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  • 1. The Play within the Play The Performance ofMeta-Theatre and Self-Reflection
  • 2. 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
  • 3. The Play within the Play The Performance ofMeta-Theatre and Self-Reflection Edited by Gerhard Fischer Bernhard Greiner Amsterdam - New York, NY 2007
  • 4. Cover image: Les Farceurs de l’Hôtel de Bourgogne, by Abraham Bosse (c.1633,Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris).By placing Gaultier-Garguille’s eye-glasses in the very centre of his image, Bosseindicates that eyes and looking are the key to this play within a play: observedby an internal on-stage audience (a Frenchman and a Spaniard), Turlupin robsGaultier-Garguille, who is watching Gros-Guillaume make love to a woman,while we, their audience, watch them all. (John Golder)Cover design:Pier PostLe papier sur lequel le présent ouvrage est imprimé remplit les prescriptionsde “ISO 9706:1994, Information et documentation - Papier pour documents -Prescriptions pour la permanence”.The paper on which this book is printed meets the requirements of “ ISO9706:1994, Information and documentation - Paper for documents - Requirementsfor permanence”.Die Reihe „Internationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen und VergleichendenLiteraturwissenschaft“ wird ab dem Jahr 2005 gemeinsam von Editions Rodopi,Amsterdam – New York und dem Weidler Buchverlag, Berlin herausgegeben.Die Veröffentlichungen in deutscher Sprache erscheinen im Weidler Buchverlag,alle anderen bei Editions Rodopi.From 2005 onward, the series „Internationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinenund Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft“ will appear as a joint publication byEditions Rodopi, Amsterdam – New York and Weidler Buchverlag, Berlin. TheGerman editions will be published by Weidler Buchverlag, all other publicationsby Editions Rodopi.ISBN-13: 978-90-420-2257-7©Editions Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam - New York, NY 2007Printed in The Netherlands
  • 5. 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
  • 6. 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
  • 7. 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
  • 8. 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)
  • 9. 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
  • 10. 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.
  • 11. 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
  • 12. 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
  • 13. 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
  • 14. 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.
  • 15. IThe Play within the Play and the Performance of Self-Reflection
  • 16. 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.
  • 17. 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).
  • 18. 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).
  • 19. 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.
  • 20. 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
  • 21. 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.
  • 22. 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
  • 23. 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.
  • 24. 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.
  • 25. 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.
  • 26. 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.
  • 27. 14 Bernhard Greinerhave always known it: the self-creation of the subject out of the spirit andmatter of the play within the play.
  • 28. 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).
  • 29. 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).
  • 30. 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.
  • 31. 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.
  • 32. 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
  • 33. 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.
  • 34. 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).
  • 35. 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.
  • 36. 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 < closeup/text/idle.htm> (accessed 25 January 2005).
  • 37. 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).
  • 38. 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.
  • 39. 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.
  • 40. 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.
  • 41. 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.
  • 42. ‘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).
  • 43. 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.
  • 44. ‘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.
  • 45. 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).
  • 46. ‘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.
  • 47. 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. Two thousand colonial subjects follow thescene and watch the police officer. Orwell writes: And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expect- ed it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their thousand wills pressing me forward, irre- sistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s domination in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy […]. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the ‘na- tives’, and so in every crisis he has to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him. He wears a mask and his face grows to fit it.18Orwell’s use of theatrical metaphors is pervasive, as James Scott observes.19He speaks of himself as ‘a leading actor of the piece’, of hollow dummies,puppets, masks, appearances, and an audience that would ridicule him if hedid not follow the established script of colonial power. Obviously, there is adisparity between the public discourse of domination, the open exercise ofpower, and the backstage discourse safely expressed only offstage. If subor-dination requires a credible performance of obedience and humility, so domi-nation requires an authoritarian performance of haughtiness and mastery.Any disorientation of this hierarchy as experienced and reflected by Orwell isthreatening. As a result of the failure of this power play – the breakdown ofthe hegemonic discourse of the colonial power under the observing eyes ofthe powerless – Orwell feels the ‘hollow posing’ of his own performance: thesudden recognition that his acting is nothing but the shallow imitation of anaction, which had to be carried out. The personal consequence for Orwell18 George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1950), pp. 3-12, (p. 8).19 James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance. Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), p. 10-11.
  • 48. ‘Backstage Discourse’ 35after this experience was quitting the colonial service. If Major Kurtz mirrorsSpiegelberg, who mimics pure violence on the backstage, in the woods, in thejungle, then Orwell, the colonial officer, makes his last appearance as KarlMoor did on the front stage, staging shame and honesty, the very last hero ofa morality play, Western style. However, as Jean Genet observed when commenting on the theatricalproduction of Les Nègres, colonization does not end when the colonizer hasgone. In an all-black performance, Genet writes, one white man at least mustbe in the audience, the spotlight focused on this symbolic white; or whitemasks have to be distributed to the black spectators as they enter the theatre;and if the blacks refuse the masks, ‘then let a dummy [of a white man] beused.’ 20 Even better: a dummy! The black audience does not share GeorgeOrwell’s sophistication of guilt and the shame of being ridiculed by ‘theother’. Les Nègres is a play without morals, absolutely indifferent to the‘white man’s burden’ and also deeply mistrustful of the better morals of thesubordinates. Genet’s support of the Black Panther movement did not alterthis view. The play within the play in Les Nègres is a ‘clown show’, impro-vised not only to execute the inversion of white to black domination, but evenmore to demonstrate that the code of power and violence is circulating, end-lessly shifting without a reliable notion of one’s own identity and that of theother. For this reason, the blacks imitate their own imitation of the whites.‘Who can say what exactly is “black”?’ Genet asks. At this point the ontolog-ical order of the play within the play – what is ‘real’ and what is ‘fiction’? –becomes ineffective. There are no limits of representation in this play and,therefore, no substantial meanings of identity, hybridity, transgression, etc.The coffin with the body of the murdered white woman onstage and – back-stage and offstage – the trial and execution of a renegade Negro, are happen-ings that are accumulated and associated data of violence, nothing more: kill-ing by numbers in a never-ending play. ‘What party’, extreme and powerful?Major Kurtz’ ghost would have answered: ‘Any party’. Here it is again: Thepower play within the play, without Gestalt, no condition, no reference, thedefinition and vision of violence. And the theatre as an institution? If the play can no longer be a moral playin Friedrich Schiller’s sense, maybe the theatre can be a moral institution;differently, to be sure, in Genet’s practice. ‘There is only one place in theworld,’ Genet claims in his interview with Hubert Fichte, ‘where theatricalitydoes not hide power and that is the theatre.’ 21 In political and social affairs20 Gene A. Plunka, p. 69.21 Jean Gene talks to Hubert Fichte, p. 14.
