The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0442 Monday, 10 August 2009
From: David Crosby <
Date: Friday, 7 Aug 2009 08:19:29 -0500
Subject: 20.0438 Iago as Dramatist/Performer
Comment: RE: SHK 20.0438 Iago as Dramatist/Performer
When Louis Swilley's questions:
>When the character addresses the audience directly -- as Richard in
>III and Iago in Othello -- doesn't that make the audience a character
>play? If so, what are the consequences of *that*?
he betrays a serious misunderstanding of the nature of theater.
Characters do not address the audience directly -- actors do. Actors
play roles, and so do audiences. The actor's role is to speak the lines
and perform the actions assigned by the playwright and/or director or
improvised by the actor. The audience has mostly the role of auditor,
viewer, appreciator, evaluator. The audience could conceivably take on
other roles, if they were asked to by the actors (for example, joining
in a sing along or suggesting a piece of business for the actors to
improvise) or if they took matters into their own hands, as the Abbey
Theatre's audience notoriously did on the occasions of stopping
productions of Playboy of the Western World and The Plough and the Stars.
When actors address the audience directly in soliloquies, asides,
prologues, epilogues, choruses, etc., they are engaging in
presentational drama, which has been pretty much the norm except for a
brief period in European drama between 1660 and about 1890. So when an
audience listens to and reacts to an actor, whether s/he is speaking
"directly" to them or not, it is playing the role assigned to it by the
nature of the medium.
What then is character? It is a construction of an identity created by
an audience as they hear, see, and react to the words and actions of an
actor. It may also be a concept in the mind of a playwright as he
provides lines and actions for an actor in a play, but this is
speculative. In the theater, an audience is almost always fully
conscious of the actor _at the same time_ that it is assigning her or
him a "character." If this were not the case, the hoary jokes about
audience members who forget themselves and their role by yelling out,
for example, warnings to Othello about Iago's evil plots, and other
similarly "naive" reactions to the theatrical situation.
Outside the theatrical situation, dramatic character is an identity
inferred by readers about words on a page, words that include speech
headings and stage directions, as well as the words meant to be spoken.
Literary critics also create character by arguing about such things as
motives, back stories, and intentions that seem to underlie the words on
the page. All such things, however interesting, are inherently
unknowable and will always remain speculative.
To suggest that a "character directly addresses the audience" is,
strictly speaking, nonsensical. Further to suggest that such an address
by an actor turns the audience into a character is a foray into fantasy.
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