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v Svejk's Stage Figure: Illustration, Design, and the Representation of Character MICHAEL QUINN Stage figure is the Prague School term for the material signifier of theatrical acting, a human body or puppet made over for aesthetic perception. Stage figures usually correlate with single characters of particular plays, though this conventional practice has been interestingly violated in any number of plays featuring "mistaken identities." According to the Prague School model of the acting sign, as initiated by Otakar Zich, the stage figure stands in an intermediate, technical relation to the actor and the incorporeal dramatic character who resides in the consciousness of the perceiving audience: "The figure is what the actor makes, the character what the audience sees and hears."I In Jin Veltruskfs refinement of Zich's model, the components of the acting sign are discussed functionally, according to teleological categories derived from Karl Biihler's organon-model theory of speech.2 In VeltruskY's scheme the stage figure carries the referential, objectively-coded content of the actor's message. The stage figure provides the material signifier that allows the expressive behavior of the actor to be aesthetically perceived, understood, and evaluated. The concept of stage figure is therefore fundamental to any adequate theory of the semiotics of theatrical acting. Stage ligures are of two principal kinds; the individual persona - a unique character in a wholly original play - and the conventional variety - a known figure that reappears in any number of plays without undergoing any fundamental change. As Jindfich Honzl points out in one of his Prague School lectures, the great historical exception to our current understanding ofdramatic character is the commedia dell'arte, where conventional stage figures like Harlequin and Pantalone were transferred from one scenario to another and exhibited traits that conditioned - even dominated - the events of the plot.3 Honzl also notes, in his discussion of Chekhov's Ivanov, that a character in a play can allude to or resemble another known character according to the same principles by which texts exhibit "intertextuality." The stage figures of such Svejk's Stage Figure 331 characters are very specific in their traits, such as costume, makeup, and habits of gesture; this is where they differ from the more normative, more familiar notion of stage "types," such as the stock ingenue or juvenile. Such conventional stage figures are rare in the modem theater, and in all his writings Brecht was involved with only two: Mother Courage and Svejk. Mother Courage is a figure actually founded by Brecht and Helene Weigel, though she resembles Breughe]'s "Dulle Gret," and her stage history is still relatively short. As her figure resurfaces in later works of art, which will doubtless continue to be the case, she will acquire greater semantic independence ; thus far, she is still very closely tied to the attitudes implied by her genesis in Brecht's play. The figure of Svejk, as embodied in a number of different works, provides a more interesting example ofthe way a conventional character is defined and subsequently varied. The morphology of the Svejk figure emerges in a traceable series of historical steps, until an image of the character emerges that has a definitive, standardized set of features and a characteristic attitude. Brecht was personally involved in several transformations of the Svejk character, so that a study of the evolution of this stage figure also reveals a good deal about the way Brecht took conventional material and used it for his own purposes. The development of the Svejk figure includes narrative, pictorial and dramatic representations. Only after several incarnations did the figure of the character solidify as a social fact lodged in the consciousness ofcentral Europe. The first drawing we have of Svejk, and the only one his creator, laroslav Ha~ek, ever saw, bears little relation to the Svejk we know today. H~ek's Svejk evolved through three relatively independent novels and a whole series of short stories; had H~ek not died a premature death, Svejk would doubtless have continued in an even more extensive set of adventures, and undergone several more refinements. The discussion here will focus on Ha~ek's most nearly finished version ofthe chamcter, as he is...


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pp. 330-339
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