Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Margaret Jane Kidnie


What makes a good ending? How do we know when something ends? In performance, it is difficult to characterize that nebulous and highly subjective — yet nonetheless theatrically powerful — “sense” of an ending. Previous scholarly work on Shakespearean endings, even when emphasizing performance, has largely focused on understanding endings from a narrative viewpoint, questioning how endings reach textual closure. These works examine the lingering questions or problems at the end of Shakespeare’s texts, and discuss how performance tackles these issues.

This dissertation takes performance as its starting point. It argues that Shakespearean performance endings naturally trouble textual conclusiveness, as Shakespeare’s endings are generally open to new analysis. Thus, this dissertation analyzes ten Shakespearean productions to demonstrate how aspects like performance ephemerality, textual adjustments, or affectual signifiers can change the meaning of closure — textual or performance — and disrupt the sense of a play’s ending.

Chapter One sets out my methodology, drawing upon Susan Bennett’s inner and outer frames and Hans Robert Jauss’s range of expectation. Chapter Two tackles four individual outlier performances with endings that deviated significantly from the rest of their respective productions, creating an altered experience for the audience in attendance that night. Chapter Three examines three productions which textually modified the expected or established ending in order to pursue a particular political or social message. Chapter Four analyzes three productions by director Des McAnuff whose endings attempted to evoke an emotional response from the audience through the inclusion of a visual or auditory stimulus, while interacting with the political, racial, or gendered questions of each play.

Through the analysis of these ten productions, this work concludes that due to the nature of performance, performed endings of Shakespeare’s works can destabilize the established or intended readings of a production. Thus, the closing moments reinterpret the rest of the play according to the images, sensations, or questions brought to the forefront. Within a performance’s final moments, any presumption of a static nature of the text — of an “authentic Shakespeare” — is fractured so that new meanings, new ideas, and new “senses” can be found onstage.