The Play within the Play The Performance ofMeta-Theatre and Self-Reflection
Internationale Forschungen zur 112 Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft In Verbindung mitNorbert Bachleitner (Universität Wien), Dietrich Briesemeister (FriedrichSchiller-Universität Jena), Francis Claudon (Université Paris XII), JoachimKnape (Universität Tübingen), Klaus Ley (Johannes Gutenberg-UniversitätMainz), John A. McCarthy (Vanderbilt University), Alfred Noe (UniversitätWien), Manfred Pfister (Freie Universität Berlin), Sven H. Rossel (UniversitätWien) herausgegeben von Alberto Martino (Universität Wien)Redaktion: Ernst GrabovszkiAnschrift der Redaktion:Institut für Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft, Berggasse 11/5, A-1090 Wien
The Play within the Play The Performance ofMeta-Theatre and Self-Reflection Edited by Gerhard Fischer Bernhard Greiner Amsterdam - New York, NY 2007
ContentsAcknowledgements ixGerhard Fischer and Bernhard Greiner The Play within the Play: Scholarly Perspectives xiI. The Play within the Play and the Performanceof Self-ReflectionBernhard Greiner The Birth of the Subject out of the Spirit of the Play within the Play: The Hamlet Paradigm 3Yifen Beus Self-Reflexivity in the Play within the Play and its Cross-Genre Manifestation 15Klaus R. Scherpe ‘Backstage Discourse’: Staging the Other in Ethnographic and Colonial Literature 27David Roberts The Play within the Play and the Closure of Representation 37Caroline Sheaffer-Jones Playing and not Playing in Jean Genet’s The Balcony and The Blacks 47II. The Play within the Play and Meta-Theatre1. Self-Reflection and Self-ReferenceChristian Sinn The Figure in the Carpet: Metadramatical Concepts in Jacob Bidermann’s Cenodoxus (1602) 61John Golder Holding a Mirror up to Theatre: Baro, Gougenot, Scudéry and Corneille as Self-Referentialists in Paris, 1628-1635/36 77Manfred Jurgensen Rehearsing the Endgame: Max Frisch’s Biography: A Play 101Barnard Turner Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound (1968) and The Real Thing (1982): New Frames and Old 113Ulrike Landfester The Invisible Fool: Botho Strauss’s Postmodern Metadrama and the History of Theatrical Reality 129
vi2. The Theatre and its AudienceShimon Levy Queen of a Bathtub: Hanoch Levin’s Political, Aesthetic and Ethical Metatheatricality 145Gad Kaynar The Disguised and Distanced Real(ity) Play within the Fictitious Play in Israeli Stage-Drama 167Zahava Caspi A Lacerated Culture, A Self-Reflective Theatre: The Case of Israeli Drama 189III. Perspectives on the World: Comedy, Melancholy,theatrum mundiFrank Zipfel ‘Very Tragical Mirth’: The Play within the Play as a Strategy for Interweaving Tragedy and Comedy 203Herbert Herzmann Play and Reality in Austrian Drama: The Figure of the Magister Ludi 221Helmut J. Schneider Playing Tragedy: Detaching Tragedy from Itself in Classical Drama from Lessing to Büchner 237Gerhard Fischer Playwrights Playing with History: The Play within the Play and German Historical Drama (Büchner, Brecht, Weiss, Müller) 249Birgit Haas Postmodernism Unmasked: Rainald Goetz’s Festung and Albert Ostermaier’s The Making of B-Movie 267IV. The Play within the Play as Agency of Socio-CulturalReflection and Intercultural AppropriationLada Cale Feldman The Context Within: The Play within the Play between Theatre Anthropology, System Theory and Postcolonial Critique 285Maurice Blackman Intercultural Framing in Aimé Césaire’s Une Tempête 297Kyriaki Frantzi Re-Interpreting Shadow Material in an Ancient Greek Myth: Another Night: Medea 307
viiV. The Play within the Play as Agency ofIntermedial Transformation1. The Play within the Play and OperaYvonne Noble John Gay and the Frame Play 321Donald Bewley Opera within Opera: Contexts for a Metastasian Interlude 335Theresia Birkenhauer Theatrical Transformation, Media Superimposition and Scenic Reflection: Pictorial Qualities of Modern Theatre and the Hofmannsthal/Strauss Opera Ariadne auf Naxos 3472. The Play within the Play and FilmErika Greber Pushkin in Love, or: A (Screen)Play within the Play. The Cinematic Potential of Romantic-Ironic Narration in Eugene Onegin 361Alessandro Abbate The Text within the Text, the Screen within the Screen: Multi-Layered Representations in Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet 377Ken Woodgate ‘Gotta Dance’ (in the Dark): Lars von Trier’s Critique of the Musical Genre 3933. The Play within the Play in Narrative FictionTim Mehigan The Game of the Narrative: Kleist’s Fiction from a Game- Theoretical Perspective 405Alexander Honold French Beans and Mashed Potatoes: Agonistic Play and Symbolic Acting in Gottfried Keller’s Prose Fiction 421Ulrike Garde Playing with the Apparatus: Franz Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’ and Barrie Kosky’s Interpretation for the Melbourne International Arts Festival 431Notes on Contributors 447Index of Names 455
AcknowledgementsThe essays in the present collection constitute a selection of papers deliveredat the 2004 Sydney German Studies Symposium, which was devoted to thetopic of The Play within the Play. The chapters have been thoroughly revisedand edited for publication. The Symposium, convened by the editors, wasdesigned to explore the wide range of aesthetic, literary-theoretical and philo-sophical issues associated with the rhetorical device of the play within theplay, not only in terms of its original theatrical setting ranging from the baro-que idea of the theatrum mundi onward to contemporary examples of a post-modern self-referential dramaturgy, but also with regard to a number of dif-ferent generic and theoretical applications, in narrative fiction and anthro-pological writing, in musical theatre and film. As editors, our thanks go, first and foremost, to the individual authorswho have made this volume possible; we appreciate their contributions asmuch as their co-operation and patience during the preparation of this work.We also wish to thank Marieke Schilling of Rodopi and Ernst Grabovszkiand the members of the editorial board of IFAVL for their enthusiastic adop-tion of the project. A vote of thanks is due to the Sydney Goethe Institute,notably Roland Goll and Rainer Manke, for providing once again their beau-tiful venue with its cheerful ambiance that had so much to do with makingthe Sydney German Studies Symposia a successful series of events over near-ly three decades, as well as to the German Consulate-General in Sydney andthe German Research Council (DFG) for their essential support. We also liketo acknowledge the contribution of the German Academic Exchange Service(DAAD) and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of UNSW (Prof. Annet-te Hamilton, Dean) who made the visit of Prof. Bernhard Greiner possible. We owe a considerable debt of gratitude to Dr. Nita Schechet (Jerusalem)and, in particular, to Dr. John Golder (Sydney) who helped with the arduoustask of proof-reading and copy-editing a complex and diverse manuscript. Afinal ‘thank you’ goes to Maria Oujo (Sydney) who completed the electroniclayout of the book. Lastly, it is our sad duty to report the death of our colleague Theresia Bir-kenhauer who passed away on 6 November 2006.Gerhard Fischer (Sydney) and Bernhard Greiner (Tübingen)
Gerhard Fischer and Bernhard GreinerThe Play within the Play: Scholarly Perspectives The curtain opens. The stage represents a theatre. Ludwig Tieck, Die verkehrte WeltThe Play within the Play, Spiel im Spiel in German dramatic theory, or le thé-âtre dans le théâtre in French, is a theatrical device or convention, or a kindof sub-genre within dramatic literature and theatrical practice. Dramaturgical-ly speaking it describes a strategy for constructing play texts that contain,within the perimeter of their fictional reality, a second or internal theatricalperformance, in which actors appear as actors who play an additional role.This duplication of the theatrical reality is often reinforced by the presenceonstage of an ‘internal audience’ which acts as a double to the actual audi-ence. Like similar terms employed in theories of narrativity, e.g. mise enabyme, Rahmenerzählung (‘frame story’), Binnenerzählung (‘inner story’, orstory within a story), dramaturgical terms such as ‘frame play’ or ‘outer play’(Rahmenstück, pièce-cadre) and ‘interior’ or ‘internal play’ (Binnenstück,pièce intérieure) are commonly used in order to identify the two characteris-tic components of the play within the play. Its most salient feature is that itdoubles an aesthetic experience which already presents a dual reality: theactor, who appears on stage both in his/her own physical presence and in thepart he/she portrays, assumes and plays yet another role, thus adding a thirdidentity which itself is constructed in the context of a third level of time,space, characterisation and action. The play within a play boasts a long and notable tradition in Europeantheatre and dramatic literature: it is a dramaturgical strategy that playwrightsfrom Aristophanes to Heiner Müller have put to a wide range of purposes.However, scholarly perspectives on the play within the play do not need to belimited to European theatre. Indeed, the anthropological ubiquitousness ofboth play and performance as social action as well as aesthetic experiencetestify to the international and multicultural dimensions of the play within theplay and its function as a motif in dramatic literatures around the world. Fur-thermore, the play within the play also presents an ideal agency for shifting
xii Gerhard Fischer and Bernhard Greinerbetween different media, as well as for expressing notions and experiencesinvolving cultural exchange or cultural conflict. The play within the play was the focus and the exclusive topic of investi-gation of an International Symposium held from 22 – 25 July 2004 at theGoethe Institut in Sydney, Australia, under the auspices of the Faculty of Artsand Social Sciences of the University of New South Wales. The main aim ofthe conference, convened by the editors of the present volume, was to presenta comprehensive account of the peculiar structural and thematic features ofthe play within the play, to analyse its theoretical dimensions, and to providea comparative basis for discussion of this literary/theatrical phenomenon onan international scale. The participants, some fifty academics from Europe,Asia, the United States, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand, repre-sented a number of disciplines and research areas; they included scholars inliterature and cultural studies, anthropologists, theatre historians and practi-tioners, musicologists, and specialists in performance studies. The presentvolume presents a selection of the papers that were read and discussed at theSydney Symposium, edited and brought up to date for the express purpose ofproviding a critical study at once wide-ranging and comparative. The play within the play is manifest in a multitude of forms and constel-lations, and it fulfils an equally diverse variety of tasks and functions withinthe performing arts. Systematically, these can be grouped in four distinct cat-egories. One can consider the play within the play primarily (1) as an artisticagency of self-reference and self-reflection, i.e. as imaginative play that re-fers back to itself. It thus appears as a meta-theatrical mode of aesthetic ex-pression, in terms of its own specific nature as play and representation as wellas with regard to the function of the stage-audience relationship and in viewof the self-reflection of its acting protagonists. It may also be thought of (2)as a special mode of perception that allows for different ways of presentingperspectives of appropriating and placing itself in relation to the world atlarge. Likewise, it is (3) a particularly suitable aesthetic agency for the explora-tion of fields of social and historical interaction or exchange, with a specialdimension in the area of intercultural and/or intracultural contact or conflict.Lastly, the play within the play can be seen (4) as an artistic agency of media-tion between conventional genres, or of generic transformation, permittingshifts from one genre to another. The play within the play is thus by nomeans limited to theatre, whether it be dramatic text or performance; it en-joys a wide popularity also in film, opera and musical theatre, and it frequen-tly appears as a device in narrative fiction as well.
