in the play due to limited time. Finally, Shakespeare also hints events and quickly introduces the climax to capture and hold the interest of the readers within the shortest time possible.

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  1. Leach, R. (2013). Theatre Studies: The Basics. (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. Shakespeare. (n.d.). The Tempest.
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