Dramatic Horizons Of Significance

  • Category: Book Reports
  • Words: 757
  • Grade: 100
Dramatic Horizons of Significance

Before turning to Stoppard's play, however, I'd like to linger for a few moments on those plays we have read in Liberal Studies: some Greek tragedies, Aristophanes's Clouds, and Shakespeare's Tempest and, most importantly, Hamlet. These all contain elements that seem to be lacking in Stoppard's play--and our initial confusion, if there is any, may stem in large part from our sense that we're missing something that we are used to.
Traditional drama presents human actions in a social context. The action characteristically moves from a normal situation which is upset, through a series of conflicts as the characters seek to cope with this upset, towards a final conclusion in which something is resolved and a normality (even if a transformed one), is restored. In the plays we have read the conflict may be deeply ironic and the ending tragic (as in, say, Oedipus the King) or it may be robustly funny (as in, say, The Clouds) or more fantastic (as in, say, The Tempest) but there is an overall logic to the action, and the plot has a discernible shape: a beginning, middle, and end. By the conclusion of the play, in other words, through the actions of the participants, something has been dealt with, resolved.
In these plays, furthermore, there is a discernible and consistent logic in the actions of the characters. As viewers, we are invited into their world, introduced to its logic, and follow the unfolding of the conflict according to the rules laid down by the play itself. The style of the play may be very formal (e.g., in verse), or it may be colloquially vulgar slapstick, or it may be theatrical fantasy, but throughout there is a logic which the playwright does not violate, and we thus know where we stand in relation to the depicted fiction and to the people in it.
I stress this point because our familiarity with traditional and many conventional plays depends upon a consistency in the logic of the represented fiction. If the logic and dialogue are very close to everyday life, we call the style naturalistic, or slice of life, or kitchen-sink drama; if the style is full of magic or non-natural events, we call the style fantasy. Both styles are equally effective (although many of us have our preferences), but we usually demand from them consistency--so that the world of the represented fiction (which is never an exact duplicate of real life, for even the most naturalistic sounding dialogue must be artistically compressed for dramatic purposes) has a comprehensible logic and consistency upon which we can rely.
In the context of the works we read last week (Taylor's Malaise of Modernity), we can say that these traditional plays establish a "horizon of significance," a world ordered by certain normative understandings which, even if they are not ours, enable us to understand what is going on as a coherent and accessible vision. The horizon of significance comes to us through what the characters believe and how the story establishes for us a sense of moral meaning.
With Stoppard's play at first we seem to be in quite a different world. A common reaction to a script like that of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is confusion. Where are we? What are the rules of this world we are in? How am I supposed to understand exactly what is going on and why, when I'm not sure at any particular moment about what's going on, what sort of reality I'm dealing with, and why characters are behaving the way they are. Too much of this seems either incomprehensible or just a silly game, the point of which escapes me. So what's going on? Where is the horizon of significance that I'm used to confronting?
This is the basic question I wish initially to address. And I want to approach it by repeating a common observation made about this play, that it is very derivative (i.e., it relies very heavily for its style and content on other works). Often the term derivative is understood pejoratively--a derivative work is inferior, not fully original. That may be true here, but I'd like to reserve judgment on that question. I do want, however, to consider three major art works upon which Stoppard clearly draws: the first is the great classic play from The Theatre of the Absurd, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, the second is T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and the third, and most obvious, is Shakespeare's Hamlet.

ad 4
Copyright 2011 EssayTrader.net All Rights Reserved