  • 49. 36 Klaus R. Scherpepower is hidden by theatricality, violence is justified, legalized, etc. Not so inGenet’s theatre. In staging violence the theatre does not hide violence; in itsritual action it has the ability to incorporate violence. Pure violence in abso-lute presence: this would be the sensation of Genet’s theatre of excess. Andthe audience? They, of course, are fictional in their need and desire for iden-tity, with the illusion of gaining insight and learning from the play. ‘Whydoes it disquiet us to know that Don Quixote is a reader of the Quixote, andHamlet is a spectator of Hamlet?’ Jorge Luis Borges writes: ‘These inver-sions suggest that if the characters in a story can be readers or spectators,then we, their readers and spectators, can be fictions.’ 22 Western readers andspectators, one must add! The real horror, the utmost threat to one’s own fic-tional identity is, as we know, the loss of the opposite, the black, the brute,the Jew, ‘the other’ to define oneself against. Most terrifying: the absence ofevil Moritz. The absence of Spiegelberg as a mirror of good-natured KarlMoor would signify the loss of certainty and security. But identity needs amirror, at least a shadow. We cannot do without our Caliban. And here I come to the end of the chapter, with Kafka again. Franz Kafkain Prague with his friend Max Brod, after a visit to a cinema maybe where aWestern movie was shown – Kafka, in this very short story about an Indian,reports the terrifying experience of the failure of mimetic production, in thiscase the mimetic desire to be an Indian: Oh to be a red Indian, instantly prepared, and astride one’s galloping mount, leaning into the wind, to skim with each fleeting quivering touch over the quivering ground, till one shed the spurs, for there were no spurs, till one flung off the reins, for there were no reins, and could barely see the land unfurl as a smooth-shorn heath before one, now that horse’s neck and horse’s head were gone.2322 Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions, 1937-52, trans. by Ruth Sims (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964), p. 46. See also Pyllis Gofrain, ‘Play and the Problem of Knowing in Hamlet: An Excursion into Interpretative Anthropology’, in The Anthropology of Experi- ence, ed. by Victor Turner and Edward Bruner (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986), p. 217.23 ‘Longing to be a Red Indian’, in Franz Kafka. The Transformation and other stories, ed. and trans. by Malcolm Pasley, (London: Penguin, 1992), p. 31.
  • 50. 37David RobertsThe Play within the Play and the Closure of RepresentationThe limits of representation in the theatre can be made manifest only through the staging of therepresentation of representation. The two basic types of metadrama, the inset play, the self-implicating play in the play, and framed play, the self-explicating World Theatre, are the pro-ducts respectively of the Renaissance (Shakespeare) and of the Counter-Reformation (Calderón).The second part of the article analyses the critical intention of Dürrenmatt’s combination of thesetwo forms of metadrama in The Visit (Der Besuch der alten Dame).1.In Derrida’s essay on Artaud 1 the theatre of cruelty is characterized as thetotal antithesis to Western theatre. Artaud’s impossible idea of a theatre with-out representation serves to bring into focus the limits of representation, thatis to say, the closure of representation which defines the invariant structure ofWestern theatre across its whole history and all its dramaturgic revolutions. This invariant structure, integral to Western culture, whether it be in thefield of religion, philosophy or politics, is metaphysical or theological inkind. By theological Derrida means the dominance of the word, the primacyof a founding logos, which endows the scene with the following elements: anauthor-creator, absent, distant, armed with a text, who supervises and controlsthe meaning of the representation. The originating logos is represented bydirectors and actors, who represent characters, who represent directly or indi-rectly the ideas and intentions of the author-creator. In other words, actorsenact the will of an invisible master before an audience of spectators, con-sumers, voyeurs. The theatre of cruelty, more exactly, the idea of a theatre without repre-sentation, signifies the impossible attempt to banish God from the scene bydestroying this structure of reduplication and repetition. Artaud’s paradoxicaldream of an originary representation of pure self-identical presence cannotescape the closed circle of representation. All Artaud can do is lay bare whatthis circle contains: ‘Closure is the circular limit within which the repetitionof difference repeats itself indefinitely. That is to say, the space of play (jeu).1 Jacques Derrida, ‘Le théâtre de la cruauté et la clôture de la représentation’, in L’écriture et la différence (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1967), pp. 341-368.
