- Woman’s Theatrical Space, and: Theatre and Feminist Aesthetics
These two books exploring women and theatre could not be more different. Woman’s Theatrical Space examines the gradual dissociation of woman and home in major plays from the Greeks to the present day and the parallel shift in attitudes towards the woman’s familial role. Theatre and Feminist Aesthetics, on the other hand, offers a collection of essays “focusing on theatre as a forum for feminist redefinitions of the aesthetic” (17). Yet this unlikely pairing of works together offers an interesting dialogue on the position of women in today’s cultural landscape and on feminist scholarship in the academy.
In a comparative study of a sampling of plays from Aeschylus to Pinter, Beckett, and Handke, Hanna Scolnicov sets out to establish that “the ideological positions of the society and of the playwright shape the contours of the theatrical space. . . . [And that] the analysis of theatrical space directly reveals the changing conceptions of woman’s position in the family and in society” (8). In order to do so, she distinguishes between “theatrical space within” (spaces visible to the audience) and “theatrical space without” (off-stage or invisible spaces). Scolnicov admits that the division of within and without is most easily recognizable in the opposition of indoors and outdoors, and she, somewhat conveniently, chooses to limit her discussion almost exclusively to plays in which this dichotomy represents such a pairing. She justifies this choice by asserting that
structural division of space into the interior and the exterior of the house carries with it social and cultural implications. Gender roles are spatially defined in relation to the inside and the outside of [End Page 398] the house. Traditionally, it is the woman who makes the house into a home, her home, while the world of commerce, war, travel, the world outside, is a man’s world. . . . From the spatial point of view, the world of the man and the world of the woman meet on the threshold.
The argument which follows traces the shift in “theatrical space within” from exterior scenes to interior ones and finally to abstract spaces devoid of gender signification. This development, for Scolnicov, parallels the gradual “dissolution of woman’s unique bond with space” (155), her loss of identification with the home.
Beginning with Aeschylus, Scolnicov explores the significance of the skene as the wall between the outdoors and the indoors, the visual manifestation of the incipient tradition of dividing space into gender specific areas. She shows how, in Agamemnon, the skene represents the threshold of the palace separating the public and ceremonial area of the returning warriors from the domestic world of the women left behind. Thus Agamemnon’s crossing of that threshold, the central action of the play, visually manifests the conflict of genders. Architecturally, the skene represents the border between indoors and outdoors, but conceptually, Scolnicov asserts, it reflects the division between man’s and woman’s world.
Scolnicov develops subsequent chapters using a similar methodology. Throughout the book, she explores how “woman’s special links with space, based on her privileged position in the home” (154) gradually shrink and disappear. Moliere marks the revolutionary shift from exterior to interior spaces being presented on stage, a shift which signifies the invasion of woman’s space and the start of her gradually shrinking connection with it. By Beckett, space is no longer gender-specific as Winnie’s mound in Happy Days or the disembodied mouth in Not I epitomize.
More compelling than the survey of the gradual dissociation of woman and home in western drama are the parallels Scolnicov establishes at certain times in the book between space and the woman’s body. In her analysis of Lysistrata, for example, she shows how the theatrical space becomes eroticized through its association with the female body which, in turn, endows every action with sexual overtones. The Acropolis, the interior space claimed by the...