Academic journal article Ludus

Chapter IV: Meta-Theatricality

Academic journal article Ludus

Chapter IV: Meta-Theatricality

Article excerpt

Sie zu fassen

verstäne ich schon -

mich einzunisten -

ihnen Streiche zu spielen

im eigenen Haus -

ist mein Element!1

Meta-theatricality can have a fundamental impact on the experience of the spectators as it draws attention to the performance aspect. As such, meta-theatrical features can be used to make the audience conscious of the fact that they are watching a play. The meta-theatricality of stage characters lies in their ability to suspend the illusion of the play, to go against the conventions of acting, and to distance themselves from the action on stage.2 These all have the effect of drawing attention to the moment and the characters involved and, as such, the meta-theatricality of a character tends much to enhance that character's theatrical appeal as well. Given that the Dutch and English authors consciously focused attention on the theatricality of their negative characters, we can assume that they would do the same for those characters' meta-theatricality. But an analysis of direct interaction with the audience, the use of asides, and the use of soliloquies for the Vice and scenes-apart for the sinnekens shows that the picture is rather more complicated and that further important dis-/ similarities between the two dramatic traditions, and their portrayal of negative characters in particular, emerge.

The attempt by the early Dutch playwrights to make their negative characters most memorable and alluring, which becomes obvious in their characterisation, does not spill over into their meta-theatricality. The appeal of these plays in general, and of the negative characters in particular, certainly does not rely heavily on interaction with the audience. There are but few indisputable examples where the text or stage direction indicates that the audience was actively involved in the play. Occasionally the audience is included through the use of the first person plural pronoun, e.g. 'if we were to lose Summer' in Moiaerf s soliloquy in Winter ende Somer? There are some examples of direct address, as when Elckerlijc warns the audience to take him as an example ('Use this as an example, all those who hear and see it. And notice how all now flee from me').4 But there are few clear instances where the audience is explicitly involved and they are not especially related to evil characters. Sometimes the audience is treated as an extension of the dramatic world, as when Hardt van Waer Seggen (Reluctant to Tell the Truth), calling out for people to join his guild of Sinte Lortse, 'says thus to the people': 'come all you prosperous men and women ... Let your name also be inscribed in the guild of Saint Subterfuge'.5 It is, however, not impossible that Hardt van Waer Seggen is addressing a group of extras on stage, especially as the woodcuts in the printed edition seem to support their presence.6 Later on in the play, Hardt van Waer Seggen narrates the legend of the saint. Again, he seems to be addressing (subsets of) the audience (e.g. 'you youths', 'you girls'), but then the remark 'but whether it will be of any profit, that I cannot guarantee' is a bit odd.7 Conversely, if Hardt van Waer Seggen were narrating the legend to extras on stage, this remark would be a good example of an aside. Most of the examples of direct interaction with the audience on the part of evil characters are disputable. For instance, Scerpondersouc's (Stringent Investigation) 'I shall reward them [i.e. the foolish virgins], be quiet; I shall drag them away with my companions' seems to be addressed to the audience, given that the virgins and the fellow devils are referred to in the third person.8 Yet the stage direction reads 'here the devils begin to kick up a fuss, speaking to the foolish virgins'.9

Already in the earliest surviving English play texts there is an awareness of the presence of an audience that is not found to the same extent in Dutch drama. We encounter references to or direct address of the audience in all the mystery cycles and in two of the earliest morality plays, namely Mankind and Perseverance. …

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