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    Una Chaudhuri

    Modern Drama, Volume 27, Number 3, Fall 1984, pp. 281-298 (Article)

    DOI: 10.1353/mdr.1984.0027

    For additional information about this article

    Access provided by Hacettepe Universitesi (12 Dec 2014 04:22 GMT)

    http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mdr/summary/v027/27.3.chaudhuri.html

    http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mdr/summary/v027/27.3.chaudhuri.htmlhttp://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mdr/summary/v027/27.3.chaudhuri.html
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    The

    pectator

    in

    Drama

    Drama in the

    pectator

    UN CH UDHURI

    [ ] text consists of multiple writings, issuing from several cultures and entering

    into dialogue with each other, into parody, into contestation; but there is one place

    where this multiplicity is collected, united, and this place is not the author, as we

    have hitherto said it was, but the reader.

    Roland Barthes

    The theoretical maneuver by which the reader came to occupy the space vacated

    by the disappearing author did not remain unquestioned for long. The reader-

    whether it be the mock-reader, the model reader, the implied reader, the

    super reader, or even the real reader (me) 2 - could hardly withstand the

    pressure exerted by contemporary literary theory upon any construct in which

    meaning can be grounded (or, as Barthes says, collected, united ). The

    multiple writings which Barthes found playing through and pulverizing the

    once closed, organic, stable, objective, autonomous text

    ~ o u l

    hardly remain

    absent from the reader. They soon appeared, in the forms either

    of

    the

    institutional codes and conventions of semiotic theory (see Culler's literary

    competence 3) or

    of

    interpretive strategies, shared, cultivated and enjoined

    by the fact of one's membership in interpretive communities. 4 Barely

    installed as a literary fact, the autonomous reader was revealed as a critical

    fiction, the latest in a series that has included the autonomous author and the

    objective text.

    f

    the reader remains at all, it is

    as

    a psychologically unique

    individual (the actual person reading) imprinting private fantasies, desires and

    neuroses, in a radically personal way, upon the text.

    5

    This reader

    is

    a construct

    of little theoretical use to literary study, though not without attraction to literary

    theologians desirous of justifying the existence

    of

    literature.

    6

    Thus, from the denial of the reader (the affective fallacy) to the elevation

    of

    the reader (the affective fallacy fallacy7), criticism has arrived, in a few short

    decades, at the extinction

    of

    the reader (the affective fallacy fallacy fallacy?).

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    UN

    CHAUDHURI

    However, the explosion

    of

    this promising construct has not been concluded

    without considerable fallout. Reader-response criticism - a very mixed

    bag

    of

    critical writings sharing an orientation towards the role

    of

    the reader - has

    contributed greatly to the specification of the critical and pedagogical

    enterprises, generating a set

    of

    terms and articulating a range

    of

    issues that have

    had no less n effect than that of irreversibly altering the path ofliterary studies.

    Preeminent among these issues is that

    of

    the locus and nature

    of

    literary

    meaning, with its attendant inquiry into the question of how such meaning can

    be apprehended and described. The most extreme response to this question

    is

    probably that of Stanley Fish, for whom meaning is reading, and vice versa.

    Defining meaning as an event rather than a content, Fish argues for a criticism

    that describes - in minute detail - the dynamics of this event, revealing the

    work's meaning

    s

    a response to the question: what does this text

    o

    to its

    reader? Thus the text is no longer an object, a thing-in-itself, but an event

    something that happens to, and with the participation of, the reader.,,8

    The preponderance of words like event, participation and happens in

    Fish's discourse, as well

    s

    that of words like performance, activity and

    process in the discourse

    of

    reader-response criticism in general, would lead

    one to expect this criticism to be particularly suited to and productive in the

    study

    of

    drama. In fact, however, the drama is conspicuous by its absence from

    the concerns of reader-oriented criticism. Neither as literary type nor s

    theoretical model does drama enter here

    (in contrast, for instance, to its

    ubiquity as theoretical model in the social sciences

    10).

    This situation is already

    being remedied, no doubt, as testified by Patrice Pavis's recent essay on The

    Aesthetics of Theatrical Reception: Variations on a Few Relationships. I

    Pavis opens his discussion with a description

    of

    the present state

    of

    this line

    of

    inquiry, not neglecting to highlight the paradox of its paucity in the one field

    seemingly most suited to it:

    The theatrical work has always been subjected to a very detailed analysis

    of

    its working

    parts, an analysis which has described even the most insignificant mechanisms

    of

    composition and function. But the question of its reception by the spectator seems to

    have been totally neglected, except for the famous instance of catharsis or its Brechtian

    counterpoint, alienation. Such is the paradox of theatre criticism: more than any other

    art, theatre demands, through the connecting link of the actor, an active mediation on the

    part

    of

    the spectator confronted by the performance; this happens only during the

    event

    of aesthetic experience. Nonetheless, the modalities

    of

    reception and the work of

    interpreting the performance are very poorly understood. I

    Why this should be the case is a great deal more complicated than Pavis

    suggests: he accounts for it in terms

    of

    the suspicion about theory

    of

    reception,

    which has been accused

    of

    idealism because it is too centered on the perceiving

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    Spectator in Drama/Drama in Spectator

    subject and too far removed from a structural description

    of

    the performance.

