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Eyal Segal - Exploring the Language of Drama: From Text to Context (review) - Poetics Today 23:2 Poetics Today 23.2 (2002) 360-361

Book Review

Exploring the Language of Drama:
From Text to Context

Jonathan Culpeper, Mick Short, and Peter Verdonk, eds., Exploring the Language of Drama: From Text to Context. London: Routledge, 1998. x + 181 pp.

This collection of essays on the language of drama is a companion volume to two previous collections published in Routledge's Interface series on the language of poetry (Verdonk 1993) and fiction (Verdonk and Weber 1995). The main purpose of this book is to introduce students to the stylistic analysis of drama, using techniques developed in various fields, particularly discourse analysis, pragmatics, and cognitive linguistics, to explore the language of plays. The book includes a series of short essays (approximately fifteen pages each), framed by an introduction by Mick Short, in which he justifies the analysis of the text of plays (as opposed to focusing on their performances), and a conclusion by Peter Tan, which offers some practical advice on writing an analysis of a play extract as an assignment.

Most of the essays in this collection have an identical structure: their first half consists of a short presentation of some theoretical concepts, which their second half applies to an analysis of selected extracts of a play (in two or three instances—of a film or a television production). The texts discussed in most essays are English or American twentieth-century plays, except for two essays dealing with Shakespearean plays. Most analyses concentrate on questions relating to dialogic interactions between dramatic characters (excepting an essay on Macbeth by Donald Freeman, which focuses on the analysis of metaphors). They attempt to describe and explain these interactions with the help of various well-known concepts in pragmatics and discourse analysis, such as speech acts, conversational maxims and implicatures, or turn management in conversation.

Most essays amount to no more than short "demonstrations" of such well-known theories and concepts, without either significantly contributing to a better understanding of the texts they discuss, or illuminating, far less challenging the theories they "apply." Two essays, however, show a higher degree of depth and originality. The first is Paul Simpson's "Odd Talk" (34–53), which attempts to define a phenomenon that is not referable to any ready-made concept: he explains the absurd quality common to the "theater of the absurd" and to comedy sketches such as those of Monty Python by tracing the quality to certain kinds of discoursal incongruity. The second of these essays is Jonathan Culpeper's "(Im)politeness in Dramatic Dialogue" (83–95). It sheds an interesting light on theories of "politeness" by emphasizing the central importance of instances of impoliteness in drama—instances that express and create tensions and conflicts between dramatic characters, thus contributing to developments in character and plot.


Eyal Segal, Tel Aviv


Verdonk, Peter, ed.
1993 Twentieth-Century Poetry: From Text to Context (London: Routledge).

Verdonk, Peter, and Jean Jacques Weber, eds.
1995 Twentieth-Century Fiction: From Text to Context (London: Routledge).

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