The Play within the Play xiii As a specific form of organizing a process of theatrical reflexivity, theplay within the play needs to be distinguished according to the different con-stituents of its respective realisations on stage. It features most prominentlyas a meta-theatrical strategy of self-reflection, especially in the modern con-text of the establishment and foundation of a concept of the self, that is to sayin the affirmation of a self-conscious subject (‘the actor’) that transcends themasks of social roles. Hamlet, as play and as character, thus presents thesuccinct model of a social-historical and aesthetic-philosophical paradigm ofmodernity. Similarly, the play within the play constitutes a special agency forthe self-legitimation of an evolving bourgeois subject within the parametersof a philosophy of idealism; here, the constellations of the play within theplay favoured by the Romantics of the Kunstperiode offer the relevant para-digm. On another level, as part of a system of thinking set within a specificorder of ‘representation’ (in the sense of Foucault’s meaning of the term), theplay within the play also appears as a preferred field of self-reflexivity, whichis why the meta-theatrical dialectic of play and representation achieved suchparticular prominence in the period of the Baroque. Of course, it could alsobe said that a postmodern art in which a reflection upon itself appears to bean essential element (not only in the theatre, of course) is very much a featureof our own era. Indeed, the play within the play would seem to be a particu-larly apt device for the expression of the playful self-referentiality of thepost-modern condition. Other forms of the play within the play offer themselves, and have beenemployed, to provide a structure for self-reflection concerning the theatre au-dience, or the recipient reader of a literary work, respectively. Here, the playwithin the play functions as a ‘romantic’ site which encompasses all constitu-ent elements of art (in the sense of borders being suspended or transcended),or equally as the site of a didactic theatre, e.g. during the early Enlight-enment period or, with similar but not identical intentions, in the Lehrstück-concept of Brecht towards the end of the Weimar Republic. One could addthat, generally, the play within the play tends to be a prominent feature of thepractice of political and anti-illusionistic theatre. Apart from these forms of self-referentiality and self-reflexivity, the playwithin the play also offers an important organisational structure that high-lights certain ways of approaching or dealing with the world. Perhaps themost significant example of this is comedy. Indeed, it could be said that theplay within the play is a constituent and intrinsic component of the comedicgenre. Typical features of comedy, e.g. the use of parabasis (as in the plays ofAristophanes), falling out of character, improvisations, or comic intriguesgenerally, are all structured on the play-within-the-play principle. Other ways
xiv Gerhard Fischer and Bernhard Greinerof approaching the world, in which the play-within-the-play constellationscan be seen, are melancholy and humour. In the former the world that con-fronts us, our own world of social practice and process, is merely regarded asplay, however, when seen from the perspective of a protagonist who refusesto join in. The humorist, on the other hand, accepts his or her role as a per-former in the ‘play of the world’; even though he recognizes the play as idleand transitory, he nevertheless accepts that he is an actor and that he has arole to play. Thus, the time-honoured topos of ‘world theatre’ proclaims thatthe world itself and all of its inherent processes and interactions is merelytheatrical play, performed in front of and judged by a higher authority. TheBaroque period in particular featured very powerfully staged presentations ofthe topos of theatrum mundi at the core of many of its extravagant spectacles.In another way, social or socio-historical interactions are often consciouslyimbued with the aura of the theatrical, as shown in the example of the protag-onists of the French Revolution who loved to see themselves and reflect upontheir historical roles by taking on the personae of the protagonists of the Ro-man Republic of classical antiquity. The play within the play has also found a very useful and productiveusage as a form of action and reflection within a wide variety of cultural andintercultural exchanges. An example of this might be the appropriation ofclassical culture, e.g. Greek or Roman, by later European cultures. It can thusserve as an organisational agency to assist structuring encounters of differentEuropean cultures of distinct epochs, as in the role model of Shakespearewithin German-language theatre, or the return to different forms of comme-dia dell’arte at various stages within the development of European comedy.Similarly, the play within the play has been an important factor as a structureof mediation between European and non-European theatrical traditions; it hasenabled and facilitated the meeting of European and non-European cultures,just as much as it has been used to question the validity of such forms of cul-tural appropriations in the context of colonial encounters as well as in a criti-cal postcolonialist discourse. As examples one could cite the case of Israelitheatre which connects the European culture with a genuine Jewish theatricaltradition, or the appropriation and transformation of certain aspects of Euro-pean theatre to theatrical forms of the Islamic World. The staging of playsbelonging to a specific culture by directors or theatre practitioners whose cul-tural background might be very different has opened up a special field in anarea which might simply be called ‘cultural contact’ in an affirmative sense. But cultural encounters could also provide unforeseen and undesirableoutcomes. Attempts at intercultural mixing or interaction could result in mis-understandings and misappropriations; they could result in opposition and
The Play within the Play xvdistanciation, cultural exchanges could fail. This leads to yet another promi-nent usage of the play within the play, namely as an agency of action andreflection in the context of cultural conflict. One could distinguish here be-tween intracultural and intercultural conflicts. An example of the formerwould be the conflict between high and popular culture, e.g. the proliferationof the play within the play in the Volkstheater movement (a specific traditionwithin German-language theatre), where it was used to ironically or comical-ly subvert the idea of theatre as the property and domain of the ruling classes.Here, the Viennese Volkstheater of Nestroy offers the most obvious para-digm. Intercultural conflicts on the other hand might involve differences andopposition between cultures or groups of more or less equal prestige andstanding, or between a majority culture (i.e. the ruling or leisured class) and aminority culture; the latter variant occurs for example in the play-within-the-play constellations that are being used in the context of postcolonialist en-counters. Alternatively, some of the paradigms current in postmodern andpostcolonial studies (hybridity, syncretism) are well suited to explore thetopic in question, e.g. in relation to the notion of ‘intercultural framing’ aspart of the process of reception and appropriation of European theatricalworks by non-European playwrights and theatre practitioners. Finally, the play within the play has played a significant role as a structur-al principle to facilitate a process of mediation between media, or a move-ment of ‘shifting’ between different media. Thus, a kind of intermedial strate-gy can be observed in the change of medium or genre from theatre and otherforms of artistic and imaginative expression. The play within the play appearshere as the essential link, or as a kind of go-between. In recent film versions of Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, new forms ofthe play within the play were widely discussed as prominent features. In mu-sical theatre, similar shiftings also make use of the device. The transforma-tion of plays into opera in the eighteenth and early twentieth centuries atteststo the versatility of a structural principle that allows librettists like Hof-mannsthal and composers like Strauss to appropriate and to transform suit-able dramatic models as well as pieces from the classical theatrical repertoireinto their own modernist operas. More recently, practitioners of moderndance theatres have also found it useful and productive to explore the poten-tial of the play within the play in order to contribute to the development oforiginal works that originated in other genres or media. Alternatively, the play within the play facilitates and enables the dramati-sation of certain prose narratives – as, for example, in some of Heiner Mül-ler’s later works – or, in a more conventional mode, it can be found as a fairlystandard literary motif in a number of novels or other works of narrative
xvi Gerhard Fischer and Bernhard Greinerfiction. One prominent example concerns the integration of theatre and oftheatrical practice in narrative texts, by way of specific constellations of theforms of the play within the play that can be found in narratives by Goethe,Keller or Pushkin, among many others.
IThe Play within the Play and the Performance of Self-Reflection
Bernhard GreinerThe Birth of the Subject out of the Spirit of the Play within thePlay: The Hamlet ParadigmWhen the play within the play starts its career in early modernity, it revolves about the modernsubject as director, examiner, and judge of the play. Moreover, and vice versa, it produces thisposition: the ego as the centre of the world. Referring to Hamlet and its multiplied plays withinthe play, the chapter shows that this emergence of the modern subject takes place in a circle. Theplay within the play requires a position beyond the play from which the play can be initiated,directed, performed, examined, and judged. But, to achieve such a position (of a ‘true interior’,an ego beyond all masks and all show), it is necessary to gain knowledge and certainty about theinterior, which can only be achieved by exteriorization of the interior, in other words, by playing(by acting in masks, in the world of show). Thus the effect of the play within the play is its pre-condition and vice versa. This chapter considers this circle in Hamlet as paradigm with refer-ence, not only to an historical argument (the specific conditions on which the concept of the playwithin the play is constituted in early modernity), but also a systematic argument (the position ofthe ego, constituted as endless reflection, as the reference point and precondition of the playwithin the play). The other meaning of the circle, in which the emergence of the modern subjectand the concept of the play within the play are connected, is the unification of producer (the egobringing forth plays within plays as acts of self-reassurance) and product (the ego brought forthby plays within plays), and thus a purely immanent self-creation of the modern subject: it pro-ceeds from the ‘spirit’ of the play within the play and no longer needs reassurance from a posi-tion of transcendence.‘It is a peculiarity of Shakespearean triumphalism,’ Harold Bloom remarks,‘that the most original literary work in Western literature, perhaps in theworld’s literature, has now become so familiar that we seem to have read itbefore, even when we encounter it for the first time. Hamlet [...] remains bothas familiar, and as original, as his play. [...] We hardly can think about our-selves without thinking about Hamlet, whether or not we are aware that weare recalling him.’ 1 If, in our awakenings to self-awareness, we have always been Hamlet, itis because we equate the subject in its ideal boundlessness and respectiveuniqueness with unending reflection, introversion, and an element of play-1 Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (London: Fourth Estate, 1998), pp. 404-05.
4 Bernhard Greineracting that is hard to pin down, in the sense that one can only be a person byplaying one. The play-within-a-play patterns developed with virtuosity in theHamlet drama bring these three constituents of the subject (self-reflection, in-troversion and play-acting) together. Hamlet becomes, as a paradigm for theplay within the play, a paradigm of the subject. The figure of Hamlet introduces itself with an ontological claim to an es-sence independent of both role models and behavioural models. This claim isconspicuously linked with the theme of grief that is raised at critical juncturesin the plot; that is to say, at critical junctures in the play’s redrawing of theself. The theme is presented without delay in the exposition of the conflictbetween Gertrude, Claudius and Hamlet over proper and false ways ofmourning Hamlet’s father. Likewise, the evocation of grief or signs of griefbecomes the subject of a debate that follows the Player’s monologue on thegrief of Hecuba, occasioning the play within the play in the narrower sense,which triggers certain crucial incidents in the plot: Gertrude urgently de-mands an interview with Hamlet, at which he kills Polonius; Claudiusremoves Hamlet from court with the intention of having him killed in Eng-land). Lastly, the final catastrophe, when all the protagonists except Fortin-bras and Horatio meet their deaths, begins with the conflict between Laertesand Hamlet as to whose grief over Ophelia is the more authentic. In grief thesubject is manifested as having experienced a fundamental loss that at thesame time implies a loss of self.2 The subject in mourning does not, in asense, maintain possession of itself. It is therefore all the more astonishingthat it is Hamlet’s grief that moves him to lay claim to a self beyond and be-neath the forms of appearance. The outward signs of mourning, Hamlet ex-plains to his mother in their first scene – clothing, gestures, modes of behav-iour – are mannerisms that could just as well be faked (‘actions that a manmight play’; I.ii.84)3, whereas he himself is unacquainted with appearances:‘I know not “seems”’ (I.ii.76). He has rather ‘that within which passethshow’ (I.ii.85). Hamlet negatively introduces the ontological claim to a sub-jectivity beyond appearance. Obviously, such a subject cannot otherwise bedelineated. Insofar as it is missing something, it experiences itself: thisindeed constitutes the grief of the ego through the concrete content of thedeficiency, in this case the death of the father. The courtly ideal of ‘civility’, of cultivated behaviour, as proposed byBaldassarre Castiglione in The Courtier (published 1508-16) and given a2 Sigmund Freud, ‘Trauer und Melancholie’, in Sigmund Freud Studienausgabe, ed. by Alex- ander Mitscherlich and others (Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1974), III, pp. 193-212.3 Quotations are taken from G.R. Hibbard’s edition of the play (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).