    That such a suspicion exists is certain, but why it should paralyze dramatic

    criticism while being overcome in the criticism of poetry and the novel is

    mysterious. The success (or at least progress)

    of

    reader-response criticism

    of

    other literature and its nondevelopment in drama criticism hint at the existence

    of deeper problems.

    Reader-orientation in drama criticism

    is

    hampered by the preexistence of

    another sort of reception problem in drama study: the problem that dramatic

    texts appear to have at least two addressees. Whereas novels and poems are

    addressed directly to their readers (although one must distinguish between

    readers belonging to different historical periods and cultural contexts - readers

    from the work's original time and place, and those from other times and places

    in which the work is read), plays are addressed to spectators through

    performers. Or, to put it differently, the reception of a play involves a

    relay -like process: the play is received first by performers and then by

    spectators. Nor does the plurality

    of

    addressees stop here. Dramatic texts are

    also read usually (but not always) after they have been produced

    thUS

    adding

    another step in the relay process, for the production experience may well alter

    the way texts are read). Moreover, the existence of contemporary as well as

    later receivers, noted in the case

    of

    novels and poems, also holds true for plays,

    and is exacerbated by the continuation and repetition, over time,

    of

    the relay

    process that distinguishes the dramatic text to begin with. The extension of the

    map of drama's addressees over that of a map of literature's addressees is

    expressed in the following table:

    Drama

    Other literature

    (a) contemporary performers

    (b) contemporary spectators contemporary readers

    (c) contemporary readers

    (a) later performers

    (b) later spectators later readers

    (c) later readers

    t should be noted that groups (a) and (c) - both in the contemporary and the

    later case - though performing the same physical act (reading), do so for

    altogether different reasons. (a) reads in order to perform, that is, in order to

    produce an aesthetic experience (in b, while (c)'s reading is the aesthetic

    experience. The two activities are wholly different, therefore, involving

    distinct interpretive procedures and decisions. (This is not to say that no

    overlapping of interpretive strategies will occur in the readings

    of

    (a) and (c):

    indeed, to the extent that both share the same cultural and ideological codes,

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    UNA CHAUDHURI

    their interpretations will coincide to a large extent. Nevertheless, the

    performer-reader will constantly tailor his interpretation to fit within the

    constraints set by the conventions

    of

    his theatre a process that may even

    involve drastic censorship

    of

    the text.)

    The state

    of

    affairs is actually greatly more complicated than my table

    suggests. None

    of

    the groups occupying the four boxes is by any means

    homogeneous. For example, the group contemporary spectators will include

    subgroups and individuals having greatly varying degrees

    of

    dramatic

    competence, not to mention very different cultural orientations. In the case

    of

    most dramatic types, spectators will be present who occupy a number

    of

    different positions on such social and intellectual continua as rich-poor,

    educated-illiterate, sophisticated-naive, refmed-vulgar, etc., and such psycho

    logical continua

    s

    attentive-inattentive, serious-casual, sensitive-insensitive,

    etc. This sort

    of

    variation within groups is bound to be far greater in the case

    of

    drama's addressees than in that

    of

    other literature, the former's reception

    occurring in the context

    of

    a social event in which one engages for many

    (nonaesthetic) reasons, including

    self-display,

    status seeking and tourism,

    whereas the latter's is the result

    of

    an activity usually pursued for its own sake.

    The multiplicity

    of

    addressees in drama reveals its force as an obstacle to a

    reception-oriented drama criticism when we consider the transformation such

    criticism effects on traditional categories. According to Umberto Eco, every

    reception

    of

    a work of art is both an interpretation and a performance

    of

    it,

    because in every reception the work takes on a fresh perspective for itself. 13

    The application

    of

    this idea to literature has the effect

    of

    collapsing the hitherto

    distinct but essentially complementary activities

    of

    reading and writing,

    making this essential complementarity into an essential identity: not writing

    and reading, but reading/writing. The text processes the reader and the reader

    processes the text, the two operations occurring not successively but simul

    taneously. Thus reader-response criticism gradually breaks through the

    boundaries that separate the text from its producers and consumers and

    reconstitutes it as a web whose threads have no beginning and no end. I4

    The problems arising in any attempt to apply the notion

    of

    reading

    s

    performance to drama can be found even at the simple level

    of

    terminology. To

    say that the reader

    of

    a novel performs this novel is relatively clear, not

    involving the transformation

    of

    any other traditional category. To say that the

    spectator or reader

    of

    a play performs the play is far less acceptable, for the

    obvious reason that there already exists a distinct performance category in

    relation to drama. Of

    course, this terminological problem can be solved by

    keeping in mind that the spectator's/reader's performance is a mental event,

    while the performer's performance is physical. In the case

    of

    a staged play, this

    would then involve the existence

    of

    two performances, the mental one carried

    out by the spectator and the physical one carried out by the performer, the latter

    being preceded by another mental performance (the performer's reading

    of

    the

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    5

    play text prior to staging it).

    t

    may be argued that it is a question here not

    of

    several performances but

    of

    several texts (each reading involves the putting

    into operation of different deciphering, decoding and interpretive strategies

    which produce different texts altogether). This position, which has the

    effect

    of

    denying the objective existence

    of

    a text independent

    of

    the way

    readers process it, puts the whole critical project into question. f here are no

    texts but only readings (which is what the term reading/writing implies),

    what are these readings readings oj? If only o themselves (as Fish's notion of

    interpretive communities suggests: reading, he says, is an activity that

    processes its own user 15), then what is criticism but another performance of

    its own inherent categories, strategies, prejudices?

