Actor as Anti-Character: Dionysus, the Devil, and the Boy Rosalind

Actor as Anti-Character: Dionysus, the Devil, and the Boy Rosalind

Actor as Anti-Character: Dionysus, the Devil, and the Boy Rosalind

Actor as Anti-Character: Dionysus, the Devil, and the Boy Rosalind

Synopsis

Working from the premise that the stage performer's primary functions derive from celebrative rituals, this book describes the figure of the actor as "anti-character" in premodern popular theatre. Particularly in plays belonging to the popular, performative tradition, the actor simultaneously impersonated and subverted the character of the playtext. By doing so, he affirmed the ritual-celebrative authority of the performer and audience over the ideological authority of the written text. Included are close analyses of three major playtexts in performance: Aristophanes' Frogs, the medieval mystery plays, and Shakespeare's As You Like It.

Excerpt

A recurring element in early popular theatre was the refusal by a certain kind of performer to remain within the bounds of dramatic illusion. Despite the increasing emphasis in theatrical performance on textual mimesis and the requirements of character impersonation, such performers, while playing the character, simultaneously asserted their own non-mimetic presence against it. They were actors functioning as anti-characters.

Their kind of performance had its sources in the beginnings of acting, which lay not in the impersonation of characters, but in ritual celebration. The primary function of the actor in certain kinds of early theatre therefore tended to remain celebrative and basically antithetical to the demands not only of dramatic illusion, but often of mimesis itself. As a consequence, there was a frequent tendency in premodern popular performance for the performer to parody and subvert dramatic mimesis in the course of performing it. It is the actor's subversion of textual character--and thus of mimesis itself and its ideological sources--that is the subject of this book.

In the forms of premodern theatre to be examined here, the authority of the text and the integrity of the dramatic illusion were perpetually challenged by the performer. Perhaps this is why these forms display some striking similarities to certain aspects of postmodernist theatre. Michel Benamou's description of postmodernist performance as "a succession of intensities rather than symbolic action based on the presence/absence syndrome" (6) could apply to much premodern popular theatre. Many premodern performances were significantly less structuralist and textualist than used to be thought. They also made frequent use of pastiche, though of a less self-conscious, ironic kind than the postmodernist variety. In 1590, for example, John Lyly wrote: "If we present a mingle-mangle, our fault is . . .

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