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Theater, Drama, and the Second World: A Prologue to Shakespeare Harry Berger, Jr. By using as touchstone the idea of the second world— that is, the model or construct which the mind creates in order to withdraw from the actual environment, thus to offer a clarified image of the world it replaces— one can discern certain identifying marks of two sets of assumptions and world views, which I have called medieval and renaissance.! My aim here is to describe two structurally different forms of drama which are parallel to the first yet more specific: church ritual and Shakespearian play. These labels remind you that the forms are historical— they are embedded in historical circumstance, and have histories which helped shape them. But I am not now going to approach them in their historical context, nor in their historical relation to each other, except perhaps to relate each very briefly to some of the inferences about intellectual history already put forth. The present discussion is primarily structural in character. I The fundamental distinction to be made is that between drama and theater. A play is both drama and theater, and we must under­ stand the way in which these two contexts interact and affect each other. Drama is a Greek word for action, acting, doing, performing. As Aristotle pointed out, drama is primarily a temporal rather than a spatial event, though the terms drama and dramatic tend to fall into two families of reference— when they are not used simply as synonyms for theater and melodramatic: 1) We think first of shaped and significant conflict— of a dialectical action, an interaction, an agon; its module, its purest or most rudimentary form, is unmediated dialogue. 2) But I think a second set of associations directs us toward the sense of the dramatic action as something externalized, and viewed, or imagined, from outside the agonists. Even inner human action, to be made dramatic, has somehow to be externalized, soc­ ialized, made visible, asserted over against an other, exacting a response, or itself a response. Drama as action seems to require a co-presence of agents, and as performance it implies the additional presence of spectators or readers. Dramatic action is thus interaction. 3 4 Comparative Drama Theater comes from a Greek word which denotes a place for seeing, displaying and, again, performing. Where drama demands agents, theater demands actors. Where drama is a certain kind of action capable of representation in a variety of media, theater is a particular medium— primarily visual (not primarily verbal)— which embraces the network of actual circumstances and participants who cooperate in representing and observing a particular action. The theatrical situation is itself inherently dramatic: A play is immediately related to, directly performed before, an audience. Com­ pared with any literary form, the playwright is on the other side of the medium— behind it, not in front of it. His disappearance behind the play leads to a more intense encounter of audience with play world, a more complex interaction among players, characters, and spectators. And since the main fact of the theater is the visual presence of actors playing usually predetermined roles before spectators, the playwright is in a paradoxical position. On the one hand, he has more power than the poet, because his vision is imposed on producers, directors, players and spectators. On the other hand, and for exactly the same reason, he is much more at the mercy of others. He can invent plots, set the scene, and stand behind the arras, but because he has committed his work to the free wills of other interpreters he cannot control their onstage behavior. The theatrical occasion may tempt the actor to subordinate the demands of the script and role to his own ego. The play as a whole may be reduced to a review, a background for the expression of individual personalities. The creator’s more comprehensive idea may be frustrated, and his imaginary world may have to share the stage with the rhetorical self-concern of actors. A struggle may thus arise between the author, with his central con­ sciousness, and his interpreters, each of whom is potentially a central consciousness. From the distinction between theater...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 3-20
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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