    Fish's

    response to this

    apparent circularity is to accept it, urging the superiority of an interpretation

    that is at least aware of

    itself'

    over one that is unacknowledged as such. 16

    Nevertheless, the difference between the activity of the reader of a literary

    work and that

    of

    literary critics writing on that work is at least apparent (if

    highly problematic). One expression of this perceived difference lies in the

    development of a branch of reader-response criticism devoted not to the

    interpretive activity of the individual (time-less) reader, but rather to the history

    of responses to a literary work. Rezeptionsgeschichte or the history of

    reception, associated with, among others, Hans-Robert Jauss, takes as its

    project the survey and analysis of a critical discourse extended over time and

    adhering to specific works. While this metacritical discourse is aimed largely at

    identifying the various aesthetic and ideological codes. that organize and

    articulate criticism in various periods of history, and as such falls outside the

    domain of

    literary

    criticism

    strictly defined, it can be undertaken at times to

    solve problems ofliterary history - why a given play

    or

    novel succeeded at one

    time and not another, why a work meant one thing at one time and something

    else at another - and so can contribute indirectly to the traditional critical

    project: interpretation.

    The critical discourse studied in this way need not be (and has not been) re

    stricted to the past. In an essay on The Discourse

    of

    Dramatic Criticism, 17

    Patrice Pavis concludes a discussion of the plurality of theatrical meta

    languages with an analysis of a corpus of 32 texts published in the French and

    English press on Measure for Measure directed by Peter Brook at the Bouffes

    du Nord in November 1978. Pavis's discussion

    of

    this more or less complete

    sampling has the modest aim

    of

    comparing common points and thematic

    divergences, ideological presuppositions and a few stylistic 'tics '1S - no

    attempt is made to arrive at a systematic

    or

    rigorous classification

    of

    codes and

    procedures at work in this body of writing.

    9

    That a more thoroughgoing

    exposition would be possible, and that the discourse studied need not be re

    stricted to journalistic responses to productions but can encompass academic

    critical writings as well, are demonstrated by (among others) Richard Levin's

    recent study

    of

    contemporary Shakespearean criticism

    ,

    which (though far

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    UN

    CH UDHURI

    removed in intention from reception theory, being indifferent to the ideological

    bases of criticism) is a model of completeness and categorization.

    Spectator-oriented dramatic criticism has before it two options: it can attempt

    to study the processes - psychological, semiotic, ideological - by means

    of

    which the individual spectator receives (or construes) the meaning

    of

    a play

    (these processes themselves being perhaps - following Fish - the meaning); or

    it can develop, in a more precise and code-conscious way, the already old

    tradition

    of

    studying the historical fortunes of a play. The two options are not,

    of

    course, mutually exclusive: the spectator's response being a matter

    of

    experience rather than

    of

    intellect, it can be apprehended mainly in

    records of

    it, even

    if

    the spectator was oneself (the I who writes as critic is different from

    the I who experienced the play).

    The question

    of

    the spectator's response, or more precisely,

    of

    its

    apprehension

    for theoretical purposes, plunges us into a central issue

    of

    reader-response criticism: the question as to whether the responses a work

    of

    art

    can elicit are implicit, implied, inscribed - whatever, and to whatever degree-

    within the work itself. In short, does art guide the responses to it?

    To ask this question is,

    of

    course, to slip back into the position

    of

    maintaining

    that a text - in however mysterious or multiple a form -

    exists

    a claim denied,

    as mentioned earlier, by Fish (and others). Fish will not deny, however, that the

    notion of a text exists, sanctified by our interpretive community, and this

    notion may well be a

    sine qua non

    (though possibly an acknowledgedly

    fictional or conventional one)

    of

    contemporary criticism.

    To what extent can a play direct - or at least restrict - the spectator's

    (potentially limitless) responses to it? There are few instances in drama theory,

    as

    Pavis notes, of explicit attention to the spectator's experience. The most

    famous of these - Aristotle's catharsis and Brecht's alienation - are both

    articulated, significantly,

    as

    principles

    of

    dramatic composition and theatrical

    production. Although both Aristotle and Brecht display a distinctly moral

    concern with spectators' actual experiences (catharsis and alienation are both

    good for us, though for very different reasons), the emphasis in their

    discussions is clearly on textual inscription. Both hold the position that the

    causes

    (stimuli, clues, directions, etc.)

    of

    the spectator's response can be and

    are inscribed within the play and can, consequently, be discovered there,

    read

    out o the play. Spectator-response criticism, this suggests, can take as its

    object

    of

    study the text itself, as other (author- and text-oriented) criticisms

    have done.

    t

    is a matter only

    of

    changing the angle of vision to focus more

    exclusively on those elements

    of

    the play which

    do

    something to the spectator,

    call forth or create some sort

    of

    response, be it ease, acceptance, comfort,

    security (characteristic responses to what Brecht called the culinary theatre ),

    or unease, embarrassment, confusion, bewilderment, terror, etc.

