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Theatre Semiotics

Theatre Semiotics: Text and Staging in Modern Theatre

Fernando de Toro
Translated from the Spanish by John Lewis
Revised and Edited by Carole Hubbard
  • Book Info
    Theatre Semiotics
    Book Description:

    Theatre is composed of a multitude of signifying systems that have a dual function: as literary practice and as performance practice. Fernando de Toro carefully considers the multiple and complex components which constitute the relationships between a text, its concretization as performance, and its reception by the audience in this translation and revision of his Semi3/4tica del teatro: Del texto a la puesta en escena. He focuses on discourse, textuality, semiosis, reception, actantial functions, and history; this comprehensive overview of the various semiotic approaches is placed in the context of modern European, North American, and Latin American theatre.

    De Toro begins with an examination of theatre discourse as linguistic expression and as semiosis, and differentiates theatre discourse from other forms of literary discourse and performance. He then thoroughly explores the relationship between the dramatic text and the performance text. A chapter devoted to theatre semiotics establishes how signification functions in drama and performance, in terms of Charles Sanders Peirce's trichotomy (icon, index, symbol). Final chapters focus on theatre reception (the emitter and receptor); the actantial model, and how it has evolved; and a semiological reflection on the history of the theatre. Theatre Semiotics provides a thorough argument for the place and the necessity of semiotics within the interpretive process of theatre.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8259-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Fernando de Toro
  4. Foreword to the Spanish Edition
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Marco De Marinis

    Fernando de Toro’s book is one of the most important developments in the area of the systematization of the main themes and problems that a semiotics of theatre approach creates. This is one of the first complete studies of theatre semiotics (and it is the first to be written originally in Spanish). This study fills a void and is long overdue. It quite impressively succeeds in meeting its own dual objective: it not only contributes to theatre semiotics but also, and more to the point, to theory of Latin American theatre.

    For obvious reasons, I will refer only briefly to...

  5. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Mario J. Valdés

    When readers of dramatic texts become the audience of a performance they enact a contrast and possible conflict between the world as represented on stage and the world as concretized in their reading. But, at a more profound level, they raise the possibility that the dramatic reality can be understood as a series of relationships within shifting parameters. In the case of reading, the variables are contained within the text/reader relationship which engages the historicity and full aesthetic repertoire of the reader as well as the formal constraints of the text. But with performance the variables on both sides multiply....

  6. Preface
    (pp. 1-2)
    Fernando de Toro
    (pp. 3-4)

    Numerous studies have appeared since the 1970s on the topic of theatre semiotics. Beginning with the studies of Anne Ubersfeld, Patrice Pavis, Marco De Marinis, Franco Ruffini, Alessandro Serpieri, Keir Elam, Andre Helbo and Eli Rozik, to name just a few, we can say that theatre semiotics has clearly begun to define itself. Of course, owing to the many views that exist on the theatre phenomenon, many problems have emerged, for example, whether theatre is verbal expression or whether it is a stage practice (set, characters, costumes, etc.). The semiological nature of the theatre object is complex and this complexity...

    (pp. 5-34)

    It is extremely important that we accurately define the notion of discourse from a linguistic point of view before considering theatre discourse, especially given the fact that this concept has diverse uses which are often contradictory and ambiguous.

    In strict linguistic terms, discourse isla langueput into action. In an even stricter sense, discourse "refers to any utterance greater than the sentence, considered from the point of view of the rules for linking series of sentences".¹ A more comprehensive definition is the following one by L. Guespin: "discourse is the utterance considered from the point of view of the...

    (pp. 35-62)

    For decades now there has been a debate on whether or not theatre, or more specifically, the dramatic text, is aliterary genreor a stage practice. Already in 1941, Jiři Veltrusky indicated that: "The unending quarrel about the nature of drama, whether it is a literary genre or a theatrical piece, is perfectly futile. One does not exclude the other".¹ In itself, the dispute may be futile, as Veltrusky puts it. The origin of the debate, however, has well-determined causes. In my opinion, the problematic, or rather, origin of the dispute between theatrepractitioners, performers, critics, andtheoreticianscomes...

    (pp. 63-96)

    Among the performance arts, theatre has a place of privilege because of its production of signs, the variety of which originates primarily from its diverse signification systems. There have been different attempts at isolating these. One of the first attempts was by Tadeusz Kowzan¹ who formulated thirteen sign systems that function in a performance. This interesting study, however, did not succeed in fully systematizing the production of meaning in theatre, and in fact it completely ignored the problem of how meaning is produced on the stage. This list of signs or systems of signification established a medium for the production...

    (pp. 97-128)

    Theatre semiotics has been concerned with various aspects of the phenomenon of theatre for about two decades now, especially such problems as the text-performance, theatre discourse and the production of meaning, just to name a few. However, one area that remains still unexplored is that of theatre reception - with the exception of a few studies by Patrice Pavis,¹ Marco De Marinis,² and Andre Helbo,³ who have been the most productive researchers in this area. It should be noted that the researchers of the Prague School had already done some research on theatre reception, but without formulating any complete theory...

    (pp. 129-142)

    One of the fundamental tasks proponents of theatre semiotics have proposed is the formulation of a 'grammar' of the actions of the DT/PT in order to distance semiotics from substantialist practices in which the character is often considered as almost a real being. At the same time, theatre semiotics must establish some model or deep structure explaining actions in theatre. This area of research has been developed considerably, especially in the narrative and more recently in theatre.

    The aim of this chapter is both to examine the various attempts at an actantial specification in theatre and, thus, to contribute to...

    (pp. 143-170)

    The notions of description and history have until very recently been mutually exclusive. The contradiction between these two notions, which are in fact two distinctwaysof looking at the literary phenomenon, lies in the opposition between the synchronic and the diachronic perspective. Until the advent of the Russian Formalists, and the subsequent development of Structuralism and Semiotics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the study of literature was primarily historical.¹

    The main characteristic of this approach can be resumed in one word: thereconstitutionof the literary work, that is, of the genesis of a work, its...

    (pp. 171-201)