  • 51. 38 David RobertsThis movement is the movement of the world as play.’ 2 Every play, we maysay, opens a space of play and represents the world as play. From the per-spective of the limit, the space of play refers to the form of the play and theworld as play refers to the content (meaning) of the play. Since every formhas a content and every content a form, neither the space of play nor theworld as play is perceived as such. The limit of representation remains unre-presented, just as the scene’s secret relationship to its other – the originaryforce of a theatre without representation – remains occluded. The hidden‘presence’ of this other can manifest itself only negatively as a consciousnessof the limit of representation. For this to happen, however, representationmust be represented: that is to say, presented, re-presented, represented. In-herent in this second order reduplication are two possibilities: on the onehand reduplication can produce a self-critique of representation; on the otherhand, it can produce a self-affirmation of representation. These two possibilities are familiar as the two basic types of metadrama:the inset drama, the play within a play, and the framed drama, the theatrummundi or World Theatre. The play within the play first appears in the Renais-sance, its classic embodiment is Hamlet. World Theatre as generic formcomes to full flowering in the Baroque. Calderón’s The Great Theatre of theWorld is its classic embodiment. The theological dimensions of both playsare evident. Calderón’s affirmation of the world as play requires a personalappearance by the author of authors, whereas Shakespeare’s exploration ofthe space of play is shot through with theological doubts. But in each case themeaning of representation, for both actors and audience, is at stake, themeaning, that is, of playing the game. The self-referential character of both types (e.g. the self-critique and self-affirmation of representation) indicates that they both operate within the cir-cular closure of representation. Each reconfirms through reduplication thisclosure at the same time as each uses reduplication to ‘master’ closure byraising representation to a higher power. In structural terms the two typesconstitute complementary (but asymmetrical) opposites: the play within theplay is the introversion of the framing ‘play of the play’ in World Theatre,just as the latter operates through the extroversion of the inset play. To put itdifferently: the one uses reduplication to internalise the origin and causalityof the scene, the other to externalise origin and causality. In each case redu-plication has the purpose of making the invisible closure of representationvisible in relation either to the form or the content (meaning) of representa-tion. As indicated, the representation of representation raises the theological2 Derrida, p. 367.
  • 52. The Closure of Representation 39stakes – in more obvious fashion in the case of World Theatre, where insteadof chasing God from the stage he is made the visible source of all action, theGod in the World Machine; in less obvious fashion in the case of the playwithin the play, where God has withdrawn to become the ghost in the ma-chine. Theologically and historically the two types point in opposite direc-tions: the play within the play anticipates through introversion the modernrecession of origin, that is, the paradox of self-implication; World Theatrelooks backwards to reaffirm through extroversion the medieval closure ofmeaning whose outcome is the allegory of self-explication. The distinguishing feature of the play within the play is that it makes thespace of play visible by redoubling it in order to stage the form of representa-tion. I am using the term ‘form’ here in the sense that Spencer Brown uses itin his Laws of Form.3 Spencer Brown defines form as the unity of difference,such that every form possesses two sides: the marked, visible and the un-marked, invisible. The form of representation involves a visible scene and aninvisible audience but also the in/visible distinction between actor and role.To make this closure of representation visible, it is necessary to repeat theform – in Spencer Brown’s terminology, to re-enter the form in the form (theconcisest definition of mise en abyme.4 This is of course what the play withinthe play, the representation of the form of representation, does. Its mise enabyme appears to bracket the theological question of the author-creator. InHamlet an agnostic or atheistic standpoint is adopted, whose consequence isthe paradoxicalization of representation. Although Hamlet expounds an Aris-totelian aesthetic of imitation (e.g. holding a mirror up to nature), he is com-pelled to register that in a world of mirrors everyone is an actor, that one cansmile and yet be a damned villain, and that madness is the safest refuge ofsanity. In Hamlet we observe the stage becoming the world through stagingitself. The play announces what we could call the vanishing perspective ofmodernity – the infinite recession of meaning, set in motion by re-entry, thatis, by the self-implication of form, which folds the play in on itself. The rep-resentation of representation responds to the break in symmetry, which is theeffect/consequence of the closure of representation. The play in the play isthus both less and more than the play. It is less, in that the part is less than thewhole; it is more, in that the part is more than the whole. Hence the paradox,that the part contained in the whole contains and frames the whole at thesame time.3 G. Spencer Brown, Laws of Form, 2nd edn (New York: Julian, 1977). See also David Ro- berts, ‘Die Paradoxie der Form in der Literatur’, in Probleme der Form, ed. by Dirk Baecker (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1993), pp. 22-44.4 See Lucien Dallenbach, The Mirror in the Text (Oxford: Polity, 1989), p. 37.
  • 53. 40 David Roberts World Theatre by contrast proposes the self-explication of its content byunfolding the allegory of representation. If the play within the play absorbsthe world into the space of play, World Theatre absorbs the stage into theworld as play. In the first case the macrocosm becomes visible through themicrocosm (the inset play), in accordance with the paradoxical logic inherentin the figure of re-entry (that the part is greater than the whole, because inorder to see itself the whole must divide itself into a seeing and a seen part).The opposite applies with World Theatre: here the macrocosm, the world asplay, gives meaning to the microcosm, the stage play. This is only possible ifthe spectators can be raised to the awareness of their participation in the‘great theatre of the world,’ that is, if the spectators can grasp the meaning ofthe rules of the game revealed through the authorization of representation.The visible presence of God on stage has the function of ‘representing’ therestoration of the symmetry broken by re-entry. The world of re-entry is aworld without God (a world of infinite recession). It makes us all, like Ham-let, self-observing observers who have a problem with acting (in both sensesof the word). This vanishing perspective is replaced in World Theatre by Godas the vanishing point of all perspectives, through which the unity of all dif-ferences can be reaffirmed. We are transformed from self-observing observ-ers into authorized participants, called to represent in a worthy fashion therole allotted to us in the world theatre. The authorization, the deparadoxical-ization of representation cancels its negativities and culminates in the mys-tery of ‘real presence.’ Calderón’s autos sacramentales, written for perfor-mance on the feast of Corpus Christi, all conclude with the allegory of allego-ries, the miracle of the Eucharist. The play within the play and the WorldTheatre are thus the structurally complementary but asymmetrical representa-tions of the closure of representation which emerge in the context of Renais-sance/Reformation and Counterreformation.2.In the second part of this chapter I want to examine an inversion of the modelof World Theatre, which turns its defining idea of judgment against it: theform this takes involves the presentation of World Theatre as the inset play ofa morality play that operates through the staged contrast between appearanceand reality, in which both actors and stage audience are being judged. Theplay in question is Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit (Der Besuch der altenDame, 1955), which I want to set in relation to Hugo von Hofmannsthal’sreworking of Calderón’s Great Theatre of the World for the Salzburg Festivalafter the First World War.
