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THEATRE DICTIONARIES: A VIEW FROM INSIDE Joel Trapido The purpose of this article is to summarize what has been done in theatre language and to describe the Dictionary that a number of us are preparing. Since I shall refer to some thirty books and articles, I have attempted to keep footnotes to a minimum by providing full information on published material only in the bibliography. In 1919, Brander Matthews wrote: The theatre has an elaborate terminology of its own, completely adequate to its manifold necessities, and as precise in its meaning and as accurate in its application as the vocabulary of any of the sciences. To the outsider the technicalities of the stage are likely to be as mysterious as those of any other department of human activity,—as mysterious and as misleading. A star-trap, for example, is not intended for the sole use of a star; on the contrary it is a mechanical device the obvious dangers of which no star would ever be called upon to risk. A baby-spot carries with it no suggestion that a stage infant is about to break out with the measles;. . . Nor has a raking-piece anything whatever to do with gardening (1919:252). In the same year, H. L. Mencken's The American Language included scores of theatre terms consisting mainly of theatre slang. Mencken massively demonstrated the existence of an American language in even less respectable places than the theatre (after all, he even printed the language of the underworld). Perhaps this landmark book, combined with Matthews' plea, was related to the appearance of the earliest glossary of technical theatre in English, Stanley McCandless' "Glossary of Stage Lighting," in the September, 1926 issue of Theatre Arts Monthly. This pioneering article presented its terms in separately alphabetized sections, organized by function (e.g., controlboard accessories). Two years later, Philip Barber, in Scene Technician's Handbook, added to the alphabetical corpus with a glossary of the language of rigging and handling scenery. Though some entries are frankly manual-like, the glossary did record some two hundred terms. If the pace seemed to be quickening, it was. In 1930 the first two general glossaries of theatre language appeared. If the earliest technical glossaries had been American, the first general glossaries were British. One was part of C. B. Purdom's Producing Plays, and the other was the first separately published glossary of theatre language in English, W. G. Fay's A Short Glossary of Theatrical Terms. A similar American pamphlet, Ken Carrington's Theatricana , appeared in 1939. Together these little glossaries suggest that even in the earlier decades of this century, the theatre language of speakers of English was similar on both sides of the Atlantic. A noticeable minority of Fay's entries, however, would have been unfamiliar to an American theatre worker. Barber and Purdom were followed in the 1930s by a number of glossaries, mainly in texts on play production used in courses in American universities. In the decades since World War II, such internal glossaries have multiplied. A partial bibliography in 1967,' for example, shows more than fifty such vocabu106 Joel Trapido107 laries; the number at present would be twice that. Most of these glossaries define a few score terms. Among the most substantial, with entries running to five hundred or more, are the internal glossaries by Hendrik Baker, Herbert Philippi, and Sylvan Barnet (with others). Baker deals with stage management and the theatre crafts; Philippi is similar but with a strong emphasis on design. The Barnet is broader, being a separate eighty-five page section called "Dictionary of Dramatic Terms." The body of its material is in brief discourses under such headwords as character, comedy, lighting, or medieval drama. Most of the terms in these well-written pieces are cross-referenced at their place in the alphabet. Before we turn to the major separately-published works on theatre language , we should note the theatre encyclopedias. Bernard Sobel's The Theatre Handbook and Digest of Plays (1940), the first such work in English, is representative . Better known is Phyllis Hartnoll's more extensive The Oxford Companion to the Theatre (1951). Both works enter terms comparable in number to those...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 106-115
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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