    Having decided to investigate the spectator's response

    as

    it is structured into

    the play, we now face the perennial problem

    of

    deciding what (or where) the

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    play is - is it the play script, the production, or the individual performance?

    Aristotle's response-paradigm (catharsis) would seem to be capable

    of

    a more

    complete textual inscription than Brecht's, although alienation too is a

    function of many devices that can be recorded in the text (such

    as

    the episodic

    structure, the songs, the ironic use

    of

    language in dialogue, and even certain

    scenic elements). Many other alienation devices - particularly acting style -

    are purely theatrical.

    I shall not attempt to solve this problem here (it may have no solution);

    however, the following application

    of

    spectator-response criticism will, I hope,

    explore and help to specify the issue. The play I have chosen, Peter Shaffer's

    Equus has the virtue of having elicited a sort of critical response which

    highlights the problematic

    of

    dramatic affect. Writings on the play, especially

    early journalistic ones but also more scholarly treatments, exhibit a curious

    schizophrenia typical of much contemporary response to theatre. This

    schizophrenia takes the form of a theoretical dichotomy between drama and

    theatre, the former being roughly synonymous with intellectual depth or

    originality

    of

    ideas, the latter referring mainly to matters like staging, acting

    and scene design.

    The problem with this dichotomy is revealed when it

    is

    applied to

    postrealistic drama, which no longer contains those elements upon which this

    definition of drama is based. Patrice Pavis, discussing the discourse of

    dramatic criticism, points to this very fact:

    [a]

    time lag (or out

    of

    sync ) can be observed in the evolution of the critical apparatus

    which has been developed and adopted for classical dramaturgy (which can be made to

    span from classical seventeenth-century tragedy to the naturalistic well-made play ).

    t

    corresponds to a dramaturgy founded on segmentation into acts and scenes, on

    characters representing a certain individuality, and on an illusionist mode

    of

    acting. The

    critical vocabulary describing this genre is extremely precise and readily normative.

    However, as soon as it is used, through lack ofother tools, to account for modem forms,

    the results are as imprecise as they are misleading. 2 I

    In the case

    of

    Equus the classically based critical apparatus yields a negative

    judgment, framed in terms of the drama-theatre dichotomy. Frequently charged

    with intellectual superficiality, staleness and even dishonesty, the play

    nevertheless compels critics - in the light

    of

    its huge theatrical success - to

    remark upon what is termed either its packaging or its brilliant staging

    (depending on how the critic feels about the dichotomy). Jack Richard's

    judgment is typical. Equus he says,

    is

    a perfect case-study in the mediocrity of insight necessary nowadays for the play to enjoy

    a popular reputation for profundity. From the schematic psychology to the simple

    minded cultural criticism, there is nothing in this play that either informs us what life is

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    UNA

    CHAUDHURI

    or what it ought

    t

    be. It is all contrivance, all middle-class whines and whimpers . . . .

    And yet ... I have to say that the presentation of this nonsense has a galling merit to it.

    3

    In short: good theatre, bad drama.

    That so much Equus criticism has been an attempt to extract the play's ideas

    is partly due to the nature of the play itself, which has all the marks of serious

    drama. Its central situation seems to belong to a category firmly established,

    long before being perfected by Ibsen, in eighteenth-century bourgeois drama :

    the conflict between the

    individual

    part free soul, part social product - and his

    society. Alan Strang, the play's passionate young antihero,

    is

    in danger

    of

    being sacrificed to the deadly demands ofa conforming society. Society's agent

    is Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist charged with domesticating this free soul,

    as

    obsessively self-critical a protagonist as any in Ibsen. The encounter between

    these two familiar types engages the familiar dilemmas

    of

    democracy

    structured into hundreds of realistic plays: can society permit its citizens to

    indulge an independence of spirit which, while it affords them the opportunity

    to experience life profoundly and elementally, also risks unleashing destructive

    forces that could ruin society? From a different point of view, can such

    authenticity

    of

    experience remain pure in a necessarily compromising,

    repressive environment? Will it not inevitably isolate the individual

    so

    utterly

    that he will tum violent, go mad, ruin

    himself?

    The implied inevitability of such effects proceeding from such causes, an

    inevitability that is really a

    convention

    strengthened by countless instances

    of

    its dramatic use, is the hidden backbone

    of Equus.

    It is what ensures that a

    certain

    reading

    of

    the fictional events will occur. This reading

    is

    further

    promoted by the delayed-exposition structure of the play: as play-time moves

    forward, it carries the spectator backward in fictional time, encouraging him or

    her mentally to construct a narrative

    of

    causality to stand against the

    discontinuous, achronological representation one actually witnesses.

    There

    is

    yet another way in which

    Equus

    prompts the spectator to seek a

    coherent set of ideas in it. The play employs a version of the stage-house

    relationship that achieves a Brechtian effect. By seating part of the audience on

    stage, on

    tiers o seats in the fashion

    o

    a dissecting theatre , 2

    4

    it manages to

    shift the audience's experience away from that

    of

    usual play watching and

    toward one of assisting at a lecture-demonstration. This unconventional

    arrangement subtly affects the status

    of

    the play. The on-stage activities, it

    suggests, are there not simply to be watched and enjoyed, but rather to be

    actively observed, as one observes, say, a scientific experiment, or a trial.

