Article Title

Theatrical Pragmatics: The Actor-Audience Relationship from the Mystery Cycles to the Early Tudor Comedies


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

For the purposes of my paper I offer the following definition of a dramatic performance: real people (the audience) perceive real utterances and real actions performed by other real people (the actors). The real utterances and the real actions represent fictitious or historical utterances and actions by fictitious or historical people (the dramatis personae). The utterances are of course special kinds of actions and receive special mention merely for the sake of clarity. The relationship described here is normal for drama,1 although it is not the only one. Representation can be fruitfully discussed as a relationship between two worlds. And the question "How do we get from one world to the other?" that is so important in possible-world semantics is also of paramount importance in the study of drama. Here, however, it is not merely a theoretical but also an eminently practical question. In our modem theaters the lights go out, the curtain opens, etc. These conventions symbolically annihilate our own "ordinary world'' (Wo ) and help us to concentrate on the fictitious "dramatic world" (Wd).2 The symbolic annhilation of the "ordinary world" is a way of suggesting that the "dramatic world" leads an independent existence from our own. The people in that world behave as if we did not exist. The convention that makes such behavior possible is often referred to as "the fourth wall." This convention is often breached, but even in the breach it asserts itself: the breach would not be effective without the convention. It is a commonplace of theatrical criticism that medieval and Renaissance drama did not know the "fourth wall," nor perhaps any other wall. This commonplace, however. gives us a purely negative definition of the play-audience relationship in pre-classical drama. It may even suggest that the invisible wall could be penetrated at will in those days. This was certainly not the case, and no dramatic art would be possible on such an assumption.

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