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date: 17 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The Tempest’s chess game has often been interpreted as a symbol for Prospero’s successful governance, underscoring his likeness to King James I, who similarly relied on dynastic marriage to solve political conflicts. Approaching the chess game not as an abstract symbol but as an embodied practice complicates such conclusions, however. Chess calls upon players and spectators to hold in tension and inhabit simultaneously different temporal moments, producing a recursive experience of time that conflicts with the linear, teleological narratives articulated by Prospero and much conventional historicist criticism. This essay draws on descriptions of chess’s polytemporality—from game studies, cognitive science, and the political philosophies of Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht—to explore how the phenomenology of chess-play mobilizes The Tempest’s spectators to critique the discourse of progress that subtends state rhetoric about dynastic marriage. Ultimately, this analysis also challenges commonplace critical assumptions about history as ‘context’ for dramatic performance.

Keywords: Benjamin, Walter, chess, game, history, performance, phenomenology, temporality, embodied skill

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