Explain how The Tempest is described as "metatheatre," a play within a play.

Quick answer:

Metatheatre is an element of drama that draws attention to itself. It shows the audience the theatrical practices that underlie and produce what it is that they see before them.

In The Tempest, the concept of metatheatre is embodied in the character of Prospero. As well as being a duke and a magician, he's also a kind of dramatist who creates much of what happens on stage.

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The Tempest is generally thought to be Shakespeare's most metatheatrical play in that it shows its protagonist as a creator, a dramatist like Shakespeare himself. In his capacity as magician Prospero conjures up the dramatic storm that brings his VIP guests to his enchanted island. He also exerts power over Ariel and Caliban in much the same way that a dramatist would. Ariel and Caliban are like characters in Prospero's own little play. He orders them about so that they will play the part he's written for them.

For instance, Prospero orders Ariel to dress up in a sea nymph costume. When Ariel duly obliges his master, Prospero lavishes fulsome praise on his performance. Ariel, like all the characters on stage, is starring in a play within a play. In this way, they stand in similarity to the characters in other examples of Shakespearean metatheatre, most notably A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Prospero, as the dramatist behind this play within a play, goes on to arrange a theatrical performance for Miranda and Ferdinand's forthcoming nuptials. This "vanity of mine art", as Prospero calls it is a further example of metatheatre at work. It reinforces the general consensus that this, Shakespeare's last published play, is also his most intensely personal. It relates extensively to the exercise of Shakespeare's own dramatic talent.

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