  • 54. The Closure of Representation 41 The Salzburg Festival, inaugurated in 1919, was Hofmannsthal’s responseto the defeat and dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The heartlandof Central Europe, Austria and Vienna, had suddenly been relegated to theperiphery of the German ‘nation,’ divided since the Reformation between theProtestant North and the Catholic South. The Festival aimed at more, how-ever, than a continuation of the Baroque legacy of the Habsburgs. Hofmanns-thal intended a cultural politics, whose stake was the divided soul of theGerman nation, a cultural politics in the spirit of the Counter-Reformation,that is to say, directed against the Protestant definition of the German nation.Hofmannsthal’s Salzburg signifies in this sense the counterpart to Wagner’sBayreuth. Each festival was dedicated to the cultural-political goal of thespiritual regeneration of the German nation through art. Each moreover iden-tifies the split between Protestant drama and Catholic opera as the culturalsymptom of the divided German soul, which Wagner’s music drama andHofmannsthal’s ‘German national programme’ for the Festival were to heal. As his own long productive collaboration with Richard Strauss indicates,Hofmannsthal saw himself as the inheritor of a great theatrical tradition,which did not separate opera and drama.5 Just as great operas – Gluck,Mozart, Beethoven – are above all dramatic works, so great dramas –Goethe’s Faust, Shakespeare’s fantasy plays, Schiller’s romantic dramas –presuppose music. At the centre of this great tradition stand Mozart’s operasand Goethe’s Faust; they form what Hofmannsthal calls ‘the German nation-al programmme of 1800,’ which included as well as the ancients the modern– English, Spanish and French – drama. On what grounds, however, canHofmannsthal reclaim Goethe and Schiller and Weimar classicism from theProtestant North and its concepts of Bildung and Kultur for his programme?On what grounds can Salzburg displace Weimar and Bayreuth as the site thattruly corresponds to the nation, even more claims to be ‘the heart of the heartof Europe’?6 Hofmannsthal’s ‘national’ programme of 1800 looks back to a prerevolu-tionary Europe and to the universalism of the Catholic Church. It turns itsback on the political and cultural nationalisms of the nineteenth century,which led Europe into the catastrophe of 1914 and tore the supranationalAustro-Hungarian Empire apart. Just as the ‘people’ must reconcile class di-visions, so the lost tradition of popular theatre must reconcile the modernsplitting of the public into the elite and the masses. Thus against Bayreuth,5 ‘Deutsche Festspiele zu Salzburg (1919)’, in Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Gesammelte Werke. Prosa III (Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1952), pp. 441-443.6 ‘Die Salzburger Festspiele’, in Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Gesammelte Werke. Prosa IV (Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1955), pp. 88-94 (p. 92).
  • 55. 42 David Robertsdedicated to one great artist and a German nation in the image of Weimar,Hofmannsthal sets the whole classical heritage of the nation, which extendsfrom the Middle Ages up to Mozart and Goethe in an unbroken theatricaltradition, whose organic development is rooted in the popular culture of theSouth, that is, the Austrian-Bavarian lands. Hofmannsthal is at pains to un-derline what he calls the southern German theatrical forms present in Goe-the’s world theatre: Faust incorporates mystery and morality play, puppettheatre, courtly opera with chorus and stage machinery. The centre of Aus-tria/Bavaria is Salzburg, not Vienna. The modern cosmopolitan metropoliscannot play this reintegrating national role. Salzburg thus stands for the ro-mantic redefinition of society as community, as ‘aesthetic totality.’ 7 To create this totality through the moral and magic powers of a re-totalized theatre, the collaboration of Max Reinhardt was essential. In 1917Reinhardt submitted a memorandum to the Austrian Ministry of Culture pro-posing the building of a theatre in Hellbronn, dedicated to the original andfinal form of the theatre, the festival play, as it had been realized by theGreeks and in the medieval mysteries and Passion plays of the Church. Rein-hardt had already achieved some of his greatest prewar successes througharena spectacles for a mass audience. Perhaps the best known was his 1911production of the pantomime, The Miracle by Karl Vollmüller with music byHumperdinck, performed by 2000 actors before an audience of 30 000 at theOlympic Hall in London, transformed for the occasion into the interior of aGothic cathedral. In the following years this production was performed inVienna, various German cities, New York and the Salzburg Festival in 1924.In 1910 Reinhardt directed Oedipus Rex in Hofmannsthal’s adaptation at theCircus Schumann in Berlin, and in 1911 Hofmannsthal’s version of the me-dieval English morality Everyman at the same venue. If Oedipus figures as aproduction of major importance in the history of twentieth century theatre,Everyman failed to impress Berlin critics. Before a more congenial audiencein Salzburg in 1920, however, staged in front of the cathedral, it made a pro-found impact and remained central to the Festival up to 1937, forming withDon Giovanni and Faust a trinity of Catholic morality plays. The success of Everyman fulfilled Hofmannsthal’s idea of the festivalplay and confirmed the ideological goal of the Salzburg Festival: the trans-formation of the theatre public into the ‘people.’ As Hofmannsthal put it, thepublic is capricious and moody whereas the people is old and wise and recog-nizes the food that it needs. To this end the modern playwright must haverecourse to the great and simple dramatic forms that were truly the products7 See ‘Die Salzburger Festspiele’, pp. 88-89.