    What we see are simply the facts; it is up to us to evaluate them, to derive their

    significance, to interpret their meaning. This implied interpretive sanction

    to

    the audience

    is

    only apparent. In actuality, the play deploys bits

    of

    information

    carefully selected to guide the emerging mental narrative along a fairly narrow

    path.

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    To promote the desired reading, Peter Shaffer has recourse to one

    of

    the most

    well-established of modem myths: Freudian psychology. In responding

    intellectually to a case of madness, a modem audience will draw first upon this

    paradigm, the author can safely assume, evoked for them by various catch

    phrases and cliches strewn throughout the play: transference, abreaction,

    repression, superego, etc. Not surprisingly, the most notorious feature of the

    Freudian paradigm, the Oedipus complex, provides the play with its central

    relational model. Frank Strang, Alan's father, is the embodiment of the

    repressive, authoritarian father, and is opposed by his wife, Alan's mother,

    protective, indulgent, insidiously overpowering. t is her influence on the boy,

    we are convinced, that has resulted in his peculiar obsessions.

    Into this familiar nursery drama (primarily responsible for the critical

    dismissal

    of

    the

    pl y s

    bad - i.e., intellectually stale - drama), Shaffer

    introduces one more element, also conventionally associated with Freud

    (indeed, the main sign

    of

    Freudian thought to the popular mind): sex. The

    worship of Equus turns out not to be entirely spiritual: its central ritual involves

    a naked gallop in a midnight meadow, ending in orgasm. On the basis of this

    repeated experience, it is suggested, the boy has come

    to

    believe that his

    is

    a

    jealous, omniscient god who demands absolute fidelity. This conviction is

    responsible for his impotence with the girl Jill, which in tum leads to his final

    desperate attack on the accusing gaze of the all-seeing God.

    Thus, at one level, the play answers (or, more precisely, allows the

    spectator to believe h or sh has answered) the question that lies on its

    surface: why did Alan do what he did? The process of this answer is a process of

    passive reading, the valorizing and mobilizing of cliches (in this case,

    fragments of a central modem myth: Freudian psychology).

    Critical disappointment with this part of the play leads some

    to

    focus on a

    secondary theme, this one revolving around the psychiatrist, but no more

    satisfying, ultimately, than Alan's theme. The elaboration of this part of the

    play employs the same method s the first did - its logic is the logic of cliche.

    The organizing myth here is the Romantic myth of the Noble Savage or mad

    artist, presented here in its most updated, R.D. Laingian version: the psychotic

    s poet. Dysart

    is

    the type of the mid-century culture hero, disillusioned with

    modem civilization, uncomfortable with his role in it, disgusted even with his

    safe style of dissent. He sees himself s a servile priest of the Normal, turning

    unique individuals into uniform, standardized parts

    of

    the social machine.

    Believing Alan to be possessed of an authenticity rarely seen in modem society,

    he looks upon his own attempts to cure the boy s nothing less than homicide:

    ... that boy has known a passion more ferocious than I have felt in any second of my life.

    And let me tell you something: I envy it. . .. Such wild returns I make to the womb of

    civilization. Three weeks a year in the Peloponnese, every bed booked in advance, every

    meal paid for by vouchers, cautious jaunts in hired Fiats, suitcase crammed with

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    Kao-Pectate Such a fantastic surrender to the primitive. And I use that word endlessly:

    "primitive." "Oh, the primitive world," ' I sit looking at pages of centaurs trampling

    the soil ofArgos - and outside my window he is trying to

    become one,

    in a Hampshire

    field ... I watch that woman knitting, night after night - a woman I haven't kissed in six

    years - and he stands in the dark for an hour, sucking the sweat off his

    God's

    hairy

    cheek ... Then in the morning, I put away my books on the cultural shelf, close up the

    kodachrome snaps of Mount Olympus, touch my reproduction statue of Dionysus for

    luck - and go

    off

    to the hospital to treat him for insanity. (pp.

    94-95)

    Eloquent as Dysart is about his dilemma, he is hardly original. The view that

    madness may be the price of ecstasy or the mark ofpenetrating wisdom is as old

    as Plato. More recently, the suspicion that insanity may be a culturally

    determined label for political and social oppression has been established in the

    popular mind by such works as One Flew Over the Cuckoo s Nest and The Bell

    Jar.

    25 Hence the second strand of the play's intellectual level , like the first, fails

    to provide the insights expected from serious drama. When seen as all the play

    has to offer, it produces a judgment

    of

    the

    playas

    a crude subterfuge which

    promises "some significant glimpse of the truth," but leaves us instead "with a

    bogus

    or

    trivial message.

    26

    To dismiss the play at this point, however, may be a sign of critical

    shortsightedness, a stopping short. More importantly, it may be an example of

    the critical failure to distinguish between what a play

    says

    (or seems to say) and

    what it

    does

    to the spectator. Although it may appear, from what they say about

    the play, that spectators value primarily the so-called "ideas" they have

    "discovered" in it, a critical study of spectator-response quickly reveals this

    response to be other than intellectual.