The Hamlet Paradigm 5political concretisation by Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince (1513), in-cludes significant doses of ‘play’, ‘show’, and ‘seeming’; that is, the art ofconcealing oneself, permitting no-one to see behind the mask, suppressingthe emotions, controlling the body and its expressions, moulding oneself likea sculpture, all made to appear effortless, unforced, as ‘natural grace’ undercompetitive pressure. No-one is expected to say what his ‘own’ thoughts andfeelings are, and each person expects similar treatment from his peers. 4 Thereference point for this ubiquitous seeming is not, however, the constructionof a personal identity, but rather that of a persona, that is of a mask.5 The goalis social advancement, making the right moves in the game played conscious-ly by all, without any claim being made to a self beyond or beneath the mask. Hamlet is the figure that refuses to play the game, lays claim to an ego be-hind the mask, and makes reference to truth rather than to functionality insocial intercourse. The refusal of the subject to play along in a world ofseeming stands thus in a reciprocal relationship to grief, through which thesubject has established itself as incorporating a fundamental lack. With allthis, Hamlet is in the position of the melancholic as developed in the figure ofJacques in As You Like It, written immediately before Hamlet. The melancholicrecognizes that life is a play – ‘All the world’s a stage’, he says – but has nodesire to act in it himself. In As You Like It, the conditions of possibility of thisposition are not discussed. We find ourselves in the Forest of Arden, that is,outside the social world, and Jacques, after the Duke’s restoration to power,will not return to court with the other exiled lords. In Hamlet, the question ofthe conditions of possibility for the position of the melancholic is asked ex-plicitly as a question of the possibility of maintaining the existence of a sub-ject, a being beyond the social masks and roles assigned to each of us. Thisego-essence is connected significantly with the notion of the particular, thatis, of the entirely unique, that which is connected with the notion of theauthentic, and never allows itself to become an instance of a general rule. Ger-trude questions the occasion of Hamlet’s grief and the grief itself as being‘particular’ (‘Why seems it so particular with thee?’; I.ii.75). It is in responseto this that Hamlet lays claim to an essence beyond all seeming (‘I know not“seems”’). But what is the basis of such an ego, and how can it be sure ofitself? The scenes with the ghost of Hamlet’s father give the subject’s claim totranscend ‘show’ a justification, although in a doubtful manner – a justifica-4 Cf. Klaus Reichert, ‘Hamlets Falle. Das Paradox der Kultiviertheit’, in his Der fremde Shakespeare (München, Wien: Hanser, 1998), pp. 57-86.5 Cf. Stephen Greenblatt’s concept of self-fashioning in his Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).
6 Bernhard Greinertion by what is, after all, a ghost. The subject is called upon to restore the dis-turbed natural order (‘Revenge his [i.e. the father’s] foul and most unnaturalmurder’; I.v.25). On the other hand, he is not allowed to link his actions to apre-existing natural order which, ideally, would have a secure metaphysicalfoundation. The subject is made rather to justify its actions through itself andits own moral responsibility. This occurs with the second command that hasto be fulfilled in the restoration of order: ‘Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soulcontrive/ Against thy mother aught’ (I.v.85-86). The subject is offered an elu-cidation of the occurrences at court that permits it to see beyond appear-ances, that is, beyond the show put on by the others. This fuels the subject’sclaim, based on a deficiency (that is, on grief), to an essence beyond allseeming. Since, however, the subject does not wish to dirty its hands in per-forming the actions the insight prescribes, it must initiate an investigationbefore carrying out its revenge. But this means that Hamlet must achieve cer-tainty about the nature of the Ghost – first, as to whether it is a ‘goblindamn’d’ that hopes to destroy him;6 then, whether it is telling him the truthwhen it claims that Claudius is his father’s murderer and has had an adulter-ous relationship with Gertrude; and thirdly, whether he himself is capable ofcorrectly understanding the behaviour and speech, the signs, that the othersproduce. On this last point he provides questionable proof. As his own wordshe cites, ‘Adieu, adieu, remember me’, which the Ghost had said to him(I.v.112). Is he here metonymically replacing the speaker with its audience?Or, if the words Hamlet writes are truly his own, must we accept the Ghost’sspeech and perhaps even the Ghost itself as mere delusion? Hamlet maintainsthat he swore ‘Remember me’, but until this point in the plot he has swornnothing. Instead it is his companions who must take an oath, not to ‘remem-ber me’, but rather not to betray Hamlet or his investigative techniques.Hamlet, who has claimed to know no seeming, to have that within, a subject-tive essence, which is beyond all show, announces to his comrades that hewill ‘put an antic disposition on’ (I.v.179). This, however, means operatingbehind a mask, play-acting. Self-contradiction is inevitable. From this contra-diction arises, with and through the tragedy of Hamlet, the configuration ofthe play within the play. The subject, with its claim to transcend seeming, can only experience andbe aware of its subjectivity when it becomes apparent, that is, manifests itselfin the world of seeming. The ego must simultaneously play-act and judge itsown performance from the sidelines. This is precisely what Polonius suggests6 Cf. Greenblatt, ‘Hamlet im Fegefeuer’, Zeitsprünge: Forschungen zur frühen Neuzeit, 2 (1998), pp. 5-36.
The Hamlet Paradigm 7to Reynaldo in Act II, scene 1, following the Ghost scene, as a method ofacquiring relevant information about Laertes’ conduct in Paris. The methodemploys the negation of negation. Reynaldo should express negative opinionsof Laertes, and from the ways in which these are contradicted it will be possi-ble to deduce the truth. Nor does Hamlet have any other method, but hisgoals are more far-reaching. He has to prove the ego-essence that is beyondall seeming, beyond all produced signs and masks, while simultaneouslyproving his interpretation of the events surrounding his father’s death, an in-terpretation which along with his grief has occasioned his departure fromoperating behind masks in accordance with the rules of courtly role-playing.Hamlet’s method similarly employs the figure of the negation of negation. Hestages, on the foundation of an ‘antic disposition’, performances of negationthat the others must then negate. Correspondingly, the ego whose foundationsand apperception are thus based proves itself negated; that is, it proves that itin itself is fragmented. The subject can gain itself as ‘particular’, that is,unique and indivisible, only by dividing into two subjects, one that acts inself-staged productions and another offstage that judges the performances. Itrefracts others’ masquerades through its own, then reflecting the consequentfigures of refraction as its legal instance. Thus, the putative ego-essence, be-yond all show, manifests itself as a process of reflection within the mediumof the theatrical. Harold Bloom may have felt as much when he cited RichardLanham’s assessment that Hamlet’s self-consciousness ‘cannot be distin-guished from the prince’s theatricality’.7 The subject, as manifested in thetragedy of Hamlet, is embedded in masquerades. It is so deeply nested inthem that, Hamlet, for example, who has proclaimed that he will play at‘madness’, is able in the fifth act to call upon his ‘madness’ as a defensewhen asking for Laertes’ pardon. At the same time, the subject takes up a po-sition beyond the play-acted representations, observing its own and others’acting in reality. But such duplication is the essence of theatre. It is thereforehardly surprising that Goethe, in his novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, de-veloped the conception of representative acting that gave shape to his drama-turgic and theatrical activities in Weimar with direct reference to Hamlet.8The actor, Goethe writes, must be always absorbed in his role, yet at the sametime he must know and observe himself in the reality of acting.97 Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, p. 411.8 Cf. my ‘Puppenspiel und Hamlet-Nachfolge: Wilhelm Meisters “Aufgabe” der theathra- lischen Sendung’, in Bernhard Greiner, Eine Art Wahnsinn: Dichtung im Horizont Kants. Studien zu Goethe und Kleist (Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1994), pp. 29-41.9 See, for instance, Goethe’s rules for actors in his Sämtliche Werke. Briefe, Tagebücher und Gespräche. Vierzig Bände, ed. by Hendrik Birus and others (Frankfurt/Main: Deutscher
8 Bernhard Greiner A subject based on such a foundation is not ‘particular’, e.g. not unique, awhole that behaves in response to the various masquerades in which it is em-bedded. It is split, ‘dismembered’ and also in need of remembering, onemight say, with apologies to the ghost of Hamlet’s father. With this kind offragmentary self-justification and apperception, the subject is in a circuitousmovement that cannot end. In the collisions of its masquerades with those ofothers, it becomes fragmented. To convey the semantic content of these re-fractions, it must undertake new proofs that it simultaneously observes andthrough which new fractures arise, again demanding new acts of judgment,and so on. Embedded in an unending chain of references, the ego flees everdeeper, itself becoming ghostly. Thus, the Ghost scene substantiates the sub-ject, which had laid claim to a being beyond appearances, as an internallyrefracted processual unit of reflexivity without any possible end, a reflectiontaking place within the medium of theatre. The combination of its fragmentednature and its inconclusive reflexivity give the subject the ontological statusof a ‘dismembered ghost’ that would have equally solid grounds for demand-ing – the question is only of whom – ‘Remember me.’ After Hamlet, as a reaction to the Ghost’s revelations, has announced hisintention of assuming an ‘antic disposition’ and sworn his companions not toreveal that his actions may be concealing something beyond what they seem,it is impossible to decide whether or when Hamlet is play-acting both in therepresented world in the events and speeches that follow and in the reality ofthe discourse (that is, for viewers and readers). From now on Hamlet defiesdefinition. To gain insight into such a subject, one needs to apply Hamlet’sown method of apperception: The viewer, or reader, must confront Hamlet’ssemantic masquerades with his own – his reading strategies; at the same time,he must step outside the semantic masquerades in which he nonetheless re-mains involved, and pass judgment on the resulting figures of refraction froma position offstage, in the wings. Thus he creates himself as a Hamlet-likesubject. It is this persistence in establishing subjectivity on the other side ofappearances, in the reality of discourse, that makes the ego-conception ofHamlet so utterly compelling. The method of establishing and qualifying a subject that transcends all ap-pearances through the staging of masquerades (generated by the subject onthe basis of an ‘antic disposition’ and simultaneously performed and judged)is already in place and visible with initial effects before the professional ac-tors appear in the Hamlet drama. Polonius, Claudius, and Gertrude attempt in Klassiker Verlag, 1987-), XVIII: Ästhetische Schriften 1771-1805, ed. by Friedmar Apel (1998), pp. 857-83.
