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Book Reviews MARTIN ESSLIN. The Field a/Drama: How the Signs ofDrama Create Meaning on Stage and Screen. London and New York: Methuen 1987. Pp. ix, 190. $16.95. Martin Esslin's examination of The Field ofDrama begins from the premise that drama plays a crucial role in contemporary culture. Recognizing this influence, however, depends on broadening our dermitioD of "drama" to account for technological change and the corresponding shifts in public exposure to dramatic works. For Esslin, "drama" includes not only the stage play, but also film, television and radio, and one of the principal aims of his book is to widen the scope of the study of drama while cJarifying both what the different media have in common and what distinguishes them. To accomplish this , Esslin turns to semiotics as the critical framework best suited to establishing the specificity of the dramatic media and to explaining how drama affects its audience. Repeated criticism of semiotic jargon underscores Esslin's desire to make semiotics accessible to a general.audience and to present it as a practical tool both for students and for theatre practitioners. Thus while he occasionally cites semioticians such as Andre Bazin, Umbeno Eco, Keir Elam, and Patrice Pavis, adopting their focus on the complex signifying systems through which drama communicates, Esslin maintains a clear critical distance from their work. In his introductory chapters, Esslin attempts to circumscribe the "field ofdrama" as he has defined it. Arguing against the sharp distinction between film and theatre prevalent in current semiotic theory , he identifies "mimetic action," unfolding in time and space as the common core of all dramatic media and gives special prominence to acting as its central an form. Although he does not explicitly establish a hierarchy ofdramatic signs, his emphasis on the centrality of the actor, as focal point of spectator's attention and as pivotal for all performed drama, contrasts markedly with the argument for a fluid hierarchy ofdramatic elements put forward by members of the Prague School and, after them, Elam in his invaluable study of The Semiotics ofTheatre and Drama. Here we have but one example of the distance separating Esslin from other semioticians and of Esslin's reliance on a fairly traditional model of Western theatre. Book Reviews Esslin turns next to basic typologies of signs (such as C.S. Pierce's categories of icon, index, and symbol) and their organization into the variety of sign systems operating within the dramatic performance. Succeeding - often very brief - chapters examine the role of"framing" or "preparatory" devices and systems associated with the actor. visuals and design, dialogue, and sound. While maintaining the value of the unifyipg conceptof"drama," Esslin then explores the differences between "The Signs of Stage and Screen," pointing, for example, to the unique conditions of television viewing. with their lowered intensity of response, as reasons for television's violence and sensationalism. Beyond offering many such insights, these chapters also reveal Esslin's bias toward the stage, as the "highest" form of drama. Examples in the extremely short discussion of music and sound all but ignore the subtleties of sound in ftlm or television. And his listing of signs proper to cinema and television is remarkably incomplete, omitting many of the cinematographic properties which help determine film's uniqueness. One wonders whether Esslin is trying to prove the similarities among the dramatic media by suppressing some of the evidence or whether he simply is not up to date in his reading of film theory. Esslin's frna1 chapters focus on the dramatic event as a whole and its relationship with its perceivers. His analysis of "Structure as Signifier" presents higher order signifying systems such as plot, rhythm, and genre as both unifying the performance and directing the spectator's reading of it. Two further chapters highlight the role of audience competence and social conventions in producing drama's many layers of meaning. Finally. Esslin organizes these multiple meanings into a hierarchy borrowed from Dante, which builds from the litera1 to the "anagogicaJ" level of intellectua1 or spiritual insight. While he insists on the power ofdrama to shape cultural values and behavior, in the end, he sees drama's ultimate significance in the intense...