    It

    is clear, for instance, that it is not just

    the Freudian explanation that is satisfying, but rather the

    process,

    enjoined by

    the play's structure, of arriving at this explanation.)

    A striking feature of Equus is that it itself incorporates several instances of

    dissatisfaction with the Freudian paradigm. Mrs. Strang challenges it directly,

    insisting that Alan alone, and not his past, is responsible for what happened:

    We're not criminals. We've done nothing wrong. We loved Alan. . . . Our home wasn't

    loveless. I know about privacy too - not invading a child's privacy No, doctor.

    Whatever's happened has happened because o Alan. Alan is himself. Every soul is

    himself.

    f

    you added up everything we ever did to him, from his first day on earth to

    this, you wouldn't find why he did this terrible thing - because that's him not just all

    of

    our things added up. (p. 90)

    Dora's position, even if it is motivated by a desire to exonerate herself, is

    remarkable. It flies in the face

    of

    the cozy causal narrative that spectators have

    been encouraged to construct. It is, in fact, the mark

    of

    a rival paradigm

    of

    madness: madness as the unknown. Dora herself cannot resist naming this

    unknown, taming it. She does so by pouring religion into its structure:

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    You've got your words, and I've got mine. You call it a complex, I suppose. But if you

    knew God, Doctor, you would know about the Devil. (p. 91)

    Thus, against the Freudian paradigm of madness, Dora sets up the Demonic

    paradigm. Though not as fashionable, this latter is no less familiar, having

    prevailed for centuries before ours.

    However, it is not Dora but Dysart who introduces the paradigm that

    structures the play at its deepest level. The implications of this paradigm have

    little to do with the so-called ideas received

    as

    the Brechtian, lecture

    demonstration, intellectual level of the play proceeds. Rather, they are

    structured into the play in such a way that they operate at an experiential level,

    while the spectator's conscious attention is being diverted by the activity of

    constructing the Freudian narrative. The latter is necessarily and perhaps

    deliberately simplistic, serving only as a convenient, shared fable used to draw

    the audience into a collectivity upon which the deeper level of the play can

    work. The process has been partly noticed by Gifford, who ascribes the play's

    success to the fact that, [p]erhaps in Shaffer's skillful mixture of truth,

    banality and pretension there is something for us all. . . . something that gratifies

    our universal fantasies about our therapists and indulges

    a

    very common fear

    that our symptoms cannot be removed without destroying our creativity. 27

    But the paradigm that structures

    Equus

    at the deepest level does more than

    fulfill fantasies. And it is this paradigm that accounts for the theatrical power of

    Equus, a power coded in the play text itself, not independently endowed by an

    imaginati ve director. '

    In his first speech, Dysart introduces the central image of this paradigm:

    ... of all nonsensical things, he says, I keep thinking about the horse Not

    the boy: the horse, and what it may be trying to do (p.21). While for Dora it is

    Alan who is the remainder ofthe Freudian equation, for Dysart it

    is

    the horse.

    The terms with which he describes it at the opening

    of

    Act Two bring us even

    closer to the nature of the paradigm:

    I can hear the creature's voice. It's calling me out

    of

    the black cave of the Psyche. I shove

    in my dim little torch, and there he stands - waiting for me. He raises his matted head.

    He opens his great square teeth, and says - (mocking) "Why Why Me? ... Why -

    ultimately - Me? ... Do you really imagine you can account for Me? Totally, infallibly,

    inevitably account for

    Me?

    (pp. 87-88)

    [T]he black cave of the Psyche is, in

    Equus,

    the storehouse of irreducible,

    unfathomable images, images that defy domestication by any causal analysis. t

    is

    the embodying of one

    of

    these images that Shaffer has in mind in the stage

    directions for the blinding scene:

    [the] horses appear in cones of light: not naturalistic animals but dreadful creatures

    out ofnightmare. Their eyes flare - their nostrils flare - their mouths flare. They are

    archetypal images - judging, punishing, pitiless. (p.

    122,

    my emphasis)

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    UNA CHAUDHURI

    The theatrical power

    of

    Equus has often been attributed to the horses with

    their surrealistic wire masks, their eerie humming noise, their "precise" and

    "ceremonial" movements. At least one critic has recognized this power to be

    central to the playwright's conception, not just a director's happy invention:

    Indeed, both theatrically and dramatically, the Equus form proves pivotal in achieving a

    coherent whole in the play. Without uttering a single line ofdialogue, Equus determines

    the fates of all the play's central characters, thereby demanding close scrutiny by

    audiences and critics alike.

    8

    Such scrutiny reveals that it is not only the play's central characters but also its

    spectators that "the Equus form" affects. Its role in the play goes far beyond that

    assigned to it in the Freudian narrative: the role of obsessional object and

    victim. The number and manner

    of

    its appearances on stage, as well as the

    intention expressed by the playwright about its realization ("They are

    archetypal images"), give us a clue to the existence

    of

    a hidden response

    structure in the play, a structure masked by the rationalistic, analytical terms

    of

    the surface structure. In short, there

    is

    an archetypal paradigm at work in

    Equus not merely as a theme or an explanatory mechanism, but as something

    directing the spectator's experience.

