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  • Dramaturgies de l’ombre: actes du colloque organisé à Paris IV et Paris VII, 27 au 30 mars 2002
Dramaturgies de l’ombre: actes du colloque organisé à Paris IV et Paris VII, 27 au 30 mars 2002. Sous la direction de Françoise Lavocat et François Lecercle . Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2005. 538 pp. Pb €25.00.

'Place à l'ombre' are the reported words of the huissier at the Comédie-française trying to get the actor playing the ghost in Voltaire's Sémiramis through the [End Page 422] spectators seated on the stage. Well, the ghost certainly gets his place in this impressively large volume comprising twenty-nine essays ranging in period from antiquity to the twentieth century, and dealing with authors as diverse as Euripides, Shakespeare, Jean de la Taille, Calderón, Voltaire, Ibsen, Genet and Bond (this list is indicative rather than exhaustive). It will already be apparent that the ghost is called upon to illustrate many different facets of theatre, indeed to illustrate the 'spectral' powers of theatre itself (E. Hénin), especially where the stage resuscitates or reincarnates the past, sometimes for the specific purposes of nationalist politics in Poland (D. Chauvin) or 'panthéonisation' in France (N. Rizzoni). Indeed, Genet's desired proximity for theatre is a cemetery (M. Dancourt). Good signposts to the volume's direction as a whole are contained in the two essays that begin it. F. Legangneux explores the taxonomic questions arising from the different categories of shades in ancient theatre, and F. Lecercle provides a compelling compendium concerning the ways in which ghosts are troubling presences on stage. Issues relating to dramaturgy and staging are subsequently much in evidence. What role does the ghost play in the plot? To what degree is it a character or a dramatic instrument? How do you stage or perform what is essentially immaterial? In this context, intriguing questions of costume are raised by P. Kapitaniak in the context of Elizabethan theatre. L. Naudeix addresses aspects of staging in opera in terms of traps and the physical irruption of the ghost through the stage floor. H. Védrine discusses how nineteenth-century France negotiated the staging of the ghost in Hamlet. How the living on the stage are to be distinguished from the dead is further discussed by P. Vasseur-Legangneux, and the role of actual ghostly presence is brilliantly explored at the level of rhetoric by O. Millet in terms of prosopopeia. Among the most interesting essays of this collection are those that bring together the appearance of the ghost and the generation of meaning. The ghost may possess a moral significance in representing unresolved guilt on the part of living characters or an ineradicable 'souillure' on the surface of life incarnated in the 'bodily' presence of the ghost, or embody a 'vanitas mundi' (D. Dalla Valle). In other words, the ghost, as in the case of Banquo, acts as a 'trouble-fête' (F. Lecercle). This is most telling in other discussions of Shakespeare and, as one might expect, the ghost of Hamlet's father again looms large. The nineteenth century in particular, through staging, through the particular instances of translations into German or alterations to the French text, understood the ghost as a means of exteriorizing internal troubles and exploring the realm of the imagination within the individual psyche (B. Franco). Hence, the role of the ghost at the level of character converges with the ghost as interrogating the art of theatre, as raising the uncertainty of the frontier between reality and illusion. The ghost becomes, moreover, a powerful poetic symbol in the case of Paul Claudel's 'Ombre double', as analysed in the essays of M. Dubar and D. Millet-Gérard, both of whom raise the influence of Japanese theatre on the playwright. One form of theatre where one might not expect to see ghosts to the point of outright rejection is naturalism. According to J. Pailler, however, the psychological effect of belief in ghosts exercised on simple souls allows for a critique of the Christian supernatural. On the other hand, ghosts do not need to make an appearance on the stage to have an effect, as they can be incorporated as textual entities in dialogue, constituting disturbing unseen presences. Such is the interpretation C. Treilhou-Balaude gives to Ibsen and A. Eissen to Eugene [End Page 423] O'Neill's Mourning becomes Electra. I have not sought to mention every contributor by name for a collection which offers a thought-provoking comparatist perspective on the discourse of theatre itself. Inevitably, some repetition was bound to occur. Equally, few readers will wish to read this volume in one go. For those primarily interested in theatre studies who wish, and should, dip in to it, there is, as the saying goes, something for everyone.

Henry Phillips
University of Manchester

Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Launched on MUSE
2007-01-10
Open Access
No
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