The Hamlet Paradigm 9vain to arrive at a cogent interpretation of Hamlet’s behaviour towardOphelia. Hamlet is incomprehensible, precisely because as a subject beyondall show he can conceal himself, rather than revealing himself, in the mas-querade. Why is a further exponentiation of play-acting (through the perfor-mance put on by the travelling players at Hamlet’s request) necessary? Withregard to the grounding of the ego as a process of inconclusive reflexivity inthe medium of the theatrical, and with respect to the attempt to bring out thetruth about the death of Hamlet’s father within this structure, nothing newcan be gained by the Players’ performance. The chain of staged action andreaction, already well under way, can only become more complex. So thequestion necessarily arises whether the play-within-the-play thematic forcedby the Players’ performance is yet another way of grounding and making sureof the subject, while at the same time suggesting a different way of dealingwith the unexplained events that surround the death of Hamlet’s father. What impresses Hamlet so much about the First Player’s presentation thathe engages the troupe for a performance before the King and Queen? Theanswer seems clear. The actor, in his speech about Hecuba’s mourning forPriam, puts himself so entirely into character – spanning two internal refrac-tions, as he represents a narrator reporting how Dido reported the scene toAeneas – that he manages to evoke in himself that grief of which he is speak-ing, even manifesting his feelings with an abundance of physical symptoms.Apparently, the Players are engaged because they are effective in this man-ner. They invite the expectation that their acting will elicit signs of Claudius’guilt or innocence. This way of reading the text is suggestive, but it ignoresgrave contradictions. The actor produced his emotional effect in himself, notin Hamlet, his audience, who had every reason to empathize with grief over amurdered king, and whose fixation on this very theme had led him to demandthis text from the actor. If Hamlet has shown no affect, how can he expectClaudius, who has good reason to control his expressions of emotion, to bemoved by the play to the uncontrolled production of signs that would betrayhim? The actor’s self-deluding performance has, however, produced a resultin Hamlet; reflection on himself, and renewed resolve, stemming from hiscomparison of the actors’ text and performance with his own situation. Ham-let offers a commentary immediately after the player’s speech: ‘O, what arogue and peasant slave am I’ (II.ii.538). That seems to be the effect he hopesthe play within the play will achieve: not the production of signs whose con-tent can only be conveyed in further semantic performances in a ‘progressusad infinitum’, but rather the evocation, if not the creation, of a subject thatpossesses an essence beyond the performances on display and behaves asHamlet has previously depicted. If one reads carefully, Hamlet describes
10 Bernhard Greinerexactly this as the hoped-for effect of the Players’ performance: ‘guilty crea-tures’ will be compelled to ‘proclaim their malefactions’ (II.ii.578, 581),which presupposes a moral subject: ‘The play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catchthe conscience of the King’ (II.ii.593-94). Hamlet is aiming for a subject thatdoes more than function in masquerades, for a moral ego that reflects on it-self when confronted with represented performances. Hamlet has postulatedsuch an ego with reference to himself (‘I have that within which passethshow’). The attempt to make sure of this subjectivity has shunted him on tothe track of inconclusive reflexivity in the medium of the theatrical on whichhe himself threatens to become a ‘dismembered ghost’, while at the sametime threatening never to achieve any certainty with regard to the actions ofothers. Thus, one can name two functions and attainments of the plays withinthe play, as developed in Hamlet. On the one hand, they serve to reassure theoriginator, actor, and observer of the play of the existence of his ego – postu-lated as given – beyond and beneath all appearances. On the other, raised ex-ponentially to plays within plays within plays, they should evoke, or evencreate, this ego in their audience. The Players’ play within the play seems, by virtue of its complex teleolo-gy, to be entirely dedicated to the former function, yet it fulfills only thelatter. The scene presents so many levels of play-acting and corresponding in-terpretative contexts that the formation of meaningful signs ‘betraying’Claudius can no more be mastered than can their possible readings. Suffice itto name a few of these levels. The play within the play duplicates and predi-cates itself with a pantomime, the dumb show. Claudius does not react to thedumb show, which reprises the entire plot, a king’s murder and his widow’smarriage to the murderer. However, he does react to the spoken play, inwhich it is not the King, but the Queen, that takes the leading role. In addi-tion, Hamlet announces that he has inserted a speech of his own, though theparticular passage cannot be readily identified. It is everywhere and nowhere.Hamlet proceeds to offer nonstop commentary, not only on the play itself, butalso on the Players’ acting skills and the meaning of the performance (refer-ring to it, for example, as The Mousetrap). The performance immediately fol-lowing the dumb show is largely taken up by the complexity of ‘the Queen’sfidelity’, featuring, among other things, the Player Queen’s scandalous state-ment that, by giving herself to her second husband, she will kill the first.10The regicide is mentioned only briefly, yet it is not the Queen’s reactions to10 ‘A second time I kill my husband dead, / When second husband kisses me in bed’ (III.ii.172- 73). The double meaning of these words is stressed by Anselm Haverkamp, Hamlet: Hypo- thek der Macht (Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, 2004), p. 49.
The Hamlet Paradigm 11the play, but those of Claudius that are supposed to be put to the test. Lastly,the piece does not reflect the murder as described by the Ghost. The murdererin the play within the play is not the brother, but the nephew of the King.Thus, the play appears to refer not only to the death of Hamlet’s father, butalso to a possible future murder of Claudius by Hamlet. Hamlet has commis-sioned the performance. Through his addition to the text, it becomes his own.In the frame play’s presentation of a play for the King and Queen, he playsalong, yet maintains at all times the perspective of an outsider observing theplay and its audience. As end-effect of the piece and its performance, Hamletseems to have achieved the desired certainty about Claudius. But such cer-tainty should be followed by an act of revenge that becomes conspicuous byits absence. At first it fails because Hamlet misinterprets Claudius’s postureas a token of deep prayerfulness, but he later fails repeatedly to carry it out;as, for example, when Claudius questions him about Polonius’s whereaboutsand sends him to England, acting clearly not as a repentant sinner, but as aconspirator with evil intentions. Meanwhile, the play within the play does nothave the hoped-for effect of eliciting unambiguous signs. Claudius’s reactionon leaving the performance is ambiguous: it may be a confession of guilt, orpossibly a reaction to a clear threat of murder. At the same time, it is the onlyappropriate reaction to a play generating meaning that has spiraled out ofcontrol. In addition to creating a diversity of signs that cannot be unambiguouslydetermined, the play within the play also fulfills the second function. That is,it evokes in Claudius as its audience (and likewise in Gertrude, although Iwill not discuss her case further here) an ego beyond all masquerade. Thissubject announces its presence when Claudius leaves the performance insteadof interacting with the Hamlet-generated piece viewed by Hamlet and Hora-tio that could be entitled Performing a Play about Regicide for a RegicideAudience. This subject is evidenced by Claudius’s monologue as he prepareshimself for prayer. This evoked ego behind the mask can only be perceivedby the signs it emits, as was true for the ego-being claimed by Hamlet fromthe beginning. These, however, can never be conclusively determined, asHamlet’s misinterpretation of the seemingly praying Claudius shows. Read-ing such signs demands new semantic performances in which the interpretingego, as presented, would experience itself as being further alienated from it-self and embedded in an endless self-reflexive process. So both achievementsof the play within the play (self-knowledge in its founder, actor, and observ-er, and the evocation of an ego in the audience) remain under the spell of thisstructure. Each launch of a play within the play necessitates further plays.
12 Bernhard Greiner But is it also possible to escape the influence of the infinitely partheno-genetic plays within plays? The fifth act of the play puts this question centrestage. The answer it gives is that it is possible to break the spell of the playswithin plays, if both achievements can be combined in a single figure. That isdemonstrated by Hamlet in Act V. The new quality that Hamlet gains re-solves the great hermeneutic riddle of the piece, how the Hamlet of the fifthact can be linked with the Hamlet of Acts I-IV, where he appears as themodern subject in whom the world is centred, where he is expected to ‘setright’ [the time] that is ‘out of joint’ (I.v.197, 196).11 The juxtaposition of the two attainments of the play within the play con-tinues to proceed from the theme of grief, now in the conflict between Laer-tes and Hamlet as to who can display the deeper grief over the dead Ophelia.Hamlet has pursued the semantic performances that serve to assure him of hissubjectivity by assuming an ‘antic disposition’ on the very field where dissi-mulation is least expected, that of love. His play-acting has destroyed, amongothers, Ophelia. He was an actor in, as well as observer of, this play, andLaertes’ grief over Ophelia confronts him once more with the signs that hisperformance has evoked. When he rejects Laertes’ grief in favour of his own,his argument is weak, purely quantitative. His ‘quantity of love’ exceeds thatof ‘forty thousand brothers’ (V.i.260, 259). Hamlet lends substance to hisgrief with an emphatic first-person declaration, and this immediately afterLaertes has marked him as the guilty party: What is he whose grief Bears such an emphasis, whose phrase of sorrow Conjures the wand’ring stars, and makes them stand Like wonder-wounded hearers? This is I, Hamlet the Dane (V.i.244-48) Thus, the play within the play that Hamlet once played with his andOphelia’s love has not only put him on track to apperception of his putativesubjectivity, but has also evoked in him – when Laertes puts him in the posi-tion of the audience at his own play – a subject that confesses its guilt. This iswhat Hamlet once expected from the performance by the Players, but hecould not be sure of its effect on others, that is, on Claudius as its intended11 For two totally different interpretations of this, see Verena Olejniczak Lobsien, ‘Shake- speares Hamlet: Apologie der “Innerlichkeit”’, in her Skeptische Phantasie: Eine andere Geschichte der frühneuzeitlichen Literatur (München: Fink, 1999), pp. 102-26, and Aleida Assmann, ‘“Let it be”: Kontingenz und Ordnung in Schicksalsvorstellungen bei Chaucer, Boethius und Shakespeare’, in Kontingenz, ed. by Gerhart von Graevenitz and Odo Mar- quard (München: Fink, 1998), pp. 225-44.
The Hamlet Paradigm 13audience. The subjective essence claimed by Hamlet beyond and beneath allappearances is present both as a creative force (bringing forth plays withinplays as acts of self-reassurance) and as a created product (brought forth bythe plays within plays). Such a unification of producer and product is an actof self-creation of a subject whose character is purely immanent – it proceedsfrom the ‘spirit’ of the play within the play – and no longer needs reassurancefrom a position of transcendence. An ego that has brought itself forth in thismanner and has reassured itself of its self-generated semantic performances –as unending reflection in the medium of the theatrical – can allow all trans-cendence to rest on it alone. It has no need to involve itself in questions ofprovidence; it does not need to play at destiny. Hamlet’s speech ‘Let be’(V.ii.170) and his apparent recognition and transfer of loyalty to a world ofprovidence is the utterance of an ego that has created itself and bears no traceof transcendence. So the subject purifies, through its speech, transcendenceof all immanence,12 proving in the process that transcendence is the absoluteOther of the purely immanent self-creation of the subject out of the spirit ofthe play within the play. This feeds the expectation that the self-negation ofthis ego – insofar as Hamlet anticipates his probable death – creates ex nega-tivo an opening into the transcendent world as a metamorphosis that takes itsevidence from the perfect immanence of this ego’s self-creation. The two attainments of the play within the play through which the subjectcreates itself are brought together in the realisation of the dramatic discourse– that is, not primarily in the represented world, but rather in the reality of thehere and now of each performance or reading of the piece. For it is the orderof the drama that links the producer and product aspects of the Hamlet-subject: it confronts Hamlet, who is the subject of plays within plays, a sub-ject that must first make sure of itself, thrusting itself into a course of incon-clusive reflexivity. The drama confronts this Hamlet with the Hamlet as au-dience at his own performances that call forth in him a subjective essencebeyond all appearances, an emphatic first-person declaration of the recogni-tion of guilt. The drama Hamlet achieves, in its discursive reality here andnow, the self-creation of the ego – the Hamlet-subject as a process of incon-clusive reflexivity in the medium of the theatrical that we all are. It lends thisact, as the absolute Other of transcendence, its aura ex negativo. This makesthe ‘birth’ of the modern subject in Hamlet so compelling that we feel we12 This argument is stressed in Walter Benjamin’s remarks on baroque allegory; see his Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in Walter Benjamin: Gesammelte Schriften, ed. by R. Tiedemann and H. Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1974), I, p. 246.
14 Bernhard Greinerhave always known it: the self-creation of the subject out of the spirit andmatter of the play within the play.
