Point of View in Plays: A Cognitive Stylistic Approach to Viewpoint in Drama and Other Text-Types

Article excerpt

Dan McIntyre. Point of View in Plays: A Cognitive Stylistic Approach to Viewpoint in Drama and Other Text-types. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2006. 203 pp. $119 hardbound.

Point of View in Plays suggests that a good deal of attention has been given to point of view in prose fiction, but very little to point of view in drama. It argues that the notion is applicable to drama because some plays have narrative aspects and possess discourse structures that are similar to prose fictions, and that the concept would illuminate a number of features of dramatic texts. After considering existing taxonomies of viewpoint in prose fiction (including the narratological idea of focalization), their strengths and weaknesses, and their potential for drama, the book reviews what little work there has been on point of view in plays.

McIntyre argues that the theory on point of view in both prose and drama has failed to take account of the subtlety and variety of the co-occurring viewpoints that arise in the reading of a text, and the many ways in which readers or audiences are exposed to them. In an attempt to provide an explanation of point of view in drama which satisfactorily accounts for these features, he considers various categories of deixis and deictic fields, and puts forward a modified form of deictic shift theory that incorporates contextual frame theory as well as Catherine Emmott's work on narrative comprehension. His next step is to extend the notion of deictic shift theory by mapping it onto Marie-Laure Ryan's typology of possible worlds. This new conceptual framework reveals how readers move in and out of characters' possible worlds and hence how readers can experience characters' perspectives on their storyworld. Next, McIntyre examines the relationship between point of view and Roger Fowler's concept of mind style, and proposes that, in addition to such cues as grammatical patterns and metaphor, mind style can be indicated through a character's use of logic and idiosyncratic reality paradigms. He then makes use of all of this theoretical underpinning in an extended analysis of the viewpoint effects in a single text: Alan Bennett's play The Lady in the Van. In doing so, various issues are considered: the narrative aspects of the play, how these affect viewpoint, how individual characters express point of view, and how readers and audiences might react to these features. He mentions that the point of view effects in The Lady in the Van are part of what makes it such a successful and innovative play. The book concludes with a suggestion that the cognitive study of point of view in drama is able to give us further insights into point of view in prose texts as well, and also into language and communication generally.

McIntyre adopts a thorough and painstaking approach to his subject, devoting a good deal of time to the important intuitions contained in the work of previous scholars and also to the shortcomings that he identifies there. The book is very carefully signposted so that the reader is never left in any doubt about where a particular section of the book fits into the whole. It is to Mclntyre's credit that he brings together a number of different paradigms such as point of view, deictic shifts, possible worlds, and mind style in order to illuminate the specific question of point of view in plays. The results, when applied to Alan Bennett's play, are very illuminating.

Despite McIntyre's best efforts, though, I continue to have a general concern about the whole notion of point of view. I should stress that it relates to studies of point of view generally, and not specifically to this one, although I am afraid that Mclntyre was not able to allay my concern. Part of the reason that he did not do so is that he does not define the term point of view. You may think it odd to ask for a definition of the term. Surely everybody knows by now what it is! But do they? My guess is that we all know what we ourselves mean by the term, but can often discover that other people mean slightly different things. …