Thursday, October 27, 2005

Complexity Necessity Necessitates Caution

Earlier, I made the point that not only is it interesting to find the same issues and problems that afflict religious studies addressed in the broader liberal arts, but that it is important to do so. Along the same lines, I would like to post the introductory comments of an introduction to theatre text published by Oxford University Press (Lennard, John and Mary Luckhurst. The Drama Handbook: A Guide to Reading Plays. Oxford University Press, 2002). The point: hermeneutical complexity is everywhere, not just in religious studies. Here is the quotation:

This book is born of frustration. For full-time students of drama there are many books on text and elements of performance; but for students of English Literature, who may in their studies at school or university encounter one classical Greek, one mediaeval, several Renaissance, and a variety of later plays, and for the general reader or playgoer, there is no good, short guide to all the basics. Our remit therefore, is what all such readers need to know to avoid misunderstanding drama, and to develop their reading in ways that promote better connections with their experiences of spectating and auditing.

The communal and performative nature of drama means plays are inseparable from theatrical conventions, architectures, and technologies specific to the cultures that produce them, and in teaching a significant part of the problem is a general ignorance of theatre-history. [Most literature students cannot] say much about the history of drama. Yet theatres shaped by specifically modern conditions are not remotely like [Shakespeare’s] Globe I and it is misleading to read older texts as if they were written for modern performance conventions. Both omnipotent directors and dimming house-lights for performance, for example, date only from the late nineteenth century; and the conditions of most mainstream productions, from lengthy rehearsals to professional reviews and long runs, are now profoundly alien to the performative tenor of Shakespeare texts.

Many readers treat plays as static objects, complete in themselves, but from writing and rehearsal to performance and revival drama is an open-ended process, constantly dynamic and never complete. Performing and spectating are intrinsically collaborative, and drama is in many ways more like music than like poetry or prose--all of which can be deployed performatively within a play that demands a more complex approach than any one of its component forms. It is hard for readers without dramatic experience or training to respect this dynamism and complexity, but to approach any drama, printed or performed, as only an object is often to court disaster and almost always to miss the point.


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