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Here’s How You Produce This Play: Towards a Narratology of Dramatic Texts
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Here’s How You Produce This Play:
Towards a Narratology of Dramatic Texts

Virtually every essay on drama and narrative in the past fifteen years begins by noting that traditionally narratology has been resistant to talking about narrative in drama, and more specifically, narration in drama; this essay is no different, in that despite consistent exhortations by Brian Richardson, Manfred Jahn, Ansgar Nünning and Roy Sommer, and Monika Fludernik, we are still at the very beginning of a process that theorizes dramatic narratives. We agree that most performed plays relate narratives, in that on a specific occasion (the performance) someone (the actors and production staff) represents something that happens (the plot of the play) to someone (the audience) for a specific purpose (whatever the rhetorical ends of that performance may be). Of course, work has been done by those mentioned above to theorize the ways that dramatic and other performance narratives benefit from as well as complicate and enrich the terms of narrative analysis. And yet still frequently, drama is cordoned off from the study of narrative, often with an argument citing the ancient distinction of narrative, drama, and lyric that conscribes drama to a separate category of analysis, even though, as Brian Richardson has pointed out, “Aristotle’s Poetics, still the starting-point for any narrative theory, devotes more space to drama than to epic” (Richardson, “Drama and Narrative” 142). Elsewhere, Richardson has persuasively demonstrated, we can talk about drama in those rare instances when it [End Page 159] has a narrator—say, the stage manager of Our Town or Tom Wingfield of The Glass Menagerie—but these plays are the exception to the rule, hardly the exemplars.1 This often leaves un-theorized the crucial question: “How does traditional mimetic dramatic performance get narrated?

Ansgar Nünning and Roy Sommer have recently sought to bridge that gap by marking a distinction in types of narrativity; in distinguishing diegetic narrativity (i.e., what typically happens in prose fiction) from mimetic narrativity (i.e., how we might describe the narratives that are performed in the theatre), Nünning and Sommer provide a mechanism for thinking about staged narratives that neither elides nor diminishes the degree of narrativity represented, whether actively narrated or not. They argue, “plays do not just represent narratives (i.e. a series of events), they also stage narratives that, more often than not, they make storytelling, i.e. the act of telling narratives, theatrical. In other words, plays not only represent series of events, they also represent ‘acts of narration,’ with characters serving as intradiegetic storytellers” (Nünning and Sommer 337). In this way, we can begin to apply narratological modes of analysis to theatrical representation in much the way that Seymour Chatman applied these modes to film in Story and Discourse, and that in the Poetics, Aristotle applied them to, well, drama. And yet, Nünning and Sommer are primarily accounting for the degree of narrativity found in the live theatre itself, and skim over the degree to which traditional narratological models might still be used to discount those kinds of narration found in printed plays, not just in the dialogue spoken on stage, but the other kinds of language that frames that dialogue and how it might be presented mimetically.

Here, I undertake a crucial piece of the project with a narrative analysis that details the possible relationships between dramatic texts and the performances that derive from those texts, particularly in how printed plays not only present us with “acts of narration” but how they in fact narrate those acts of narration.2 Certainly, the ways in which a dramatic text determines the narration of a specific performance is always destabilized by the range of possible performances, wherein director and actors may variously heed or disregard the instructions of the text. But I would argue that in literary studies we tend to refer to the guidance offered by specific dramatic texts not simply out of disciplinary prejudice or ease of common reference (both potent reasons). At their core, dramatic texts still recognizably fall squarely within our sense of narrative, albeit according to different conventions from those governing prose fiction, and reading...