Historical Bodies in a "Mental Theatre": Byron's Ethics of History (George Gordon) (Critical Essay) Historical Bodies in a "Mental Theatre": Byron's Ethics of History (George Gordon) (Critical Essay)

Historical Bodies in a "Mental Theatre": Byron's Ethics of History (George Gordon) (Critical Essay‪)‬

Studies in Romanticism 2007, Spring, 46, 1

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BYRON'S VENETIAN TRAGEDIES, MARINO FALIERO AND THE TWO FOSCARI with their almost obsessive adherence to the neo-classical unities and their minute attention to historical detail, seem to be his least adventurous dramatic projects and have thus been taken as evidence that, despite his protestations to the contrary, Byron was indeed interested in writing plays that would be amenable to the contemporary theater. While these plays clearly do refute the outworn claim of Byron's (or, more generally, Romanticism's) anti-theatrical tendencies, they cannot be simply understood as being designed for the stage any more than they can be seen as simply anti-theatrical. Despite their formal regularity, these historical tragedies explore the limits of performance by staging bodies that question and resist their own theatrical performance. Moreover, while these plays direct themselves theatrically towards an (at least potential) audience, they also signal their awareness that such performances cannot guarantee their connection to an audience. Byron thus problematizes the seemingly stable genetic label of "historical tragedy" that he gives these plays by presenting "history" and "tragedy" in conflicting rather than complementary ways; he does not simply treat history as a static background for the tragic action, but shows that history exceeds the conventions of dramatic representation. These plays perform the problematic nature of performance, both giving a physical representation to history and acknowledging that historical experience is irreducible to such representation. Byron's recognition of the seemingly paradoxical nature of performance is succinctly suggested by his famous claim to want to "make a regular English drama no matter whether for the stage or not, which is not my object--but a mental theatre." (1) While this desire to write for a "mental theatre" used to be narrowly conceived as a sign of Romantic anti-theatricality, critics such as Thomas C. Crochunis have more recently insisted that the term is "deliberately paradoxical and unresolved" and that it cannot be simply understood as a valorization of poetic, closet drama. (2) Indeed, Byron does not absolutely reject the possibility of performance and his insistence on "regularity" shows that the conception of dramatic performance remains important to him, regardless of whether or not he actually wanted his plays to be staged. Claiming that without the unities, "there may be poetry but no drama," Byron continues to think of his plays in terms of their performance, even as he locates this performance in a "mental" space, which seems to invite its audience/readers to rethink the supposed immediacy of theatrical action. (3) A "mental theatre" would not entirely remove the body from dramatic representation, since to "mentally" conceive of a theatrical performance is still to posit the action of a physical body, but this performance would be mediated by the action of the mind. The body ceases to be a guarantee of presence, but is staged if a this "mental theatre" as a way of sigmaling an absence within performance; it makes its readers/audience aware that theatrical bodies are not inherently meaningful, but are given meaning by an act of mental projection and interpretation. "Mental theatre" in this sense does riot seek to escape the problem of theatricality, but rather poses precisely this problem by calling attention to its staging of the body.

GENRE
Professionnel et technique
SORTIE
2007
22 mars
LANGUE
EN
Anglais
LONGUEUR
30
Pages
ÉDITIONS
Boston University
TAILLE
217,9
Ko

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