  • 56. The Closure of Representation 43of the people.8 In 1920 the difference between public and people was identi-fied with the difference between Berlin or Vienna and Salzburg. In 1911, inrelation to the Berlin production of Everyman, Hofmannsthal had tried to per-suade himself that concealed within the metropolitan masses the people stillexists, ready to respond to the revival of ‘this eternally great fairytale.’ Builtaround the one great opposition between the profane and the sacred, earthlylife and salvation, Everyman, he declared, is still illuminated by a divinelight.9 The Salzburg reception of the medieval morality encouraged Hofmanns-thal to rework Calderón’s most famous contribution to the genre of the autosacramental, The Great Theatre of the World. The dramatic metaphor of thetheatrum mundi, in which man plays the role allotted by God in the game oflife, provided the perfect model of and for a re-totalized theatre. Hofmanns-thal’s Salzburg Great World Theatre sought to refunction this sacred form forcontemporary purposes by expanding the role of the beggar in revolt againstGod’s world order into an allegorical demonstration of the overcoming of thedestructive forces of revolution by divine grace. Here the suggestive power ofReinhardt’s staging in the University Church in Salzburg (by the Baroquemaster Fischer von Erlach) came to the rescue of Hofmannsthal’s undramaticallegory. Here too, as in Everyman, the figure of Death the drummer, leadingthe players, King, Rich Man, Beauty, Wisdom, Peasant in a dance of death,had the desired effect on the audience. Hofmannsthal speaks of this dance ofdeath as one of the strongest scenes of any of Reinhardt’s productions, hold-ing the audience spellbound as death fetched each figure in turn in a panto-mime in which the figures follow like puppets the beat of the drum. Dürrenmatt’s The Visit is also set in the heart of Europe in the other Al-pine republic, the other South German-Swiss region with its own tradition ofpopular theatre going back to the Reformation and celebrated by GottfriedKeller in his novel Der grüne Heinrich. Dürrenmatt’s Güllen is the counter-part to Salzburg. On the one hand it presents itself as an old European Kul-turstadt, proud of its medieval cathedral and its connections with Goethe andBrahms. On the other hand, like Salzburg after the First World War, it is aruined provincial town, which European reconstruction after the SecondWorld War has passed by (international trains no longer stop in Güllen). TheVisit can be seen as a bitter satire on Hofmannsthal’s self-deluding ideologyof a theatre for the ‘people’ and on the revival of the Salzburg Festival after8 ‘Das Spiel vor der Menge (1911)’, in Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Gesammelte Werke. Prosa III, pp. 60-65 (p. 63).9 P. 64.
  • 57. 44 David Roberts1945 to promote the economic benefits of cultural tourism. On a secondlevel, however, The Visit needs to be grasped as a searching re-vision of theidea of World Theatre, in which the theatre of the individual and internalizedguilt is pitted against the theatre of the collective and the externalization ofguilt. The Visit explicitly invites comparison with the model of World Theatre.In Act I we learn that the West Door of the Gothic cathedral (Münsterportal)portrays the Last Judgment, in Act II posters at the railway station advertisethe Oberammergau Passion play. The author and director of the stage action,the old lady, the billionaire Claire Zachanassian, who is present throughouton stage, observing events from her hotel balcony, is repeatedly comparedwith one of the Greek fates. With the exception of Claire’s former lover Ill,the townspeople appear solely in their function as teacher, doctor, policeman,etc., to be judged according to the duties of their calling. We are thus invitedto be spectators of a Last Judgment but also of a Passion play, in which thelast words of the sacrificial victim, ‘My God’, leave us to ask whether likeJesus on the cross God has abandoned Ill in his agony. Ill is condemned todeath by the townspeople to redeem the sins of the community, that is to say,to ransom the town from the guilt, which goes back to 1910 when Claire, dis-honoured and betrayed by Ill, was forced to leave the town and to become aprostitute. Claire has now returned 45 years later, after two world wars, todemand justice from Güllen, which had sanctioned and approved Ill’s guilt.Dürrenmatt’s morality play thus encompasses World Theatre and Passionplay: the judgment of Everyman and the judgment of Everyman’s proxy, thesacrificed redeemer. Dürrenmatt turns to the theatre of judgment after World War Two for thesame reason as Hofmannsthal after World War One. His play ratifies Hof-mannsthal’s diagnosis of the disintegration of values, the self-destruction ofEuropean civilization. He ratifies Hofmannsthal’s judgment at the same timeas he judges Hofmannsthal’s ideological programme. Salzburg serves Güllenas the prototype of European reconstruction after a second world war, a re-construction that represents for Dürrenmatt a final betrayal of Europeanvalues, in that it substitutes cultural restoration – the celebration of the ‘festi-val as cultural event’ still in its infancy in the 1950s – for moral purification.Dürrenmatt turns Hofmannsthal’s remedy against him by re-presenting theold popular form of theatre as play in the play, performed for the assembledmedia (film, TV, radio, and press) that follow Claire’s celebrity trail. UnlikeHofmannsthal’s Everyman, the Güllen Passion play is not performed beforethe cathedral but in the assembly room of the Golden Apostle, the hotel inwhich Goethe once stayed. The men of the town have assembled here be-
  • 58. The Closure of Representation 45neath a Theaterportal, as opposed to the Münsterportal with its Last Judg-ment. The proscenium arch, designed to separate play and audience, isdecorated with Schiller’s famous adage, ‘Life is serious, art is serene,’ inorder to underline the evacuation of moral intention from the ‘representation’of the old communal ritual before the cameras and microphones of a worldpublicity. However, as we know, the play in the play creates two audiences, theaudience on stage (the media and the townswomen) and the audience in theauditorium. It is we, the real audience, who must observe and judge the dif-ference between reality and appearance. And since the play within the playframes the whole of which it is part, The Visit can both present and re-presentthe idea of the festival play from Greek tragedy to Oberammergau – not for-getting the town’s bankrupt ‘Wagner-Werke’! – for the judgment of the audi-ence. The Visit realizes the idea of world theatre at the same time as itdemonstrates its reduction to advertisement for Güllen’s supposedly intactcivic tradition. Moreover, it does so through the enactment before the mediaof the return to the archaic origins of the theatre in the ritual of communalpurification from pollution. It was Artaud who compared the living theatre,the theatre of cruelty, to the plague. Güllen is infected by the plague. Its onceflourishing economy lies in ruins. Deliverance suddenly arrives from outsidein the person of Claire Zachanassian, Armenian Oil, who has secretly boughtand closed the town’s businesses. In return for economic rescue she demandsjustice, that is, the death of Ill, the man who has brought the plague on thetown. Claire thus sets in motion the archaic ritual of the scapegoat, the exter-nalization of collective guilt. That the destruction of Europe’s economy intwo world wars was the consequence of moral disintegration can thus be de-nied or rather converted into its opposite: Güllen’s economic recovery is de-picted before the media as the consequence of the still intact moral integrityof the town, which renders unto Claire the justice that she demands. Ill ismurdered on stage once the cameras have gone. The blindness of Oedipus isvisited on the whole town. By assenting before the cameras to Claire’s gift toher native town, Ill (the one individual in the town) assents to his murder as ajust retribution for his guilt, thereby demanding of the town that it recognizethe guilt that it is incurring. The Visit can thus re-present with total dramaticirony the empty shell of the tradition of World Theatre, in which judgment bya higher external causality is exemplified by the visible presence of the god-author of the play and negated in Ill’s internalization of guilt. This god is Mammon, comparable in the modern world to one of the an-cient fates; Claire, like the tradition she represents, is herself an empty shell,a creature of artificial limbs and plastic surgery, alive but not living. The
  • 59. 46 David Robertsfateful archaic-modern reversal of Christian judgment takes the form of theoriginal constituting act of the polis – the traditional meeting of the towns-people in solemn deliberation is enacted now for a world public in the ap-propriately mediated form of a repetition of repetition, the very figure of re-entry. The decision whereby Ill is collectively sentenced to death (masked asthe town’s decision to accept Claire’s gift) has to be repeated because of atechnical fault with the TV cameras. This simulation of a simulation, whichpresents itself as moral self-approbation, is the public face of the collectivereversion to archaic barbarism. The theatre of the individual and the interna-lization of guilt accuses the communal theatre and its myth of the authenticcommunity. The transformation of the townspeople into the one collectivebody is aptly symbolized by the yellow shoes which they have all bought oncredit, the credit drawn on Ill’s life.
