Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Shakespeare and the idea of metamorphosis

Hart, B (1983) Shakespeare and the idea of metamorphosis. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94404) (KAR id:94404)

PDF (Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of this thesis enables read aloud functionality of the text.)
Language: English

Download this file
[thumbnail of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of this thesis enables read aloud functionality of the text.]
Official URL:


This study attempts to discover what is comprehended by the title of Ovid's Metamorphoses and what it was about this narrative poem which Shakespeare found so congenial. The opening chapters explore the variety and coherence of Ovid's theme, whilst ranging widely over Shakespeare's poems and plays and elucidating the Renaissance context in which the poem was received. Consideration is given to the way Ovid and Shakespeare place human action in an interpretative context of the natural world. It is argued that natural settings and natural imagery condition both the presentation of and our response to the marvelous events which occur in the fictions of both poets. A further fundamental continuity between Ovid and Shakespeare is their concern with language and the imagination as transforming media which dynamically influence human perception. The connection between metaphor and metamorphosis is examined, and it is argued that the triad of lunatic, lover, and poet is as significant in the Metamorphoses as it is in Shakespeare's plays from A Midsummer Night's Dream to The Tempest. Ovid's use of language was of considerable consequence in the Renaissance. However, this study suggests that, for Shakespeare, the most important rhetorical quality of Ovid was his view of literature and society. Thus an important aim is to relate Ovid's perception of the artist's role, and the relationship between poet and poem, poem and reader, which the Metamorphoses establishes, to the aesthetic character of individual Shakespearean works and to Shakespeare's developing perception of his role as a theatre poet. The second part of the study is a close consideration of three plays - As You Like It, All's Well That Ends Well, and Antony and Cleopatra - in the light of the critical context established in the opening chapters. Attention is given to Shakespeare's engagement with problems of authorial intention and critical interpretation (a word which also means translation), and the motif of Ovid's banishment is seen as central to the dramatist's examination of the licensed affective attitude of 'as you like it'. A contrast is made between the moralist's demand for fixed and singular denotation and meaning, and the imaginative artist's exploitation of linguistic ambiguity and change. Here Florio and Montaigne serve as foils to Ovid, and it is argued that Shakespeare's 'idea of metamorphosis is increasingly manifest as a desire to find a form of imaginative fiction which can match the rich variety of the natural world and keep time with its changes. Like the Metamorphoses, the text of All's Well is deliberately left 'unsealed'. Similarly, Antony and Cleopatra is a truly aleatory work whose meaning can only be realized in 'performance' - an ambiguous word which, as used in these plays, also reflects Shakespeare's willingness to follow Ovid in accepting the risks incurred by the full expression of human sexuality.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94404
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Literature
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature on music
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2022 15:19 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2022 11:11 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.