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Fields of Play in Modern Drama

Fields of Play in Modern Drama

Copyright Date: 1977
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Fields of Play in Modern Drama
    Book Description:

    Starting from the assumption that all theater is at least implicitly participatory, Professor Whitaker approaches thirteen plays, from Ibsen'sRosmersholmto Beckett'sEndgameand Stoppard'sRosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He asks the reader to commit himself to a variety of points of view-those of witnesses, actors, directors, and characters-as a series of "critical fictions" lead him toward the experience of each play in performance.

    The author supplies detailed readings of the plays in various modes. The styles of the chapters vary according to the issues dominant in the plays discussed, and the reader experiences simultaneously a sense of approaching the meaning of performance and of gaining a deeper understanding of the play through a subtle and allusive commentary.

    Originally published in 1977.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7177-3
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-2)
    (pp. 3-4)

    This rather informal essay is the meditation of an amateur who has risked getting lost in the theater. On coming back with what may seem an unusual kind of dramatic criticism and a sketch for the reinterpretation of modern drama (in terms of the power of all drama to lead us beyond the histrionic and objectifying self toward participation in the intersubjective consciousness that grounds our play), I have searched for guideposts that might make the journey less puzzling for the reader. Perhaps none would be more helpful than the two snatches of dialogue that I have now placed as...

    (pp. 5-8)

    I want to speak here of the playing that is implied by some important modern scripts, and I must begin by confessing agreement with two rather bold convictions. One has been voiced by Don Quixote: “Nothing, in fact, more truly portrays us as we are and as we would be than the play and the players.” And the other by Schiller: “Man plays only when he is in the full sense of the word a man, andhe is only wholly Man when he is playing.” But what can such convictions mean today? Whatisthis playing that calls itself...

    (pp. 9-34)

    Is it possible that modern drama, which has been so plural, such a tricky shape-shifter, has a central direction and meaning? Let these notes at least play with a hunch.

    Perhaps we know today what Hamlet meant to tell the Player. The purpose of playing, both at the first and now, was and is to hold the mirror up to playing. For what else can “nature” mean? We find ourselves playing. Reflecting on our condition, we begin to play the player.

    Or so it must seem, more than a century after Peer Gynt first peeled his onion. Since then we’ve...

    (pp. 35-57)

    All right. Can we agree thatRosmersholmhas abandoned those conventions of the well-made play which detract from the power ofA Doll’s HouseandGhosts?That Ibsen’s “realism” has here become a quite fully defined angle of vision?

    Agreed. The action no longer seems to address us. We’re outside the play, inferring its meaning. No participation, no reflexiveness.

    But don’t the characters also tend to be external and analytic observers of each other?

    Of course. Each part of the play’s world must be as objective and problematic for them as the whole is for us.

    But doesn’t that fact...

    (pp. 58-78)

    A play of the dead. Music. But find the action. Or does this script haunt me only because I can’t grasp it? Stupid, then, to imagine a production.

    Was Dürrenmatt right? “Modern drama has come out of Strindberg: we have never gone beyond the second scene ofThe Ghost Sonata.” A strong scene, yes: Hummel at the ghost supper. Climax: a mutual exposure of the hidden, a stopping of time. Hummel shrivels. In that moment the play grasps us. But how can an audience be expected to follow the exposition in Scene 1? And that talky Scene 3 seems to...

    (pp. 79-101)

    You Seem wide awake tonight as you settle into your seats and begin to scan the program, but you must be dreaming—for what director in his right mind would dare to run these three talky plays together in repertory? Yet there they are, spelled out in black on green:Three Sisters, Heartbreak House,andBreak of Noon. And your ticket-stubs—M 12 and 13, just left of center—are matched by two untorn pairs in your pocket.

    “Why?” you ask her. “What can be on his mind?”

    “Maybe the music,” she says, without looking up. But what music could...

    (pp. 102-125)

    An apparently empty stage, in darkness. At the rear, a large two-panelled mirror forms a dimly visible wall. Spot comes up on thePlayer King,downstage left. Eleventh-century robe and coronet; no scabbard. He stands looking off into the wings as he wipes a sword absently across his sleeve. Then he turns—hectic red on the pale cheeks, a forelock of too vividly yellow hair—and fixes his eyes on us.

    Yes—“here we are … together … forever.” Words intended less for those young fools who played my counsellors tonight than for you, my fellow-prisoners. This throne-room, this narrow...

    (pp. 126-178)

    X: Let’s hope so. As actors and witnesses become the play, so readers become the book. Can we take it from here?

    Y: Show how these plays, though not necessarily more powerful than those of Pirandello, Genet, and Beckett, do allow the performed action to unfold the anonymous Yes that’s implicit in our medium? But where to begin?

    Z: Perhaps with the fact that in each the playwright has reaffirmed the dramatic tradition. Hofmannsthal in the twenties could express his political pessimism by rewriting Calderón. Eliot in the thirties could expound a martyrdom by drawing on Everyman and Aeschylean tragedy....

    (pp. 179-188)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 189-192)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 193-193)