  • 60. Caroline Sheaffer-JonesPlaying and not Playing in Jean Genet’s The Balcony and TheBlacksThe play within the play is discussed in relation to Genet’s The Balcony and The Blacks. Bystaging the play within the play, Genet makes the central issue of his theatre not simply social orpolitical concerns but the question of the spectacle. Through the embedded play, actors take onmultiple roles, including that of spectator. Objectivity is brought into question and the spectatoris neither simply outside theatre nor within it. Indeed the borders of the representation are diffi-cult to define. The notion of the work is examined and reference is also made to some of Derri-da’s texts. The metaphor of the ‘house of illusions’ in The Balcony, for example, does not simplyrelate to the bordello, but is clearly central to the idea of theatre, as is the title of the play. Theplay within the play in Genet’s texts renders problematic the difference between reality and illu-sion, outside and inside. For theatre, as for culture, the question remains to name and to direct shadows: and the thea- tre, which is not fixed in language and forms, destroys false shadows by this fact, but pre- pares the way for another birth of shadows around which the true spectacle of life assembles. (Artaud, The Theatre and its Double) ‘But is he still acting or is he speaking in his name?’ (Genet, The Blacks)The Play within the PlayThe play within the play is an integral part of Jean Genet’s theatre. Charac-ters step into the roles of others, or represent themselves, in front of an au-dience played by other characters. What is paramount about the play withinthe play is that it brings into focus the question of theatre. It highlights aboveall the acts of watching and acting, which are not as straightforward as theymay seem. The term suggests that one might designate an inner play which ispart of an outer play, yet it is precisely the boundary between the two whichGenet brings into question. When the frontier between the acting in the playwithin the play and the so-called reality beyond this inner play is unclear,then it is apparent that what belongs to the representation is not well-definedand the very notion of the work needs to be rethought. In his writing on theparergon in a different context, Derrida has problematized the conception of
  • 61. 48 Caroline Sheaffer-Jonesthe work and its boundaries, for the parergon is neither internal nor external.1Indeed, in analysing Genet’s use of the play within the play, I will discuss thelimit of representation and the problem of distinguishing between playing andso-called reality. It can be shown that in The Balcony and The Blacks the in-teractions of an ‘inner’ and an ‘outer’ play disrupt the conventional notion oftheatre as spectacle. Before examining these plays in detail, I will make somebrief, general remarks about Genet and theatre. The play within the play has appeared in different forms in the works ofmany playwrights including Shakespeare, Corneille and Molière, for exam-ple, or Pirandello and Sartre.2 Drama has, of course, changed radically overthe ages, especially when considered in relation to the function which Aris-totle ascribed to tragedy in the Poetics, namely catharsis or the purgation ofthe emotions of pity and terror. However, it is the relationship between per-former and spectator, the fundamental component of traditional theatre,which has been rethought by playwrights such as Genet. Modern drama hasre-evaluated the aesthetics prevailing in Western thought, in which art is con-ceived of as predominantly the imitation of nature.3 The play within the playis an important means by which the interaction between art and life is re-examined. The possibility for the spectator to be completely detached fromthe play is brought into question. As Genet writes: ‘Without being able to sayprecisely what theatre is, I know what I will not let it be: the description ofeveryday gestures seen from the outside’.4 When the figure of the spectator isplaced on stage, the border between the spectator and the actor is displacedand objectivity is undermined. As the distinction between the inner play andthe outer play is transgressed before the spectator’s eyes, so too is the limitbetween the play and so-called reality and thus what constitutes playingneeds to be redefined. Genet’s writings include poetry, novels, autobiography as well as plays,namely The Maids (1947; revised 1954), Deathwatch (1949), The Balcony(1956; revised 1960), The Blacks (1958) and The Screens (1961). Death,ritual and crime return again and again in his work, frequently centred on out-1 Jacques Derrida, La Vérité en peinture (Paris: Flammarion, 1978). See also Derrida, Glas (Paris: Galilée, 1974), p. 277; ‘Le Facteur de la vérité’, La Carte postale: De Socrate à Freud et au-delà (Paris: Flammarion, 1980), pp. 439-524.2 For an overview, Robert J. Nelson, Play within a Play: The Dramatist’s Conception of his Art: Shakespeare to Anouilh (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958).3 For a detailed analysis of various forms of mimesis, see in particular, Sylviane Agacinski, Jacques Derrida and others, Mimesis des articulations (Paris: Aubier-Flammarion, 1975); Arne Melberg, Theories of Mimesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).4 ‘Comment jouer Les Bonnes’, Œuvres complètes (Paris: Gallimard, 1968), IV, 269. All translations in this chapter are my own.
