The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism

By Elinor Fuchs | Go to book overview

3
Counter-Stagings
Ibsen against the Grain

WHAT HAS CUSTOMARILY been called “modern drama” has long embraced two general lines of critical reading, realist and modernist, along with their respective traditions of theatrical production. Realist criticism and productions have stressed the illusionistic presentation of social and class issues, and, especially in America, of psychological character. Turning away from psychological character, modernist criticism and productions have tended to follow varying combinations of the three routes I sketched in chapter i: allegorical, critical, and theatricalist.

Ibsen and Strindberg, virtually the inventors, between them, of realism and modernism in the theater, provide in their plays a terrain contested between these two types of criticism. This chapter concerns itself with re-readings of two such classic modern texts, both by Ibsen, from a “post-modern” point of view, Lady from the Sea, frequently claimed by the modernist allegorists, and Hedda Gabler, still claimed primarily by the realist critics. I momentarily insert a hyphen in the vague yet indispensable word “post-modern” to suggest my use of the term here to emphasize a chronological as well as stylistic connotation: the readings are post-modern to the extent they are no longer engaged within the long-standing realist/modernist quarrel of modern dramatic theory and criticism.

The following readings see the poles of this divide not as doctrinal alternatives, but as coexisting aspects of structures under tension. No value is placed here on resolving these tensions. I would rather see the contradictions suggested by a text struggled over on the stage than find them handily resolved in some smoke-filled theatrical back room. In the case of The Lady from the Sea this procedure means reaching back from the Olympian heights of contemporary allegorical readings to revive the realist, character-based, and strongly feminist reading that now “doesn’t fit.” In the case of Hedda Gabler the procedure is very nearly the opposite: to show how the still dominant realist reading has been put under attack by forms of the allegorical and theatricalist thinking I associated with theatrical modernism in chapter i. Though the arguments I

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The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Drama and Performance Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I- Modern after Modernism 19
  • 1- The Rise and Fall of the Character Named Character 21
  • 2- Pattern over Character the Modern Mysterium 36
  • 3- Counter-Stagings Ibsen against the Grain 52
  • Part II- Theater after Modernism 67
  • 4- Signaling through the Signs 69
  • 5- Another Version of Pastoral 92
  • 6- When Bad Girls Play Good Theaters 108
  • 7- Theater as Shopping 128
  • 8- Postmodernism and the Scene of Theater 144
  • Reviews and Articles 1979-1993 Reports from an Emerging Culture 159
  • Notes 199
  • Index 218
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