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Reviews 185 Bruce Wilshire. Role Playing and Identity: The Limits of Theatre as Metaphor. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982. Pp. xvii + 301. $29.95. Professor Wilshire’s book title, Role Playing and Identity: The Limits of Theatre as Metaphor, accurately characterizes the parameters of his philosophical exploration of theatre and its processes via a phenomeno­ logical approach. As he puts it, his “task will be to formulate an adequate theory of theatre and of role playing onstage that can account for the actor’s ‘speaking himself’ through a fiction” (p. xvii). The book’s useful­ ness derives not so much from its discovery of non-traditional notions and assumptions about the nature of the theatrical event or experience; rather, its worthwhileness stems from Wilshire’s well-founded, insightful analysis of theatre as “the art of imitation that reveals imitation” (p. ix ). Organizationally, Wilshire’s tripartite format serves his purposes well. Part One, “Theatre and the Reality of Appearance,” corroborates the traditionally accepted idea that “theatre is life-like.” After defining “thea­ tre” and “phenomenology” in his first two chapters, Wilshire then pursues his study of the “life-likeness” of theatre by giving probing consideration to the following topics, each a chapter heading: “Theory of Enactment,” “Theory of Appearance,” “Variations on the Theatrical Theme of Stand­ ing In and Authorization,” “Theatre as Metaphor and Play as Disclosure,” “Second Set of Variations on the Theatrical Theme of Standing In and Authorization,” and “Theatre and the Question of the Truth of Art.” In his “systematic attempt to unmask the obvious” (p. 11), Wilshire draws upon his wide-ranging knowledge of theatre and philosophy, as well as his considerable experience as a theatre-goer, to confirm that one can understand theatre only by experiencing it, while simultaneously relating perceptions to other events, both actual and possible. “Theatre,” writes Wilshire, “is to be construed neither as a preeminently visual, nor auditory, nor literary phenomenon, but as a perceptually induced mimetic phenomenon of participation—an imagined experience of total activity” (p. 26). Not surprisingly, he discovers that “involvement and identifica­ tion are the essence of theatre” (p. 43) and that “the theatre event can occur only at the intersection of ‘world’ and world” (p. 61). Prior to his analysis of “the conditions of enactability” (p. 44) of Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, and Waiting for Godot, Professor Wilshire forecasts, in part, the outcome of his study: Our analysis . . . [of the three plays cited] will supply clues concerning conditions of identity of self which will later be confirmed when we examine human life independently and discover it to be theatre-like. We will conclude that the identification in life with persons in authority, the rupturing with them, and the confirmation of all this by others, are articulated and developed by the essential structures of the theatre: standing in or role-taking, dra­ matic rupture between persons in mimetic involvement, and the attestation of all this by the audience. We will conclude that onstage and offstage life are essentially bound together in a metaphorical manner, (p. 44) In the eight chapters which make up Part Two, Wilshire turns his attention to an exploration of the meaning of “Reality and the Self.” The dimensions he examines include: “Space, Time and Identity of Self”; “Self as Body-Self”; “Body-Self and Others”; “Body-Self, Other Body- 186 Comparative Drama Selves, and Self-Deception”; “Self, Body-Image, and Mimetic Engulfment ”; “Identity and Theatre-Like Disengagement from Engulfment”; “Existence and Art: Self as Memorializing Structure of Possibilities”; and “Summary and Prospects.” Wilshire’s careful explication of the intricacies of the complex—and frequently incomprehensible—“self” of human organisms and its potential linkage to the “world” of the thea­ trical event is clearly summarized in his words: The point about identity of self is this: it can accommodate a great range of transformations of personality because we are hard put to discover any conditions which clearly disestablish a self while the body in question still lives and maintains a capacity for consciousness and for distinguishing its experiencing from the experienced (or at least has had or will have such a capacity). Theatre is an art which reaches out to encompass and thematize possibilities of personality...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 185-187
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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