  • 62. Playing and not Playing in Genet 49casts in society. 5 Prominent thinkers such as Sartre, Bataille, Lacan andDerrida have turned their attention to aspects of Genet’s writing.6 Much hasbeen written on his plays from different points of view, in particular on theissue of gender,7 although there has been little focus on the play within theplay. Martin Esslin has described The Balcony and The Blacks in particular asbelonging to the Theatre of the Absurd.8 On the other hand, Robert Brusteinbelieves that Genet is not an absurdist, and in a chapter of The Theatre ofRevolt prefers to associate him with Artaud,9 despite differences such as Ge-net’s obvious reliance on written language.10 Genet, Brustein writes, ‘goeswell beyond the limited boundaries of the avant-garde to create an alchemi-cal, primitive, messianic theatre, embodying many of Artaud’s precepts: anOriental theatre of metaphysical tendency, the modern equivalent of the mys-tery religions’.11 Through rituals and ceremonies in Genet’s theatre, in whichcharacters lose themselves, the boundaries between the inner and outer playsare repeatedly crossed. Genet strenuously rejected realism and his dramamakes use of many different visual and sound effects, as well as an often de-liberately exaggerated use of masks, make-up, costumes, stilts and gestures.Bernard Dort insists on the fundamental notion of the game, as well as dis-guise in Genet’s theatre and states: ‘to be, it is necessary to appear’.12 Indeed,5 Various political texts and interviews, including on Genet’s support for the Black Panther Party, are to be found in Jean Genet, ‘L’ennemi déclaré’ Œuvres complètes, VI: ed. by Al- bert Dichy (1991). See also Simon Critchley, ‘Writing the Revolution: The Politics of Truth in Genet’s Prisoner of Love’, Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity: Essays on Derrida, Levinas and Contemporary French Thought (London: Verso, 1999), pp. 30-50.6 Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Saint Genet, comédien et martyr’, Œuvres complètes de Jean Genet, I (1952); Georges Bataille, ‘Genet’, La Littérature et le mal (Paris: Gallimard, 1957), pp. 197- 244; Jacques Lacan, ‘Sur Le Balcon de Genet’, Le Magazine littéraire, No. 313 (September 1993), 51-57; Derrida, Glas.7 See, for example, Kristin Ross, ‘Schoolteachers, Maids, and Other Paranoid Histories’, in Genet: In the Language of the Enemy (Yale French Studies, No. 91), ed. by Scott Durham (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), pp. 7-27; James Creech, ‘Outing Jean Genet’, in Genet: In the Language of the Enemy, pp. 117-40.8 The Theatre of the Absurd, rev. updated edn (New York: Overlook Press, 1973), pp. 166-97.9 ‘Antonin Artaud and Jean Genet’, The Theatre of Revolt (London: Methuen, 1965), pp. 361- 411. See also Carol Rosen, ‘The Structure of Illusion in Genet’s The Balcony’, Modern Drama, 35 (December 1992), 513-19.10 Discussing a new role of language in theatre, Antonin Artaud writes about ‘Incantation’, Le Théâtre et son double (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1964), p. 67. Theatre is a performance which cannot simply depend upon dialogue, p. 66; see also p. 53.11 Theatre of Revolt, p. 377.12 ‘Le théâtre: une féerie sans réplique’, Le Magazine littéraire, 313 (September 1993), 46.
  • 63. 50 Caroline Sheaffer-Jonesin his use of the play within the play, Genet exposes the limits of a dangerousgame entangling art and life, one which affords no safe haven.13Dance with DeathFor Genet, theatre is inextricably tied to death.14 In one of his letters to thedirector Roger Blin, he wrote about The Screens: ‘Really, it is necessary that,at the exit, the spectators take away in their mouths that famous taste of ashand a smell of rottenness’.15 Truly tasting ash is part of the fundamental spec-tacle which Genet presents and one is not free to remain aloof from the action.Through the play within the play, the spectator is put right into the midst of aconflict with death. Being at the knife-edge is exemplified by the tightropewalker whom Genet describes in a short text. This character risks death,chasing his image with which he tries to identify on the rope: we come to see‘a solitary lover in pursuit of his image, saving himself and fainting on awire’.16 Between the tightrope walker and the image pursued is the risk of afatal fall. It is this extreme limit which fascinates Genet, one at which thespectacle itself risks ruin, or at least transformation. Like the tightrope walkerin a dance with death, the actors and the spectators in Genet’s plays are in-volved in the perilous making and unmaking of the spectacle. Death and treacherous make-believe are central in The Maids. However,unlike in The Balcony and The Blacks, which it preceded, the play within theplay does not show the spectator’s role explicitly. Yet to a certain extent whatis already questioned is the difference between role-play and life; that livingmight somehow be free of acting.17 Claire says: ‘What remains for us is tocontinue this life, take up the game again’, to which Solange replies: ‘Thegame is dangerous’.18 In the changing of places, roles become confused.When Claire drinks the poisoned tea as Madame, who does not drink it, is shereally still acting as Madame? To what extent she is pretending is uncertain.Claire and Solange also interject in their ‘real’ identities. Yet it is as if they13 This is contrary to Christiane Vymétal Jacquemont’s view: ‘The locus of the game provides a reassuring cosmos while, in the outside world with its unpredictable daily profane life, a threatening chaos reigns’, ‘The Essence of the Game and its Locus in Jean Genet’s Le Bal- con’, French Review, 54 (December 1980), 285.14 See the startling text, ‘L’étrange mot d’…’, Œuvres complètes, IV, 7-18, and, in particular, Samuel Weber, ‘Double Take: Acting and Writing in Gene’s “L’étrange mot de…”’, in Ge- net: In the Language of the Enemy, pp. 28-48.15 ‘Lettres à Roger Blin, Œuvres complètes, IV, 224.16 ‘Le Funambule’, Œuvres complètes, V (1979), 19.17 Sartre, Œuvres complètes de Jean Genet, I, 567, states that the reader will recognize Claire and Solange as the Papin sisters.18 Les Bonnes, Œuvres complètes, IV, 154.