Yifen BeusSelf-Reflexivity in the Play within the Play and its Cross-GenreManifestationThe play within the play is often used as a form of irony and can be disguised as a simple perfor-mance within the play itself, a character masquerading as another character, a character pretend-ing to be out of his mind, or a complex fusion of theatrical realities. All these forms of the playwithin the play carry a paradoxical significance in theory and practice and rely on a self-cons-cious writing process on the playwright’s part and the self-reflexive aspect of the performanceitself. This paper concerns the theoretical development of self-reflexivity in the play within theplay and focuses its examination on early discussions that greatly influenced the poetics of‘modern’ drama, namely German philosopher Friedrich Schlegel’s concept and definition of Ro-mantic irony. It will also discuss the cross-genre application of the play within the play that func-tions similarly in painting, drama and cinema by drawing examples from Diego Velázquez,Ludwig Tieck and Terry Gilliam.The play within the play is often used by playwrights to reveal the workingsof dramatic irony and the very nature of drama. It may come in a variety ofguises: (i) a simple performance within the play itself, as in Ludwig Tieck’Der gestiefelte Kater or Puss in Boots; 1 (ii) a character masqueradinghim/herself as another character, as in Alfred de Musset’s Lorenzaccio;2 (iii)a character pretending to be ‘beside’ his/her usual self, as in Shakespeare’sHamlet; or (iv) a complex fusion of theatrical realities, as in Luigi Pirandel-lo’s Six Characters in Search of an Author.3 All these forms of the playwithin the play carry a paradoxical significance in theory and practice andrely on a self-conscious writing process on the playwright’s part and the self-reflexive aspect of the performance itself. Thus, it is meta-drama, so to speak.This is by no means a new concept. In fact, self-reflexivity can be regarded asa marking of modernity in art and literature. This chapter examines the theo-retical development of self-reflexivity in the play within the play, focusing onearly debates that greatly influenced the poetics of ‘modern’ drama, namely1 In Schriften, 12 vols (Frankfurt/Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1985).2 In Théâtre complet (Paris: Gallimard, 1958).3 In Naked Masks: Five Plays by Luigi Pirandello (New York: Meridian Books, 1952).
16 Yifen BeusGerman writer/philosopher Friedrich Schlegel’s concept of Romantic irony.4By drawing examples from the work of Diego Velázquez, Ludwig Tieck andTerry Gilliam, as well as that of Schlegel, it will also discuss the cross-genreapplication of the play within the play as it functions in drama, cinema andpainting, in order to illustrate the working or reflexivity in various forms ofthe play within the play. First elaborated by Schlegel as part of his definition of the modern, Ro-mantic irony later becomes a defining characteristic of all Romantic art.Schlegel is the first to use the term ‘Romantic’ to describe modern literature.In his Critical Fragments (Kritische Fragmente or Lyceum Fragmente),5 pub-lished in 1797, in the periodical Lyceum der schöne Künste, Schlegel rede-fines the concept of irony, in literature as well as in philosophy. He uses theterm Poesie (roughly translated as ‘poetry’) in its broadest sense, to meanliterature in general, and thus his theory of irony and poetry actually concernsall literary genres. The two major aspects of Romantic irony are: (i) the har-monious mixture of the comic and the serious, and (ii) self-reflexivity, i.e.literature that reflects back on itself, that reflects on its own existence. In hisAthenäum Fragment 116, Schlegel defines Romantic poetry as ‘eine progres-sive Universalpoesie’ (a progressive universal poetry): Ihre Bestimmung ist nicht bloß, alle getrennten Gattungen der Poesie wieder zu vereinigen und die Poesie mit der Philosophie und Rhetorik in Berührung zu setzen. Sie will und soll auch die Poesie und Prosa, Genialität und Kritik, Kunstpoesie und Naturpoesie bald mischen, bald verschmelzen, die Poesie lebendig und gesellig und das Leben und die Gesellschaft poetisch machen, den Witz poetisieren und die Formen der Kunst mit gediegenem Bildungs- stoff jeder Art anfüllen und sättigen und durch die Schwingungen des Humors beseelen. (Its mission is not merely to reunite all separate genres of poetry and to put poetry in touch with philosophy and rhetoric. It will and should also mingle poetry and prose, genius and criticism, the poetry of art and the poetry of nature, render poetry living and social, and life and society poetic, poetize wit, fill and saturate the forms of art with solid cultural material of every kind, and inspire them with vibrations of humour.)64 For a more detailed analysis of Schlegelian irony, and of its working in Tieck’s drama, see my Towards a Paradoxical Theatre (New York: Peter Lang, 2003), chaps 2 & 3. The pre- sent essay derives the analysis of the play within the play from the re-definition of Romantic irony advocated by Schlegel.5 Schlegel’s key writings on irony and the Romantic poetics appear in two sets of fragments, the Critical, or Lyceum Fragments and the Athenäum Fragments (1800), both published in Kritische Ausgabe, ed. by Hans Eichner, 35 vols (Munich: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1967).6 Athenäum Fragments quotations are taken from volume 2 of Schlegel’s Kritische Ausgabe and, unless otherwise noted, translations are by Ernst Behler and Norman Struc in German Romantic Criticism, ed. by A. Leslie Willson, German Library, 21 (New York: Continuum International, 1982).
Self-Reflexivity in the Play within the Play 17 This is a very ambitious – and obviously serious – definition of literature.Few people have taken literature and the attempt to define it more seriouslythan Friedrich Schlegel, yet he concludes his central definition by arguingthat literature should inspire laughter in the reader. For Schlegel, the comic is a key ingredient in serious literature. He de-rives this comic, ironic paradox from a number of literary sources, includingHamlet, King Lear, and Tristram Shandy. In Hamlet, the comic play withinthe play reveals the central, hidden truth that Claudius has murdered Ham-let’s father. Fiction, here, becomes the perfect vehicle for truth. In King Lear,the Fool’s jests show Lear the true nature of his daughters. The Fool’s jokesboth conceal and, at the same time, reveal the truth – and thus might arguablybe seen as another form of play within a play. In Tristram Shandy, Tristram,the narrator, assumes the role of jester, informing his readers that he will‘sometimes put on a fool’s cap with a bell to it’. At the same time, he re-quests that his readers ‘courteously give [him] credit for a little more wisdomthan appears upon [his] outside’.7 In these examples, the line between folly and wisdom, the comic and theserious, appearance and truth, becomes blurred. This instability – this comicirony – forces the spectator (or reader) to view realities on different levels –realities both within and outside the work. This ironic sentiment reflects aquizzical attitude towards the traditional, classical views of reality or truth.By mixing the serious and the comic in this way, the new Romantic poeticschallenges the old Classical definitions, and the very strict boundaries of aplay (in its broadest sense). Thus, this fusion of tones is essential to the playwithin the play as a device of deception, intrigue and masquerade and an ulti-mate truth-telling power about the nature of play/drama. Structurally, the playwithin the play also takes on the (con)fusion of various levels of reality,blending the theatrical reality as well as illusion while maintaining a reflexiveposture through this very design, for within the larger play’s illusion, thereare both reality of the spectator and illusion. It calls for the breakdown of thespectator’s suspension of disbelief and draws his attention to the purpose ofthis mise-en-abîme structure. Schlegel does not simply advocate the fusion of comic and serious ele-ments in a literary work. He argues for a universal poetry, a kind of literaturethat embraces everything, an all-inclusive literature. The new freedom advo-cated in Schlegel’s definition of Romantic poetry emancipates the poet’s im-agination with regard not only to form, admitting every possible genre, but7 Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), I, vi.
18 Yifen Beusalso to content, admitting all imaginable subject matter. In order to exemplifyhis new ideals, Schlegel writes Lucinde, which he subtitles ‘a novel’. Farfrom what we think of as a typical novel, Lucinde is a combination of shortnarratives, essays, and dialogues. Besides containing a mixture of traditional-ly separate ‘genres’, in line with the principle of universal poetry Lucindealso attempts to challenge the concept of the novel as a single, complete workconsisting of a lengthy narrative with logical sequence or discernible chrono-logy and providing a sense of closure after a climatic incident. Not only doesaforementioned irregularity and variety exist in individual sections of thebook, but the entire second part of Lucinde is never written! This ‘novel’ isthus complete (in its structural intention) and yet incomplete. However, in themidst of seemingly formless imperfection and a mixture of different genres,Schlegel carefully arranges the novel’s content in a fashion that displays witand craft while Classical drama insists on a strict separation of the differentgenres – tragedy, epic, and comedy – Romantic drama insists on mixing thesegenres. Of all the genres of literature in the Romantic period, drama pushesSchlegel’s ideals the farthest in practice, although to Schlegel the novel (derRoman) is the ideal genre. In the absence of Classical restraint, Romanticplaywrights are given so much freedom that their plays often exceed thephysical capabilities of the nineteenth-century stage. For instance, a suddenchange of location or the staging of multiple simultaneous scenes were noteasily achieved in the first part of the nineteenth century, until the advent ofdevices such as the elevator stage and the revolving stage. The former is firstinstalled in 1884 in the new Budapest Opera House, and the latter in 1896 byKarl Lautenschläger in Munich’s Residentztheater. Faced with the limitationsof the stage, Romantic dramatists such as Byron, Shelley and Musset writecloset dramas. Not intended for physical performance, these permit the poet’simagination to soar beyond theatrical boundaries. A play within the play alsoallows the playwright freedom to incorporate elements, situations, characters,and even dialogue that are inconsistent in tone and structure with the maindrama and would otherwise have not been included. This device literallybreaks the conventions that are contained within a drama and clears the spacefor itself to exist separately and yet, at the same time, as part of the main play.The physical stage is thus no longer an obstacle in terms of scene and loca-tion change or even identity disguise for characters; such changes could easi-ly be performed and staged in the context of a play within a play that justifiesany manipulation or inconsistency in technicality or illusion. These changesmight even be highlighted in the play within the play in order to hint at truthand display the playful nature of the theatre.