    In Symbols o Transformation Jung surveys the horse myths

    of

    diverse

    cultures. All

    of

    them, he finds, "attribute properties to the horse which

    psychologically belong to the unconscious

    of

    man: there are clairvoyant and

    clairaudient horses, path-finding horses who show the way when the wanderer

    is lost, horses with mantic powers. 29 The horse is frequently "a symbol of the

    animal component in man," which accounts, Jung says, for its "numerous

    connections with the devil" who has a "horse's hoof and sometimes a horse's

    form.

    3

    0

    This Christian version

    of

    the archetype appears in

    Equus

    as

    we have

    seen, through Dora. Other traditional attributes are also evoked, the most

    striking

    of

    which is energy. Jung writes: "Since the horse is man's steed and

    works for him, and energy is even measured in terms

    of

    'horse-power,' the

    horse signifies a quantum

    of

    energy that stands at man's disposal. It therefore

    represents the libido which has passed into the world."3

    1

    That the worship of

    Equus is an exalted celebration

    of

    libido is clear to Dysart as he gazes lovingly

    at it from within the confines

    of

    his sterile marriage:

    He lives one hour every three weeks - howling in a mist. And after the service kneels to a

    slave who stands over him obviously and unthrowably his master. With my body I thee

    worship .. . Many men have less vital with their wives. (p. 93)

    The compelling power

    of

    the horse archetype is perhaps primarily a function

    of its universal associations with man's animal nature. The most graphic

    representation

    of

    this aspect

    of

    the archetype is the mythic centaur, half man,

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    half horse. In Equus this archetype

    is

    realized theatrically - the horses are

    represented by masked actors - and is ubiquitous. The spectator's analytical

    activity is frequently interrupted by the eruption on stage

    of

    Equus , an image of

    man's participation in prerational, preverbal forces. This image gathers within

    it a host

    of

    psychological associations, developed over the course

    of

    historical

    human experience:

    The horse

    ...

    is

    ...

    an animal

    of

    darkness, representing unbridled instinct, night (the

    mare as in "nightmare"), and terror. As a nourishing force, the horse is said to be able to

    force water out of springs by stamping his hooves. In a medieval French epic concerning

    the four sons

    of

    Aymon, their famous horse Bayard did just that. In psychological terms,

    the horse symbolizes the unconscious world: imagination, impetuosity, desire, creative

    power, youth, energy, and sensuality

    . . . .

    A white horse implies majesty, as when Christ

    mounted one (Rev.

    9:

    1I). t

    brings death, however, when an overly impetuous outlook

    is

    allowed to flourish. "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on

    him was Death, and Hell followed him" (Rev. 6:8).3

    2

    That these associations may well be active within the fiction (i.e., as an

    explanation, along with or beyond the Freudian explanation,

    of

    Alan's

    behavior) does not mean they are restricted to this area of the play. Even within

    the fiction, the horse organizes more than Alan's narrative: it

    is

    not only Alan

    but also Dysart who identifies with the horse, experiencing it as a relentless,

    irreducible question within the self. In the play's final moments, he confesses:

    And now forme it never stops: that voice of Equus out

    of

    the cave - "Why Me?

    ...

    Why

    Me?

    ...

    Account for Me "

    ...

    In an ultimate sense I cannot know what I do in this place -

    yet I do ultimate things. Essentially I cannot know what I do - yet I do essential things .

    ... There is now, in my mouth, this sharp chain. And it never comes out. (p.

    125)

    Beyond the fiction, the horse archetype is able to structure the spectator's

    experience of the play because Shaffer emphasizes one particular attribute of

    the horse more than any other. Many legendary horses, according to Jung, are

    clairvoyant. Alan's god

    is

    all-seeing. His portrait in Alan's bedroom at home,

    says Dora, "is a most remarkable picture, really. You very rarely see a horse

    taken from that angle - absolutely head on." "What does it look like?" asks

    Dysart. "Well,

    it s

    most extraordinary.

    t

    comes out all eyes." "Staring straight

    at you?" "Yes, that's right

    ...

    " (p. 52).

    Of

    course, this information gets accommodated easily in the linear narrative

    of

    Alan's dementia, which ends in the blinding

    of

    six horses. However, this is

    not its only role in the play.

    t

    finds an echo - a far more muted one - in the

    dream Dysart recounts. In this dream, Dysart is a priest in ancient Greece,

    performing a macabre mass-child-sacrifice during which he gets progressively

    sicker. The dream hardly needs interpretation - its supposed meaning

    is

    as

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    UNA

    CHAUDHURI

    obvious to Dysart as it is to us: it symbolizes his growing professional

    skepticism and increasing sense

    of

    guilt at performing what he fears may be a

    form of spirit murder. This is the meaning

    of

    the dream at the play's

    intellectual level.

    Itsfunction,

    however, may be that

    of

    introducing, through certain repeated

    key words and images, a semantic field already being cultivated elsewhere in

    the play. Twice in his account Dysart mentions that his assistant priests are

    wearing lumpy, pop-eyed masks (p. 29). The second time, after they have

    discovered his sickness, their gold pop-eyes suddenly fill up with blood (p.

