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This Great Stage of Androids: Westworld, Shakespeare and the World as Stage

Reto Winckler
Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance, July 2017, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 169-188.


This article sets out to explore how the world-as-stage metaphor and metatheatrical elements are employed in Home Box Office's (HBO) 2016 television series Westworld and Shakespeare's plays. In Shakespeare, the world-as-stage metaphor is pervasively used to unsettle the audience's conceptions of reality and personal identity. Westworld similarly employs the metaphor to question identity and agency. By adapting many of the metatheatrical devices and motifs used by Shakespeare to a science fiction setting and to humanoid androids, Westworld explores new facets of ancient questions on role-play, reality, fiction, freedom and determinism. Whereas in Shakespeare metatheatre is confined to the stage, the world in Westworld has literally become a stage and the audience members have turned into players. Incorporating ideas drawn from cognitive linguistics, the history of theatre, neuropsychology, philosophy of mind, current debates about free will and determinism and early modern protestant theology, this article seeks to demonstrate how in both Westworld and Shakespeare's plays, theatre and reality ultimately become one because they run against the same final boundary: death.