Date of Award
English Language, Literature, and Creative Writing
Colonization, Magic, Poetry, Millenarian archetypes, Medical alchemy
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For John Dee (1527-1609), like many others in the sixteenth century, the divide between politics, science, and the occult was permeable. At the height of Dee’s career, he had assembled the largest private library in England and built bibliographic networks of likeminded intellectuals from lending and sales. His consultations varied from explanations of Euclidean geometry for sailors to providing magical advice for Elizabeth I and other European monarchs. Dee is simultaneously important to both early modern science and esoterica. The aim of this thesis is to illuminate the ways in which his politics, his colonial projects, and his occult thought underwrites Shakespeare's character Prospero in The Tempest. The resemblance between Dee and Prospero has been noted by Frances Yates, Frank Kermode, Barbara Mowat, and other scholars. I extend the premise established by Yates and others to read Prospero as a response to Renaissance magic. Ariel is examined in the context of early modern theurgy through grimoires, and Caliban’s rebellion against his lexicon as a satire of the Adamic language—both spellbooks and Edenic linguistics were thematic concerns of Dee’s conversations with angels. This thesis contends that The Tempest offers criticism of Dee’s instrumentalization of occult knowledge by disrupting bibliographical authority, as seen in Prospero’s emblematic drowning of his most powerful book. By exploring the motif of medical alchemy, millenarian archetypes, and the influence of colonial treatises, I show Prospero’s transformation from renaissance magus to poet lies in a critique of Dee’s political project of an alchemical utopia. Instead, Shakespeare argues in favour of an Orphic governance denoting harmony with nature, which is evidenced by the use of music and poetry in the final act of the play
Stefanov, Iovan, "John Dee and Prospero: Alchemy, Angels, and Empire in The Tempest" (2023). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 9067.