Self-Reflexivity in the Play within the Play 19 The second major feature of Romantic irony is its self-reflexivity. Poetryshould always be meta-poetry, and drama meta-drama. The play within theplay is the most common device for this self-reflexivity. In Athenäum Frag-ment 238, Schlegel says: [...] so sollte wohl auch jene Poesie die in modernen Dichtern nicht seltern transcendentalen Materialien und Vorübungen zu einer poetischen Theorie des Dichtunsvermögens mit der künstlerischen Reflexion und schönen Selbstbespiegelung […] in jeder ihrer Darstellungen sich selbst mit darstellen, und überall zugleich Poesie und Poesie der Poesie sein. (That poetry not infrequently encountered in modern poets should combine those transcen- dental materials and preliminary exercises for a poetic theory of the creative power with the artistic reflection and beautiful self-mirroring […] thus this poetry should portray itself with each of its portrayals; everywhere and at the same time, it should be poetry and the poetry of poetry.)The paradoxical self-creative and self-critical powers combine raw materialwith theory and allow the work to present itself as meta-poetry (Poesie derPoesie) that describes itself as well as the author’s mind at work. Schlegelfrequently refers to Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, which is full of digressions anddigressions from digressions, as the most quoted example of such a narrativedevice that makes the author’s act of writing the novel evident. BesidesSterne’s opening remarks warning the reader that he would occasionally actas a jester to provide comic effect as mentioned previously, his voice(through Tristram) is constantly heard, talking to his reader and asking howhe might continue the story, telling the reader to re-read a passage which shehas carelessly read, calling on the critic to render assistance in writing a diffi-cult part of the narrative etc. Sterne’s narratology challenges Schlegel in hisreading experience to constantly think about both his own process of readingand the novel’s own self-critical stance, while Schlegel commends Sterne’switty craft of a novelist who skillfully captures his reader’s interest and atten-tion, giving them immense pleasure of confusing the reading and writing ex-perience. Humour is but a disguise for criticizing the form of a novel and therules of reading a work the reader is accustomed to. Similarly, the play withinthe play device serves as a digression in the main play from the developmentof the plot, while at the same time it extends the implications of the innerplay into the main play. Thus, this disguised digression continues to developthe story, supplies plot information and reveals the very process of writing(both plays). In addition, the framing of the inner play exposes the existenceof the author from within and, in so doing, gestures towards the actual author(of the outer play) at work. In his own writing, Schlegel employs similar authorial intrusions, al-though not as daringly digressive as Sterne’s or Denis Diderot’s narrative
20 Yifen Beuspatterns, by confounding the authorship and the narration of each section ofLucinde. Its very title-page sets up a frame for the reader to enter the world offictionality: ‘Lucinde, a novel, by Friedrich Schlegel’; but the authorship ofeach section of the novel is deliberately ambiguous. After a prologue inwhich the author, employing the German first-person ‘mein’, confesses hisinability to write verse like that of great poets Petrarch and Boccaccio, andstates his overall view of poetry, love, and romance, another subtitle-likepage insert appears: ‘Bekenntnisse eines Ungeschickten’ (Confessions of aMaladroit), suggesting an ambiguity regarding the author of the confessions:Is it Schlegel himself? Or Julius? Within the confessions, the main body ofthe novel, the point of view shifts back and forth between that of the maincharacter Julius (using first-person narration) and that of an omniscient nar-rator. ‘Sehnsucht und Ruhe’ (Longing and Silence), one of the shortest sec-tions of the novel, even contains pure dramatic dialogue. Although autobio-graphical parallels in Lucinde often confuse the narrative voice (of the author,the narrator, or the character Julius) addressing the reader, Schlegel, throughsuch a deliberately ambiguous narration, is able to present his philosophy andopinions from an ‘objective’ position, critiquing his work through his charac-ters and their self-expression within this novel. Hans Eichner sees this inter-posed narration as the novel’s main strength, illustrating the ‘fusion ofenthusiasm, caprice, self-criticism, and deliberate structuring’ demanded bySchlegel’s theory: Most strikingly, the novel exploits the technique of the interposed narrator in such a way as to display the fusion of enthusiasm, caprice, self-criticism, and deliberate structuring de- manded by Schlegel’s theory; Lucinde is an obvious illustration of the ‘witty’ or ‘arabesque’ form that Schlegel had singled out as a distinguishing feature of Romantic poetry.8 To Schlegel the self-reflexive (Selbstbespiegelung) and thus ‘objective’presentation of an action in Romantic poetry also refers to portraying itself asa whole with each of its portrayals. This reflexivity, which occurs every-where, will thus be at the same time ‘Poesie’ and ‘Poesie der Poesie’ (Athe-näum Fragment 238). As the author depicts his object, he constantly standsabove to look at his creative process and his creation and critiques it as hemoves along, and the work he produces in turn reflects all these individualactivities, forming a whole with a series of creative and critical components.This self-mirroring power merges poetry/drama with theory and allows thework to present itself as an organic self-revealing and self-critiquing entitythat describes its very nature and the writer’s writing process. Just as a play8 Friedrich Schlegel, Twayne World Authors Series (New York: Twayne, 1970), p. 89.
Self-Reflexivity in the Play within the Play 21within the play is a complete, self-contained work, it is also a part of thelarger play that contains it. Thus, it is both a fragment and a whole in thepost-modern sense. The very existence of the play within the play displaysthe ironic structure of such a literary device and exposes the nature of play-writing – it is a play (toying) with illusion and reality between the charactersand the spectator/reader. As Schlegel points out in his Fragments, numerous pre-modern literaryworks, as well as art works, already display this reflexive sensibility and forhim serve as forerunners of ‘modern’ literature.9 The seventeenth-centurySpanish painter, Diego Velázquez, demonstrates such modernity in his cele-brated Las Meninas, a painting about painting that questions the nature andrepresentation of perception and thus invokes the effects of the play withinthe play. 10 Acknowledged as the chief forerunner of nineteenth-centuryFrench Impressionism, Velázquez presents a striking ironic fusion of Clas-sical order and objectivity, of naturalistic details and obscure reflections, andof the duality of creative and destructive powers in the very creation of thework. Las Meninas is a great example of self-reflexive art, in which thepainter toys with various forms of disguise – through the motifs of reflectionsin the glass/mirror, door frame, the very canvas itself, and the contextual real-ity of the subject – much like that of a play within a play, while at the sametime, displaying a playful reality of the act of painting and artistic expression.On the left-hand side of the canvas is a painter, ostensibly Velázquez himself,painting the scene that we see inside the painting. As with the various reali-ties superimposed through Romantic irony, this painting reveals to us layersof existence and perspectives within and outside itself: ourselves (the specta-tors), the painter, the King and Queen (reflections in the mirror), the JoséNieto (the figure standing in the doorway), and the infanta Margarita with herladies-in-waiting and the dwarf. The painter here creates a painting within thepainting. The figure of Velázquez looks out of the painting, at the spectator,forcing the spectator to contemplate the whole question of artistic representa-tion. The playwright Ludwig Tieck, a contemporary of Schlegel’s, is the primeexemplar of Romantic irony in literature. In his plays, Tieck’s self-reflexivitysystematically destroys the dramatic illusion of reality, just as does Veláz-quez’s painting by revealing all the different levels of its representations, and9 Besides Shakespeare and Sterne, previously mentioned, Cervantes, Milton and Diderot all inspired Schlegel to rethink and define modern literature.10 See Foucault’s detailed analysis of the painting in Les Mots et les choses (Paris: Gallimard, 1966), translated as The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Book Editions, 1994).
22 Yifen Beusdisrupts the ‘reality’ it appears at first to depict. In Tieck’s best-known play,Der gestiefelte Kater, the characters go to see the play Puss in Boots. Theplot develops around the characters’ responses to and interaction with theplaywright, the actors and audience of the play within the play. The structureof the play reflects itself as drama and meta-drama at the same time. Sometechniques Tieck uses include: this framing of the play within the play, thedouble role of many characters in the play, and the constant interaction be-tween the characters and the audience. All these elements are presented on atleast two, if not more, levels – the play itself, and the play within the play,which both creates and critiques the ‘real’ play at the same time. The play it-self is a process of writing and staging a play. Tieck manipulates the illusionof reality in his plays, alternately increasing and decreasing the distance be-tween the play and the audience. By using the play-within-the-play structure, Tieck conveniently critiquesthe clichés of his contemporary sentimental drama by ridiculing the author-audience relationship within the play. It displays in essence more of a retro-spective attitude of the author than a direct attack on a specific form/subgenreor author and serves as a device to examine the nature of the genre. Thepoet/playwright in Kater, for instance, defends his profession and role by re-minding his audience at the end of the epilogue that he has done well totransport them back to the remote feelings of their childhood years – a naïveand innocent state closer to nature than adulthood.11 Although the audiencerewards the poet with ‘rotten pears and apple and wads of paper’, the latterwalks off the stage commenting that the audience is in fact better than he is atcreating a ‘eine neuerfundene Dichtungsart’ (a new kind of poetry), a farceindeed. This farce, created by the audience within the play, leaves the realspectator/reader to contemplate the nature of the dramatic genre, the missionof the poet, and the entire viewing experience – a quite serious intent – afterthe laughs and farcical caricature are produced during the play. This sort of self-conscious reflection, this playing with the boundariesbetween fiction and reality, remains quite common in more recent theatre andfilm. The Verfremdungseffekt (device for making the familiar strange)through laying bare the play’s structure in Bertolt Brecht’s epic theatre doesthis, for example, as does the ‘anti-play’ of the Theatre of the Absurd. Thesetwentieth-century dramas continue what Schlegel advocates in the Fragments11 Wordsworth expresses a similar sentiment in his poem, ‘The Rainbow’. This call to return to childlike innocence, in order to be closer and eventually united with nature, becomes one of the defining characteristics of most Romantic lyric poetry. Tieck’s desire to transport his au- dience back to childhood feelings is no doubt serious, and he does it by using fantastic ele- ments rooted in the past and far removed from jest and imagination.
Self-Reflexivity in the Play within the Play 23and set the stage for the cinematic use of similar kinds of ‘play within play’.For instance, the subject of Federico Fellini’s film, 81/2 is the film itself.Woody Allen’s characters jump in and out of the screen in The Purple Roseof Cairo. Terry Gilliam’s films often blur the boundaries between fiction andreality; his Adventures of Baron Munchausen even uses the stage as its verybackdrop and introduces the audience to a play within a play within a film.This cross-genre application of the self-reflexive device illustrates how Ro-mantic irony functions in the film’s content and form at different levels ofauthorial control. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is based on a set of stories aboutthe preposterous eighteenth-century Baron Karl Friedrich von Munchausen,who goes on all sorts of remarkable adventures, including sailing to the moon.Gilliam uses these obviously impossible adventures to call into question thenature of reality and explore the truth-telling power of fiction. The film opensin an unnamed European city that is under attack from the army of the GrandTurk. In a large theatre, a troupe of actors is trying to perform a dramatic ver-sion of Baron Munchausen’s tales. As the play within the film begins, a manclaiming to be the real Baron Munchausen enters the theatre and disrupts theperformance. The first exchange between the ‘real Baron’, the actors portray-ing the Baron’s story and a prominent member of the audience (Horatio Jack-son) sets up the initial playful complexity of theatrical illusion and reality.The Baron often comments on both the play and events in the ‘real world’outside the play. In an interview with Eric Idle (who played Berthold, a mem-ber of Munchausen’s gang), the actor marvels at the interplay of fantasy andreality this film presents in the form of the play within the play: They’ve cleverly interwoven them, so you don’t feel it’s several stories. It’s just drawn on the sources. So he [Munchausen] goes into the whale, and he goes to Vulcan, and you do feel it’s going somewhere because of the context in which Terry’s set the whole thing, which is the conflict with the Turks and this little troupe of actors playing this awful version of the Munchausen story. When you first see Munchausen, he’s played by this very awful actor with a silly nose, and you think, ‘Oh no, it’s not going to be this’ – and it isn’t! The Baron comes up out of the audience, and goes, ‘No, it’s not like this at all.’ And takes you off into fantasy. So it’s good the way the fantasy and the reality keep [overlapping], so you’re never quite sure whether the Baron – in one scene, for example, we’ve finally beaten the Turks, and we win, and then he’s shot dead. And we’re going to a funeral and everything for him, and we cut back to the stage and the Baron says, ‘That was just one of the many oc- casions on which I’ve met my death!’ It’s a nice joke. Very strange.1212 David Morgan, ‘Interview with Eric Idle’, available at <http://members.aol.com/morgands1/ closeup/text/idle.htm> (accessed 25 January 2005).
