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1 COMPAEATIVE i ama Volume 22Fall 1988Number 3 Point of View in Drama: Diegetic Monologue, Unreliable Narrators, and the Author's Voice on Stage Brian Richardson The idea of point of view in the dramal is certain to strike many as a strange or even contradictory notion. It is conventionally assumed that, because plays are non-narrative, the complex issues associated with theories of point of view can have nothing to do with the stage. Furthermore, major theorists of both narrative discourse and the semiotics of theater generally agree that drama is exclusively a mimetic gerne, while fiction combines mimesis and diegesis. Scholes and Kellogg assert: "By narrative we mean all those literary works which are distinguished by two characteristics: the presence of a story and a story-teller. A drama is a story without a story-teller; in it characters act out directly what Aristotle called an 'imitation' of such action as we find in life"; Keir Elam similarly states that drama is "without narratorial mediation" and that it is "mimetic rather than strictly diegetic—acted rather than narrated."2 The same position is also affirmed by Franz Stanzel, Lubomir DoIezel , Dorrit Cohn, and Jiri Veltrusky.3 BRIAN RICHARDSON is an Instructor in the English Department at the University of Washington. Currently he is working on a study of modem drama from the perspective of narrative theory. 193 194Comparative Drama To be sure, this stance accurately describes the practice of the naturalistic theater, and it is largely true of much comedy from the Restoration to the early twentieth century. But when considering works of other periods (including our own) it is much more difficult to ignore the significant role of diegesis in the drama. Samuel Johnson, like many neo-classical critics, was more concerned to denounce the practice of narration than to deny its existence: "Narration in dramatick poetry," he pronounced , "is naturally tedious, as it is unanimated and inactive, and obstructs the progress of the action. . . ."4 In what follows, I will suggest that narration is a basic element of the playwright's technique, that it appears throughout Western drama, and that its deployment calls for the kind of analysis of point of view usually reserved for modern fiction. In referring to narrators on stage, I do not mean characters that happen to relate actions that occur off-stage—e.g., the anonymous citizens who frequently divulge expositional material at the beginning of a Shakespearean play, or the dumbfounded messenger who reports the deaths in a Greek tragedy. Instead, I am designating the speaker or consciousness that frames, relates, or engenders the actions of the characters of a play—e.g., Gower, the dubious source and prologue of Shakespeare's Pericles, or Henry Carr, the dramatized psyche behind Stoppard's Travesties. In 1968, Susan Sontag introduced point-of-view criticism to the study of film; since then several important works on cinematic narration have appeared.5 Comparable investigations of the theater, however, are still extremely rare.6 This is an unfortunate state of critical affairs for two reasons: it is important to acknowledge the rich tradition of narration in drama, and by doing so it will allow us to identify certain blind spots in theories of point of view based too narrowly on post-Jamesean novels. Analysis of narration on stage can also lead to interesting questions about other aspects of traditional narrative theory such as the relations between mimesis and diegesis, consciousness and representation, and even the author and the text. It is perhaps most useful to start with relatively simple, short, and marginal examples of stage narration: prologues and epilogues . At the beginning of a Plautine comedy, a speaker comes on stage to introduce the play, summarize its plot, and urge the spectators to behave themselves. The opening lines of the Menaechmi read: Brian Richardson195 Salutem primum iam a principio propitiam mihi atque vobis, spectatores, nuntio. apporto vobis Plautum, lingua non manu, quaeso ut benignis accipiatis auribus. nunc argumentum accipite atque animum advortite; quam potero in verba conferam paucissuma. (11. 1-6) (Now first and foremost, folks, I've this apostrophe: May fortune favor all of you—and all of me. I bring you Plautus. (pause...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 193-214
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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