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Reviews193 consciousness. . . . Ellida's decision might be seen as a turning point (knutepunkt) deciding the nature of the dramatic actions that will follow. Humanity chooses to remain earthbound, to reject the lure of absolute freedom, and to remain this side of the third empire of spirit and, in the plays that follow, will be concerned to summon up its entire achievement rather than to undertake any significant advance, (pp. 230-33) The breakthrough for Johnston in Text and Supertext is that his readings of Ibsen are now presented in the context of a comprehensive critical framework. He is no longer giving occasional readings of Ibsen. Furthermore, the question of the degree to which Hegel was a direct influence on Ibsen becomes moot. Any intelligent reader will accept Hegel as part of the "supertext" of Ibsen. Johnston is no longer the solitary voice crying in the wilderness but a major contemporary critic and the central figure in Ibsen criticism. MICHAEL X. ZELENAK Yale University Stanton B. Garner, Jr. The Absent Voice: Narrative Comprehension in the Theater. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989. Pp. 215. $22.50. It is not unusual to read a text on the theory of drama that not only does not mention the stage and its ways, but often avoids naming a playwright or a play. One may be forgiven for distrusting the argument in such a text. It is therefore a pleasure to read Professor Garner's book dealing with a difficult and complicated topic in drama theory when he is determined by a profusion of illustrations to keep our thinking concrete. It is an even greater pleasure to find him ranging easily over the plays of many periods and to recognize his ability to see drama whole. He is "into" drama, as they say, and it is not always possible to concede this commitment in many critics, beginning with Aristotle. The Absent Voice introduces an excellent discussion on the business of story-telling, the elements of narrative, in playwriting, and then goes on to explore its new arguments with five sharp essays on particular plays ranging from the medieval morality play to recent offerings by Samuel Beckett. For Professor Garner narrative has little to do with "plot" and much to do with the energies of the stage in action, and he believes that Aristotle's notorious segregation of plot from the more theatrical elements of a play betrays his suspicion of actors and performance itself. "Abstracting narrative from its conditions in performance ," writes Garner in his introduction, "involves stripping comprehension of its place within the totality of audience response: physiological, sensory, emotional, visceral," and "for the dramatic text to receive life in the theater, it must surrender itself to the medium of performance." He thereupon sets himself (and us) the task of keeping in focus the mercurial relationship between the stage and its audience, and exploring the complex network of knowing and perceiving when a play is in performance. A play begins where narrative in the theater begins, "on a bare stage prepared to signal its dramatic world" (p. 3), and with the help of dips 194Comparative Drama and dives into Three Sisters, Hamlet, and many other plays, Garner points out how the spectator pieces the evidence together, "forming and reforming its memories and anticipations (we should relish this past and future high-wire balancing-act) as knowledge confronts the unknown" (p. 16). In a situation where the immediacy of performance is paramount, comprehension is intrinsically unstable; yet the experience of play-watching builds upon itself, and the meaning of the play for the audience emerges. "The stage asserts its theatricality in music, movement, sound, objects— in all the various forms that performance reality assumes. It asserts itself when Hamlet holds Yorick's skull at arm's length, and when Sir Fopling displays his French coat to the general admiration" (p. 24). Thus, "to strip drama of the theater is to rob it of its distinctive rhythms, and the effects made possible within a medium that stands slightly beyond narrative 's reach" (p. 28). Here is a tightly packed argument that bravely aims to embrace a whole spectrum of narrative devices and techniques from...


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pp. 193-195
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