24 Yifen Beus When the Baron, backstage at the beginning of the film, says to HoratioJackson, ‘Your reality is lies and balderdash, and I’m delighted to say that Ihave no grasp of it whatsoever’, we realize immediately that he is addressingboth the theatre audience within the film and us, the cinema audience outsidethe film. A few moments later, the real Baron ushers the actors offstage andbegins to narrate the apparently ‘real story’ of his adventures. As he tells histale, the stage setting dissolves into the palace of the Grand Turk. The filmthen follows the Baron through his adventures until, finally, he defeats the ar-mies of the Grand Turk. As the city celebrates its deliverance, Horatio Jack-son reappears and shoots Munchausen. The audience then picks up the storyat the Baron’s funeral – one of the many deaths Munchausen encounters dur-ing the course of the play within the play. Gilliam’s strategy is to set up andthen dismantle a linear story-line. By the end, the spectator has no way of dif-ferentiating between real events and the story Munchausen tells. When thefilm cuts back to the Baron’s narrative, after his apparent death, the audiencedoes not know whether he is dead or alive, whether he has simply been tell-ing crazy tales, or whether all the characters have been part of a great adven-ture. Gilliam gives equal weight to each of these possibilities. His manipula-tion of artistic illusion through the play within the play can be traced back toSchlegel’s concept of irony; that is, the notion that a work of art should re-veal the creator’s creative process, the mind at work, rather than simply pre-sent an imitation of reality in the classical sense. Since the Romantics coaxed irony out of its Classical shell as a rhetoricaltrope, it has been an intrinsic attribute of modern literature and art, redefiningthe relationship between the author, the work, and the reader through itsmode of expression and representation. Jonathan Culler describes Romanticirony as ‘the posture of a work which contains within itself an awareness ofthe fact that, while pretending to give a true account of reality, it is, in fact,fiction and that one must view with an ironic smile the act of writing a novelin the first place.’13 In a word, Romantic irony is self-referentiality, constant-ly reminding the reader of the very act of writing and reading the text. Themodern concept of irony has generally evolved around Schlegel’s definition.It remains a topic of constant interest and investigation in contemporary liter-ary studies as well. From Shakespeare to the Romantics, and from the Ro-mantics to the modernists and contemporary writers and theorists, Romanticirony continues to play an important role.13 Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1974).
Self-Reflexivity in the Play within the Play 25 In Les Mots et les choses Foucault comments on the crisis of representa-tion initiated by Romantic irony and the transparency of language as a sign-system whereby representations represent nothing more than themselves: La littérature, c’est la constestation de la philologie […] De la révolte romantique contre un discours immobilisé dans sa cérémonie, jusqu’à la découverte mallarméenne du mot en son pouvoir impuissant, on voit bien quelle fut, au xixe siècle, la fonction de la littérature par rapport au mode d’être moderne du langage […] la littérature se distingue de plus en plus du discours d’idées, et s’enferme dans une intransitivité radicale; elle se détache de toutes les valeurs qui pouvaient à l’âge classique la faire circuler (le goût, le plaisir, le naturel, le vrai), et elle fait naître dans son propre espace tout ce qui peut en assurer la dénégation ludique […] elle rompt avec toute définition de «genres» comme formes ajustées à un ordre de représen- tations, et devient pure et simple manifestation d’un langage qui n’a pour loi que d’affirmer – contre tous les autres discours – son existence escarpée; elle n’a plus alors qu’à se recour- ber dans un perpétuel retour sur soi […].14 (Literature is the contestation of philology […] From the Romantic revolt against a dis- course frozen in its ritual pomp, to the Mallarméan discovery of the word in its impotent power, it becomes clear what the function of literature was, in the nineteenth century, in re- lation to the modern mode of being of language […] literature becomes progressively more differentiated from the discourse of ideas, and encloses itself within a radical intransitivity; it becomes detached from all the values that were able to keep it in general circulation dur- ing the Classical age (taste, pleasure, naturalness, truth), and creates within its own space everything that will ensure a lucid denial of them..[…] it breaks with the whole definition of genres as forms adapted to an order of representations, and becomes merely a manifestation of a language which has no other law than that of affirming – in opposition to all other forms of discourse – its own precipitous existence; and so there is nothing for it to do but to curve back in a perpetual return upon itself […].)This description of language and literature of the nineteenth century as self-reflecting manifestation largely coincides with Schlegel’s central assertionabout Romantic poetry – that poetry ‘should portray itself with each of itsportrayals; everywhere and at the same time, it should be poetry and the poe-try of poetry’. Lyceum Fragment 37 also describes this self-referentiality in-herent in the paradox of irony – ‘Das Höchste: [...] Selbstschöpfung undSelbstvernichtung’ (The highest goal: [...] self-creation and self-destruc-tion).15 In Foucault’s words, literature creates within itself a space that en-sures a ‘lucid denial’, it curves back in a perpetual return upon itself. But toSchlegel, poetry is more than an independent form such as Foucault describesit, which exists wholly in reference to the pure art of writing; it is also a re-presentation of the author’s creativity, and it should also undertake a criticalapproach that portrays its relationship not only to the creator but also to his14 Foucault, p. 313.15 Kritische Ausgabe, II, 151.
26 Yifen Beussurroundings. It is a paradox that transcends its intrinsic being as a ‘pure artof writing’. Romantic irony creates multiple layers of existence and meaning in worksof art. It also creates a resistance to fixed interpretations, permitting texts toremain in a state of perpetual becoming. It makes the work of art a self-con-suming artifact that protects itself from attempts to finalize its meaning. Ro-mantic irony also reveals criticism as creatively destructive in the way it dis-mantles the preconceptions and received opinions (of the author, the text it-self, or the audience/reader). As we look at the myriads of the form of theplay within the play in its broadest sense, it is indeed this self-reflexivity thatunderlines the working of dramatic irony generated by meta-drama. Playwithin the play is its best representation and, at the same time, the best criti-cism of itself.
Klaus R. Scherpe‘Backstage Discourse’: Staging the Other in Ethnographic andColonial Literature‘Backstage discourse’ is constituted by gestures, words and tales, which cannot be performed inthe face of power. Exploring the ‘hidden transcripts’ in ethnographic and colonial literature wecan follow a line of resistance from 18th century drama (Schiller’s The Robbers) to Jean Genet’sLes Nègres, which – as play within the play – mimicks the front stage of domination and vio-lence. Kafka’s ‘A Report to an Academy’ demonstrates the ape’s mimetic faculty as a means ofsurvival. Jean Rouch’s film Les Maîtres Fous gives evidence of resistance by incorporating thecolonial regime into the tribal ritual. The replay of the ceremony shows its real character. JosephConrad’s Heart of Darkness and George Orwell’s ‘Shooting an Elephant’ exemplify the perver-sion of power indicating the failure of the colonial enterpriseThe term ‘backstage discourse’ is taken from a fabulous book by James C.Scott, an expert in South East Asian Studies at Yale. Its title, Domination andthe Arts of Resistance, refers to encounters of and confrontations between thepowerless and the powerful, the colonizers and the colonized. The process ofdomination generates hegemonic public discourses (of morals, conduct, val-ues and language) as well as a backstage discourse that consists of what can-not be said in the face of power. Backstage discourse is to be found in gossip,folktales, jokes, songs and all kinds of performances in which the vengefultone of mocking and mimicry display resistance to official onstage practicesand rituals of denigration, insults and assaults of the body. Making use of ca-mouflage, disguised speech, and hence exploring the immanent possibilitiesof acting against domination, these ‘hidden transcripts’ – another term for thesame issue – are part of a power play within the accepted framework of dia-logue, participation and understanding. In its anonymity and ambiguity, back-stage discourse harbors a permanent threat to those in power, who fear vio-lence.1 Thus it is inherent in the colonial mode of production of reality. Mi-mesis occurs, as Michael Taussig argues, ‘by a colonial mirroring of other-1 James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance. Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale UP, 1990), p. 2.
28 Klaus R. Scherpeness that reflects back onto the colonist the barbarity of their own socialaction.2 Like social scientist James Scott, cultural anthropologist Michael Taussig,Clifford Geertz in his ‘thick description’3 of the Balinese cockfight, or newhistoricist Stephen Greenblatt in his Marvelous Possessions,4 I take the liber-ty to present some striking literary examples of theatrical quality within thecontext of ethnography: a re-reading of well-known texts by Franz Kafka, anethnographer in heart and mind; a story by George Orwell, the colonial offi-cer in 1920s’ Burma; Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness of course; somecinematographic material and, at the end of this essay, Jean Genet’s clown-ery, Les Nègres. Backstage discourse, I suggest, functions as a play withinthe play, taking into account the ‘mimetic faculty’ that Walter Benjamin hasexplored in his short essays on language,5 drawing attention to the sensuousand tactile qualities of communication lost in the script. I should like to begin by going back to the première of Friedrich Schil-ler’s drama Die Räuber (The Robbers) at the Mannheim National Theatre onJanuary 13, 1782. Surrounded by his wild bunch of comrades, Karl Moor, theprodigal son and heir to the principality, receives the forged and fatal letter,written by his vicious brother Franz, which informs him of his father’s deci-sion to dispossess him of home and country, and to set him free to go wher-ever his ‘despicable deeds’ may take him, without hope of forgiveness. WhileKarl is reading the letter on the front stage, Moritz Spiegelberg, who embod-ies the utmost of criminal energies among the robbers, performs a pantomimebackstage that silently demonstrates Karl’s transgression from good to evil.The dialogue between the three robbers that accompanies and comments onSpiegelberg’s strange performance backstage runs as follows: What’s Spiegelberg up to? The man’s gone mad. He’s gone St. Vitus’s dance. His mind must have gone. Or he’s writing poetry. Spiegelberg! Hey, Spiegelberg! The brute can’t hear me!2 Michael Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 134.3 Clifford Geertz, Thick Description: Towards an Interpretative Theory of Culture, in The In- terpretation of Cultures. Selected Essays, ed. by Clifford Geertz (New York: Basic Books, 1973), pp. 3-30.4 Stephen Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions. The Wonder of the New World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).5 Walter Benjamin, Über das mimetische Vermögen, in: Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. II.3, ed. by Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1877), pp. 210-214.
‘Backstage Discourse’ 29 (Shaking him) Are you dreaming, man? Or what? Spiegelberg (Who has meanwhile been miming a mountebank’s pitch in the corner of the room [die Pantomime eines Projektemachers] jumps up wildly) La bourse ou la vie!6Evil Spiegelberg mimes good-natured Karl’s criminal imagination. Spiegel-berg is obsessed with crime and insanity, dancing the epileptic Vitus’s dancebackstage; he is the brute, the beast; and he is in Schiller’s play (often ne-glected by scholars of German literature, with the exception of Hans Mayer 7)the Jew. Moritz Spiegelberg is the Jew in the play, who desires to bring thekingdom of Judea back by force as he bursts into his dance. ‘I took you foryour better,’ Hamlet says ironically to Polonius. ‘I take you for your worst’ isthe sardonic message in Spiegelberg’s pantomime. The name Spiegelbergmeans ‘mirror mountain’, rocher de miroir. He re-plays, or rather pre-plays,the robber’s violent action in the Bohemian Forest. But in this backstage mir-roring of a front-stage morality play – Karl’s soul will be saved at the end –there is, against expectation, no referential evidence in the doubling of thetheatrical reality, nothing of the fascination with transgression, liminality,hybridity, no real drama between fact and fiction to entertain and educate theaudience. The pantomime does not illustrate the dramatic action; it does notsubstitute and illuminate the dialogue as in Hamlet’s staging of the playwithin the play. Why? Because there is nothing to negotiate. And that meansthat the only evidence on the backstage is casual and not causal: violence.Spiegelberg demonstrates pure violence. The villain’s mimetic acting shows the audience how terrifying resem-blance can be. Why? Because Spiegelberg’s spectacle, that is, the extremistother (as murderer, beast, maniac, and Jew) demonstrates that pure violencehas no metaphor, no symbol, and no meaning. Real violence is nothing butthe desire to kill, Jean Genet said in an interview with Hubert Fichte aboutthe murder of Pasolini on the beach of Ostia: ‘People say it’s for a dollar or acoat. In reality it’s for the violence itself.’ 8 No picturing, nothing but thismute mimicry. Schiller’s ‘hidden transcript’ on the backstage operates me-tonymically: Spiegelberg insults and murders by numbers, making his vic-tims into objects, thus making himself the outcast, the thief, the rapist, the6 Friedrich Schiller, The Robbers, trans. by Robert David MacDonald (London: Oberon Books, 1995), p. 33.7 Hans Mayer, ‘Der Weise Nathan und der Räuber Spiegelberg. Antinomien der jüdischen Emanzipation in Deutschland’, in Jahrbuch der deutschen Schillergesellschaft 17 (1973), 253-272.8 ‘Jean Genet talks to Hubert Fichte’, trans. from the French by Patrick McCarthy, in The New Review Vol. 4 (1977), 9-21 (p. 17).
