In the twentieth century, critical attempts to deal with the nature of theatre have been catching up with acting practice. The movement has been away from discussion of the play as literary artefact to the effect which the performance of that artefact makes on the stage. In this process the not unsurprising discovery has been made that it is in action, not just language, that theatre communicates with its audience. Actors have always known this, and Aristotle dropped fairly strong hints some time ago. Theorists accepted this concept, but have been unable to act upon it owing to the attempt to discuss action in terms of a literary form. The discovery that a language of performance is necessary to discuss performance, puts critics somewhat in the position of Molière's Monsieur Jourdain who discovered late in life that he had been speaking prose all his life without having been aware of it.
In the theatre, words are heard not read, and movement is seen. The Elizabethan theatre, one of the most dynamic in theatrical history, itself flourished in an age when the majority of people were illiterate. What impresses the audience is gestures, movements, sounds and images. These become, in the language of semiotics, the 'signs' that theatre sends out and which the audience recognizes. In this context, the subjective actors become an objective sign when seen within the frame of the theatrical event. All the visible and aural elements of the stage contribute to the total meaning: vocal inflexions, set, costume, makeup, the actor's body. The audience is bombarded by visual images from the stage in a manner which, however much the words may jump off the page, it is not when in the study. Indeed, in a fundamental way, what a director tries to do is to integrate all this input in the audience's