Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

The Fate of the Symbolic
in A Streetcar Named Desire
Kathleen Hulley

To reconcile literature and theatre is not to compromise and lose something from each, but rather to understand what dramatic dialogue is and does, why words on the page are not the same in function as words on the stage. The methods of literary criticism may well be inappropriate by themselves: we are not judging the text but what the text makes the actors make the audience do.

J. L. STYAN, The Dynamics of Drama

Styan points out what we too often forget in writing about theatre: that theatre does not exist except through the presence of an audience. Martin Esslin tells us of an actress Max Frisch saw walking across a stage. She was simply walking, eating an apple, somewhere, anywhere. However, because for Frisch she was walking across a stage, the moment suddenly blazed with significance. For Frisch the importance element was a stage; for me, it is the presence of Frisch.If he had not been there, as the audience, the event would have had no meaning at all. The sacred powers of the stage are utterly dependent on the presence of an audience, which tacitly agrees that what happens on the stage is not life but its magic simulacrum.

Because of this convention, the stage is the semiotic space par excellence. Every artifact, every gesture, every word on the stage is symbolic because nothing on the stage refers to itself; by its very presence on the stage, the simplest chair becomes a symbol of reality, but is not reality. It

____________________
From Themes in Drama, edited by James Redmond. © 1982 by Cambridge University Press.

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