30 Klaus R. Scherpemurderer, the opposite of Karl Moor on the dark side of reason. In his Vitus’sdance Spiegelberg is outraged, beyond himself. Basically violence has noface, as Jean-Luc Nancy states: ‘Violence represents itself as Gestalt withoutGestalt; it is monstration and performance of what remains without Gestalt.’9In his pantomime of a criminal, Spiegelberg, the monster, is constructed aspure monstration. The backstage discourse of the fierce and ultimate ‘other’is – to return to my main point – the realm of non-representation (one that isnot/cannot be represented). Nonetheless, when we wish to see or visualizehorror, the uncanny, catastrophe, our vision of the end of the world (the apoc-alypse) in writing and reading, we seek relief from violence. How? By engag-ing l’écriture, the distancing code of the alphabet against the original mimeticprocess of the backstage, which according to Benjamin was originally consti-tuted as a magical correspondence. Friedrich Schille’s The Robbers, staged inMannheim in 1782, is a morality play that expects the audience to take an in-terest not in violence, of course, but in the functioning, the instrumentality,the moral katharsis of violence. But whose violence? Whose morality is it, orwill it be? When we take backstage discourse not only as an educating constructionof good and evil, but as a scene of hidden violence within the construction ofdomination and resistance – the terrifying scene of difference and resem-blance – we are then confronted, sans phrase, with the core of the problem:in ethnographic and colonial efforts of writing and re-writing ‘the other’. Thestaging of the other (the monster, beast, brute, the Hun, the Black, and theJew) takes place in the presence of the other’s other: the white man, the whiteaudience, which Jean Genet demanded for his black play.10 In Kafka’s ‘A Report to an Academy’ we find the inversion of this scene.Rotpeter, the ape imported from the dark continent (the brute, the monster,the slave, the Jew), has made his way to the front stage of the academy; con-vincingly he gives evidence of his learning to become a human being by imi-tating human beings, ‘almost but not quite’, as Homi Bhabha would say.11Mimicry was Rotpeter’s only chance to survive (his Ausweg, the only wayout, the last exit). One can read this as alluding to the forceful assimilation ofthe ‘Jew of Prague’, that is, of Kafka’s own play within the play. The ape’sprogress is, by means of this mimetic production, meant to wipe out his exist-9 “Die Gewalt stellt sich als Gestalt ohne Gestalt aus, sie ist Zur-Schau-Stellung (“mon- stration“) und Darbietung dessen, was ohne Gestalt bleibt.’ Jean-Luc Nancy, ‘Bild und Gewalt’, in Lettre International 49 (2000), 86-99 (p. 89).10 Gene A. Plunka, ‘Victor Turner and Jean Genet – Rites of Passages in Les Nègres’, in Thea- tre Annual 46 (1993), 65-88 (p. 69).11 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York, London: Routledge, 1994), p. 91.
‘Backstage Discourse’ 31ence as an ape, his difference, extinguishing his original barbarity (Calibanon the island before the arrival of Prospero). But not quite! What we see inKafka’s text, again, is the experience of terrifying resemblance. The brutalact of subjection, well accomplished in the eyes of the observers, officers andofficials, hides the wound, the red scar on the ape’s bottom, the reason whythe name Rotpeter was inflicted on him. Not always! When excited and en-thusiastic about his mimetic achievements toward becoming a human being,Rotpeter cannot always avoid dropping his pants in public and demonstrating(monstrare) where he was shot, exposing the spot, the signifier of violenceand pain. And, back home, behind the stage, he has his beloved, his femaleape, dull and blind, to relax and feel pleasure, as Kafka writes. Kafka’s art ofresistance, as we know, only exists as a ‘hidden transcript’ in the self-destruc-tive act of assimilation and submission. And this, of course, takes us directly to the colonial enterprise, on stage,to the West Coast of Africa, for instance, or to the San Blas Islands off theshore of Panama. How is the white man’s presence being performed? Howcan the powerless, the subaltern, speak behind or in the face of colonial pow-er and violence? How is resistance performed in the white man’s presence,backstage? ‘In some way or another one can protect oneself from the spirits byportraying them.’ Michael Taussig makes this statement in his book Mimesisand Alterity, referring to the ritual practices of the Cuna Indians who inhabit-ed the San Blas Islands.12 In 1927, the Swedish baron Erland Nordenskjoldmade his observations of the Cuna shamans who use carved wooden figur-ines in a curing ritual. These figurines are emblems of power. Everything vi-sible (people, animals, plants, stones) has its invisible counterparts. The CunaIndians believe in the magical power of replication. In the wooden figurinesthe evil spirits can be convinced and pacified by portraying them. And whencopied, the power of the original is transferred to the copy. In other words:The representation takes its power from the represented. But the really stun-ning discovery of the white traveler was to observe that the Cuna in oneparticular village carved fifty larger than life-sized figurines, all of which re-presented (through their clothes and military outfits) European types of main-ly the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, among them a colossal, seven-foot figure of General Douglas MacArthur. Obviously, the mimetic transfer,this curious affair of embodiment, the appearance of the colonial other inlocal shamanism, is a re-play in the strict sense, a strategic maneuver to resist12 Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (New York, Lon- don: Routledge, 1993), p. 10.
32 Klaus R. Scherpepower in the face of power. Consequently, thanks to the Cuna’s mimeticfaculty of visualization, backstage discourse could be performed on stage. Inthis case, however, the mimetic process does not reveal any act of violence: itis not ‘emergent’, exploding in an act of disobedience and disorder. On thecontrary, the Cuna’s technologies of mimesis make use of all tactile qualities(carving and painting) to establish a logical and strategic matrix of mimesis. By comparison, mimetic performances of violence as such, emergent vio-lence, could be observed in another context of colonial affairs, in WesternAfrica, Niger, nowadays Ghana. Cultural anthropologists have researched theHauka movement in the 1920s und 1930s, when the natives were resistingFrench colonial rule. Jean Rouch’s famous ethnographic film Les MaîtresFous gives evidence of the Hauka’s spiritual practice. In their ritual dance itcould happen that the Hauka became possessed by the spirits of their colonialadministrators. This mimetic production signified to the Europeans, ofcourse, the native’s downright savagery and awesome otherness. Mockingthe white man was a daily practice among the Hauka, but making the colonialauthorities the object of ritual violence called the French colonial regime tothe scene. Much later, in 1954, Rouch’s film showed that such actions werebanned in France. The insult to the French, as Rouch explains, ‘was becausethe film, e.g., shows an egg being broken over the head of an image repre-senting the Governor-General, an imitation of the real Governor General’splumes cascading over the ceremonial helmet.’ 13 The mimetic machinery, in-tensified through film’s ability to explore the optical unconscious, is greasedwith dirt, blood and excrement to soil the symbols of power and oppression.The Hauka’s re-play of colonial domination, first performed on the backstageof the possession rituals in local villages, went beyond earlier limits of repre-sentation. Tribal violence as mimesis of colonial domination developed avariety of mimetic techniques for dishonoring and delegitimizing the whiteman’s mental and physical power. Incidentally, one of the last targets ofthose militant Hauka spirits in Ghana was a French general who later becamea commander in the Indochina war that preceded the U.S. war in Vietnam. How terrifying resemblance can be! Quite different from what VictorTurner aimed for in his well-known book From Ritual to Theatre, Westerntheatre that is, which takes mimesis as a universal potential for understandingand humanizing the other.14 The mimetic matrix of violence tells a differentstory of colonial power and resistance. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness13 Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, p. 242.14 Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theatre. The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: Per- forming Arts Journal Publications, 1982).
‘Backstage Discourse’ 33stages colonialism as a narration within narration: Marlow, the narrator, re-tired on the banks of the river Thames, tells the adventures of Major Kurtz,who crossed the borders of civilization to become the chieftain of native bar-barians. Marlow’s mission as Kurtz’ potential double (the Doppelgänger) isto reverse Kurtz’ excess of violence in the dark hinterland of domination bybringing home (to the colonial office) Kurtz’ eccentric writings on colonialmatters and his own re-writing of Kurtz’ experience of ‘horror’. Marlow’s re-telling of the story is, one could say, a painful hermeneutic endeavour torepresent to the Western reader what cannot be represented: the horror, theviolence of Kurtz’ experience of the heart of darkness. In this reading, the‘white lie’ is not only the softened version of Kurtz’ death which Marlowgives to his fiancé in the British countryside; Marlow finds himself confront-ed with the empire’s ‘white lies’ of colonizing “’he others’ in the name ofChristian brotherhood, of human rights and other benefits of the Westernworld. ‘He [Major Kurtz] would have been a splendid leader of an extremeparty,’ Marlow quotes one of the visitors. ‘What party?’ he is asked, and thefatal answer is: ‘Any party.’ 15 This is the moment when Marlowe’s narrativeof Kurtz’ adventures comes to the point, the point of no return as far as thehermeneutic effort of re-writing of colonialism is concerned. On the back-stage of the jungle outback there is nothing but a diffuse execution of vio-lence; divine power, as Walter Benjamin says in his essay ‘Critique of Vio-lence’,16 ‘ecstasy of heroism’, as Max Weber termed it,17 violence withoutGestalt, shape and contour as Nancy formulates. Major Kurtz is Marlow’sSpiegelberg. And a Spiegelberg (the perversion of a human being, the brute,the beast, the founder of a barbarian kingdom of his own will) can by nomeans be brought back to the front stage of civilisation. Major Kurtz’ imper-ative (‘exterminate the brutes’), as Malinowski’s secret diary of his fieldstudies also shows, cannot be reported back to the academy. If Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is ultimately a book about the ‘final solu-tion’ and a narrative of rescue in terms of the ‘white lie’, then George Or-well’s ‘Shooting an Elephant’ is a short story to end the ‘white lies’ of colo-nialism. Orwell’s report about his colonial experience as a sub-inspector ofpolice in 1920s colonial Burma gains insight into the permanent threat ofbackstage discourse, its hidden transcript of power that, on the front stage,15 Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (London: Penguin Books, 1973), p. 115.16 Walter Benjamin ‘Zur Kritik der Gewalt’, in Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. II.1, ed. by Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1877), pp. 179-202.17 Max Weber ‘Charismatische Herrschaft’, in: Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1985), p. 140.
34 Klaus R. Scherpedeprives the dominant discourse of its meaning and legitimacy. Worse, back-stage discourse even makes dominant discourse ridiculous in the eyes of theso-called natives. In this first person narrative Orwell has been summoned todeal with an elephant that has broken its tether and now ravages the bazaarand kills a man. Later, the elephant peacefully grazes in the paddy fields; hisheat has passed. For the villagers and the officers the logical assumptionwould have been to return to work. But there is another logic Orwell has toperform on the front stage of colonial rule. The public scene demands the ex-ercise of power to preserve power