"A just and lively image" - performance in Neo-classic theatre criticism and theory
Thesis (MDram (Drama))—University of Stellenbosch, 2005.
The claim that theatre theorists and critics have historically considered the dramatic text a more important part of theatre than the performance is a prominent theme of 20th century theatre theory. This claim was made in various ways, by different theorists in divergent critical contexts. A brief survey of relevant statements by some of these theorists reveals that different things are meant by this claim and that it relates to a range of important critical issues, for example how theatre is defined, how elements within theatre are ranked, authority and autonomy in theatre practice and theory and attempts to control the processes of interpretation in the theatre. We also see that post-structuralist theatre theorists believe that a majority of statements relating to this claim reflect a logocentric attitude in theatre theory. The aim of this thesis is to determine whether this claim is valid when applied to theatre criticism and theory of a particular period, namely Neo-classicism of the 17th and 18th century. Chapters Two and Three consist of a survey of mainly English and French criticism and theory of this period in the context of some of the general philosophical trends of the era. Chapter Two finds that there is a direct link between the rise of Neo-classicism and the trend in philosophy of system-building and that this informs the dismissive attitude to performance that one finds in this era. In Chapter Three we see that the emergence of new directions in philosophy like empiricism encourages a transformation in the critical attitude to performance. Critics acknowledge the importance of the performance to a far greater extent and in some trends in particular, for example the tentative steps towards Realism and the development of acting theory, we see that critics and theorists are starting to insist that all aspects of staging have to be considered. This is due in part because they are concerned with the integrity of the representation and the intentions of the dramatist, so it does not really mean that the text is not, in this era, considered the most important aspect of theatre after all. Chapter Four discusses more systematically how the issues and questions raised in Chapter One figure in the criticism and theory examined in Chapters Two and Three. This discussion finds that to a large extent the claim investigated in this thesis is valid, but that the respective attitudes to ‘performance’ do reflect different responses to many of the same problems, most specifically problems associated with representation.