The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0442  Monday, 10 August 2009

From:       David Crosby <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
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 
in the
 >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.

David Crosby

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