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Modern Drama and the Rhetoric of Theater

Modern Drama and the Rhetoric of Theater

W. B. Worthen
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
  • Book Info
    Modern Drama and the Rhetoric of Theater
    Book Description:

    The history of drama is typically viewed as a series of inert "styles." Tracing British and American stage drama from the 1880s onward, W. B. Worthen instead sees drama as the interplay of text, stage production, and audience.How are audiences manipulated? What makes drama meaningful? Worthen identifies three rhetorical strategies that distinguish an O'Neill play from a Yeats, or these two from a Brecht. Whererealistictheater relies on the "natural" qualities of the stage scene,poetictheater uses the poet's word, the text, to control performance. Modernpoliticaltheater, by contrast, openly places the audience at the center of its rhetorical designs, and the drama of the postwar period is shown to develop a range of post-Brechtian practices that make the audience the subject of the play.Worthen's book deserves the attention of any literary critic or serious theatergoer interested in the relationship between modern drama and the spectator.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96304-7
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    This is a book about modern British and American drama, the sense of theatricality it demands, and the audience it both reflects and creates. Indeed, the burden of the argument here is reallyaboutthis audience, about how modern drama and theater work to frame the audience’s experience and to characterize its interpretive activitiesasan audience—to cast the spectators, so to speak, as part of the spectacle.

    In the pages that follow I argue that the meanings of modern drama cannot be fully seized without considering how those meanings are produced as theater. For in the theater, drama...

  5. 1 Theater and the Scene of Vision
    (pp. 12-53)

    Let me recall a brief, brilliant scene from Chekhov’sThree Sisters.Toward the end of the first act, the Prozorovs and their guests retire from the downstage drawing room to the partly concealed reception room upstage, to celebrate Irina’s name-day. Natasha arrives, nervously checks herself in the mirror, and rushes to join the party. The forestage is empty, when two of the omnipresent junior officers suddenly appear. Taking out a camera—still a novelty at the turn of the century—they pose and silence the party, taking one photograph and then another. It is a striking moment. Taking a picture...

  6. 2 Actors and Objects
    (pp. 54-98)

    The realistic location of character in a sustaining, possibly determining stage world inextricably entwines character and environment at the moment it dialecticizes them. This thematic interdependence is both the hallmark of modern realistic drama since Ibsen and Strindberg and the main problem of realistic theatrical production: to preserve and express the romantic interiority of “character” in a stage medium that compromises it, exhausts it, or simply has no means of speaking it. As we have seen, realistic drama and theater are traced by a concern to relate visibility to objectification, and privacy to empowerment, strategies of representation complicit in broader...

  7. 3 Scripted Bodies: Poetic Theater
    (pp. 99-142)

    Announcing a commitment to a popular, collaborative, even entertaining form of theater, T. S. Eliot’s famous obituary for Marie Lloyd provides a useful point of repair from the austerities often associated with “poetic drama.” Eliot seems to have tinkered with hisDial“London Letter” when preparing it for publication the following month inThe Criterion,introducing a number of small changes in wording and emphasis. In both texts, Eliot mourns the loss of Marie Lloyd and marks in the passing of this “expressive figure” the decline of music hall and the more general demise of theater as a social institution....

  8. 4 Political Theater: Staging the Spectator
    (pp. 143-193)

    Recall for a moment the brilliant coda of Tom Stoppard’sJumpers(1972). The hallucinatory symposium concludes with Archie Jumper’s dizzying pastiche ofWaiting for Godot,a theft, really, both of Didi’s bleak image of the brevity of life and of Beckett’s famous Augustinian parable on the play.¹ The allusion to Beckett here presents Archie’s audience with a kind of interpretive paradox, a paradigm, perhaps, of Stoppard’s vertiginous assault on the audience throughout the play. Wham, bam—just what is Sam being thankedfor?

    As with much else inJumpers,this question poses a problem of theatrical hermeneutics, a theatrical analogy...

  9. POSTSCRIPT Sidi’s Image: Theater and the Frame of Culture
    (pp. 194-204)

    I opened this reading of the rhetoric of modern theatricality by recalling the camera that Chekhov placed onstage inThree Sisters.As the prevailing metaphor for the turn-of-the-century theater's claim to reproduce an uninflected slice of life, the camera works in Chekhov’s play to expose the rhetorical, suasive character of realistic theatricality. Chekhov’s irony is enabled by the habitual collocation of the two arts, an intricate ideological interrelation that sought to define theatrical production by identifying it with the “objective” apparatus of photography. Staging the camera, Chekhov invokes this relation between photography and theatrical realism as part of the substance...

  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 205-220)
  11. Index
    (pp. 221-230)