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Ghosts: Death’s Double and the Phenomena of Theatre

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Alice Rayner examines theatre as a memorial practice that is haunted by the presence of loss, looking at how aspects of stagecraft turn familiar elements into something uncanny. Citing examples from the works of Shakespeare, Beckett, and Suzan-Lori Parks as well as the films Vertigo, Gaslight, and The Sixth Sense, Rayner describes time as it is employed by theatre with multiple facets of presence, duration, and passage.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9712-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. introduction: Doubles and Doubts
    (pp. ix-xxxvi)

    Whatever the doubts about the truth of ghosts, I would claim that almost anyone can recognize what John Hiatt means when he sings that his old man’s ghost has come back as creamed chipped beef on toast. Hiatt is naming that peculiar discovery that one is repeating the habits of the long-gone parent in spite of the assumption that one leads an autonomous, independent life. That much seems straightforward: chipped beef turning into a sort of objective correlative for the recognition of a haunting repetition of the past both within the mundane and by means of the mundane. Poetic license...

  5. chapter 1 Tonight at 8:00: The Missed Encounter
    (pp. 1-32)

    The time printed on a ticket may say 8:00 p.m. The more punctual members of an audience will be in their seats waiting while others drift in. But they know that the printed time is a loose approximation for an agreement to meet at a given place and time. The agreed upon time is simply part of modern social cohesion, a conformity that lubricates the mechanisms of social order. The actual curtain time—whether or not there is a curtain—is less exact than the clock, as the house manager waits for latecomers (or any comers), as actors are slow...

  6. chapter 2 All the Dead Voices: Memorial and History
    (pp. 33-72)

    “In the sepulcher which the historian inhabits,” says Michel de Certeau, writing of Michelet’sHistory of France,“only ‘emptiness remains.’”¹ Western historiography, de Certeau goes on to say, is effeted by a series of ruptures between past and present, between labor and nature, between discourse and the social body. The writing of history relies, in other words, on a break that creates an other, which is “the phantasm of historiography, the object that it seeks, honors, and buries.”² The gesture of writing history “posits death, a breakage everywhere reiterated in discourse, and . . . yet denies loss by appropriating...

  7. chapter 3 Objects: Lost and Found
    (pp. 73-109)

    One of the distinguishing characteristics of theatre as opposed, say, to books or film is its use of real and tangible objects. As Bert States writes: “In reading the eye is an anesthetized organ, little more than a window to the waiting consciousness on which a world of signification imprints itself with only the barest trace of the signifiers that carry it. In the theater, however, the eye awakens and confiscates the image. What the text loses in significative power in the theater it gains in corporeal presence, in which there is extraordinary perceptual satisfaction.”¹ The sources of corporeal presence...

  8. chapter 4 Empty Chairs: The Memorial Double
    (pp. 110-136)

    Chairs are among those basic human objects that echo the human body. Inanimate reproductions of a human lap, with enveloping arms (or not), chairs duplicate the parental lap and the safety (or not) of its enclosure. Raising the body off the ground but unlike a stool or a bench, a chair traces anatomy, holds off the pull of gravity, and gives ease to muscle and bone. Its angles follow the skeletal joints of a body halfway to collapse, expecting the bending of the knees and the hinging of the hips. It supports the heavy weight of legs and torso, giving...

  9. chapter 5 Double or Nothing: Ghosts behind the Curtains
    (pp. 137-154)

    Brecht was notoriously insistent that “die Wahrheit ist konkret,” the phrase inscribed on the lintel of the doorway to his Danish home in exile. Anyone entering that house may well have had such truth confirmed by a hard knock on the head. In the above excerpt from Brecht’s poem, the laughter of the stagehands suggests they know the difference between an actor, the concretely living person, and a king, the ghostly stage illusion. Or perhaps laughter is their way of knowing that the difference between the actor and the king is a false dichotomy that only supposes that king and...

  10. chapter 6 Ghosts Onscreen: The Drama of Misrecognition
    (pp. 155-182)

    The character designated as Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard’s play has just finished complaining about the Player’s overzealous enactments of death, death portrayed tragically, romantically, death “for all ages and occasions,” death by suspension, convulsion, consumption, by incision, execution, asphyxiation, and malnutrition, death by poison and steel, double deaths by duel. Death, Guildenstern wearily protests, “is not like that. . . . Death is not anything . . . death is not . . . death is the absence of presence.”¹ Death, he insists, cannot be shown. In performance, pin spotlights focus on the faces of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The spotlights...

  11. After Words
    (pp. 183-186)

    A young colleague not too long ago said she was awfully tired of all the talk about loss and death and trauma. And, indeed, it seems these concerns may have run the critical course in academia, especially in the fading light of Derrida and Lacan and poststructural fever. I sympathize with her. How many times can one read or write about trauma before fatigue sets in and it becomes one more item in the history of critical perspectives? Theatre, after all, is positive and productive. It is a material, functional, social, and aesthetic phenomenon; it means things. It’s tiresome to...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 187-200)
  13. Index
    (pp. 201-206)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-207)