  • 64. Playing and not Playing in Genet 51were somehow suspended between themselves and the roles which they as-sume, like the tightrope walker chasing his image.19 Indeed, in the swappingof roles, it is the line between play and reality which becomes impossible todistinguish. Roles overlap; one is substituted incessantly for another. One fig-ure lives on as another. It is as if the play were almost a game with multiplepossibilities in which actions are at once mimed and realized, neither playednor accomplished once and for all.Focusing on the SpectacleGenet’s use of the play within the play in The Balcony and The Blacks drawsthe spectator into the play, so that he is even more compellingly confrontedwith a role which is neither simply imagined nor real. The notion of objectiveobservation is cast in doubt, as is the possibility of a well-defined framewhich would separate the actor in the play from the spectator in reality. Thus,distinguishing where the play begins and where it might end, indeed definingthe work, becomes problematic. In particular, through the transgression of thespace between the inner and outer plays, the spectator’s role is shown to beinextricably bound to that of the actor. The outer play is no more containedthan the inner play, but opens out into a much wider space, in which the shift-ing limits between actor and spectator, play and reality, are at stake. The Balcony begins in Madame Irma’s brothel, ‘The Grand Balcony’,where clients are dressed up to act out their fantasies of various figures, in-cluding a Bishop, a Judge and a General. Madame Irma observes the activi-ties in all of her rooms with a viewing apparatus. She is also seen dressingwith the assistance of her confidante Carmen. Meanwhile, all around, a revoltis taking place. Chantal, a prostitute who left the brothel to become involved,meets with her lover Roger, a leader in the uprising. Chantal dies and be-comes a symbol of the struggle. Madame Irma is persuaded to appear on thebalcony in the role of the Queen, along with the clients who pass themselvesoff as Bishop, Judge and General, key figures in the society, and the Hero orChief of Police. The revolt is then quelled. The Chief of Police’s longstand-ing dream to become part of the nomenclature of the brothel is finally real-ized when Roger asks to act out his role. In the designated room, a mausole-um, Roger castrates himself. The Chief of Police finally disappears into themausoleum and Madame Irma closes her house for the night. The play within the play occurs in many scenes: in particular, in theclients’ theatrical performances observed by Madame Irma, a surrogate audi-19 In ‘Comment jouer Les Bonnes’, Œuvres complètes, IV, 267, Genet describes the Maids’ gestures, and even their voices, as suspended or broken, adding: ‘Each gesture will leave the actresses suspended’.
  • 65. 52 Caroline Sheaffer-Jonesence in her brothel; in the appearance of the key figures of society on thebalcony of the brothel and in Roger’s role-playing in the mausoleum, as he isspied upon by other characters. What is apparent is that there is no clear-cutdistinction between the play within the play taking place in the form of role-playing and the so-called reality outside this make-believe. When figuresplaying roles become part of the political scene and calm the revolt, the linebetween play and reality, theatre and affairs of state, is obviously blurred. Infact, this is also the case in the brothel, also known as a ‘house of illusions’,where the clients require that there be a certain truth and at the same time alack of reality, as Madame Irma explains to Carmen: Irma: They all want everything to be as true as possible… Less something undefinable, which makes it not true. (With a change in tone.) Carmen, I am the one who decided to name my establishment a house of illusions, but I am only the director of it, and each person, when he rings, enters and brings his perfectly worked out script. All that is left for me is to rent the hall, provide the props, the actors and actresses.20Illusion is not separated from reality by the walls of this house of illusions,where, according to Carmen, the scenarios are all reducible to the theme ofdeath (Balcony, p. 126). When Arthur, an employee of the brothel, is hit by abullet which penetrated the house from the outside, he still plays a cadaver,but for real. To distinguish between acting and not acting poses difficulties;as Madame Irma says: ‘He didn’t believe that he would be able to play hisrole of cadaver so well tonight’ (Balcony, p. 98). In the fantasies played out in the house, characters move between rolesand so-called reality, or else between the inner play and the outer one. Theextent of the make-believe is difficult to determine, as in The Maids, andcharacters slip into and out of the game like the judge with the girl playing athief (Balcony, pp. 48-49). The spectator in the auditorium sees the bounda-ries between the inner and outer play becoming unclear and is compelled toreassess his own position. In the play within the play, in which Roger takeson the role of the Chief of Police, there are a few spectators who watch clan-destinely in the outer play, namely Madame Irma as the Queen, the palaceEnvoy and the Chief of Police, along with the Bishop, the Judge and the Gen-eral. When the Chief of Police interjects, the Envoy tells him that he shouldlet the roles be played right to the end. However, what sort of play does thisentail? Might the Chief of Police see himself in Roger, and to what extentdoes Roger act this spectator? In seeing his role performed, the Chief of20 Le Balcon, Œuvres complètes, IV, 73. The page numbers to The Balcony will be given in the text after the quotations.
  • 66. Playing and not Playing in Genet 53Police witnesses the grandeur of his image. He sees Carmen explaining toRoger towards the end of play that the Slave has left their role-play in themausoleum in order to disseminate the ‘truth’ to the outside world: ‘Thetruth: that you are dead, or rather that you don’t stop dying and that yourimage, like your name, reverberates to infinity’ (Balcony, p. 131). The inter-jections of the Chief of Police to the Queen show his satisfaction with the‘truth’ of his death, or, more precisely, that he never ceases to die, living onin his name and his ever-present image. If this show of truth is the culmination of the action for the Chief of Po-lice, if after such a role-play nothing remains for him but to disappear into themausoleum for two thousand years, this is not the case for Roger, who em-bodies his role in the inner play beyond all limits: ‘greater than great, stron-ger than strong, more dead than dead’, in the words of the Chief of Police(Balcony, p. 133). He carries on despite Carmen’s insistence that the ‘sessionis over’ (Balcony, p. 131). Indeed, Roger does not just represent the Chief ofPolice in the role-play, taking on the policeman’s chosen appearance as agiant phallus, but he merges ‘his dest