    30). Twice, also, Dysart mentions the name of the place in the dream: it s

    Argos - called horse-grazing Argos in The Iliad, the place where the earliest

    known representations

    of

    centaurs were discovered.

    The word also recalls

    Argus, the giant with a hundred eyes.

    The semantic field evoked through these repetitions has to do with sight,

    especially unnaturally powerful or threatening sight.

    n

    a way, Freud's favorite

    myth is central to

    Equus,

    though it is not Oedipus the patricide but rather

    Oedipus the self-blinder who matters here.

    The play's emphasis on eyes, sight and blindness in developing the horse

    archetype is related to the theatrical paradigm that lies beneath the thesis-play

    paradigm of its surface. Just as Jungian archetypes seem to remain after the

    Freudian analysis, so the Brechtian style

    of the presentation is actually set

    within an experience much closer to the kind envisioned by Artaud. n other

    words, the distance, critical judgment and rationalization implied by the

    lecture-hall type

    of

    seating arrangement are merely convenient ways of

    implicating the audience, of using its rationalistic predilections to get it to

    participate in what is - experientially - a secular ritual.

    The proposition that

    Equus

    belongs to the Artaudian kind of theatre has been

    systematically tested by Helene Baldwin in an essay entitled Equus: Theatre of

    Cruelty or Theatre

    of

    Sensationalism? 34 Her conclusion, that the play is soap

    opera; the direction is theatre ofcruelty plastered on over the plot, 35 is based on

    the preponderance in the play of psychological themes, for which Artaud had

    no use: Such preoccupation with personal problems disgusts me; psychology

    on stage works relentlessly to reduce the unknown to the known, to the

    quotidian and the ordinary, [and] is the cause

    of

    the theatre's abasement and

    fearful lack of energy 36 Nor does Shaffer's inclusion

    of

    religious themes

    seem to Baldwin to qualify his

    playas

    Artaudian, for the concept

    of

    religion in

    the play is found to be limited and one-sided,

    37

    in the service

    of

    cheap

    eroticism.

    There s no doubt that the intellectual level of Equus lacks the awe and

    mystery Artaud envisioned. But this level is merely the avenue into the play's

    experiential core. Artaud believed that only ancient myths could provide such

    an avenue; Equus demonstrates that it is not defunct myths but living ones

    -like

    psychoanalysis - that will weld the group into a collectivity and allow ritual

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    participation. Such participation, involving the spectator in the drama by

    carrying the drama into the spectator, was to Artaud the essence of the theatre's

    alchemical process, allowing it to transmute the basely quotidian and individual

    into the pure, transcendent and collective:

    There is a mysterious identity

    of

    essence between the principle

    of

    the theater and that

    of

    alchemy . . . . Where alchemy, through its symbols, is the spiritual Double of an operation

    which functions only on the level of real matter, the theater must also be considered as

    the Double, not of his direct everyday reality ofwhich it is gradually being reduced to a

    mere inert replica ... but

    of

    another archetypal

    nd

    dangerous reality a reality of which

    the Principles, like dolphins, once they have shown their heads, hurry to dive back into

    the obscurity

    of

    the deep.

    3

    8

    Equus has two response-structures, layered one above the other and corre

    sponding to the two kinds

    of

    reality Artaud mentions ( direct, everyday and

    archetypal

    ...

    dangerous ). The spectator

    is

    carried into the drama by the

    former, the mechanism

    of

    his involvement being the galvanizing

    of

    popular

    myths and cliches; the drama

    is

    carried into the spectator by the latter, the

    mechanism being the horse archetype as realized and defined in the play.

    Primary in this definition

    is

    the emphasis on eyes and sight. As such, the play

    stresses that aspect

    of

    the horse archetype which

    is

    coincident with the primary

    condition

    of

    theatre:

    t

    be seen. The stage of Equus is encircled by watching

    eyes. The audience, Argus-like, has gathered to see, to be shown, to be

    enlightened. Like Oedipus, it must know who it is, and like him, it will learn

    of

    its own blindness. In the ritual

    ofEquus

    the spectator will participate at several

    levels, observing, thinking, interpreting and, finally, experiencing. While

    ritualistic chants, made up of the cliches and catch phrases

    of

    our culture, keep

    the spectator's mind occupied, the archetype conspires with the theatrical

    moment and rears its head before the collective. Thus, what seems an

    intellectual inquiry

    is

    in effect an encounter with myth, with what Artaud called

    historic or cosmic themes, the great preoccupations and great essential

    passions which the modem theater has hidden under the patina

    of

    the

    pseudocivilized man. 39 Equus draws the spectator into Dysart's black cave

    of

    the Psyche.

    The archetype

    is

    coded into

    Equus

    as thoroughly as its rationalistic opposite.

    f

    the latter disappoints (critics), it does

    so

    necessarily, revealing the ultimate

    inadequacy

    of

    intellectual schemes in accounting for human experience, an

    inadequacy we recognize,

    if

    only secretly, an inadequacy symbolized in the

    mysterious unfathomable image

    of

    Alan's man-horse-god, Equus.

    Significantly, the response-structure inscribed in

    Equus

    (of which the

    compositional counterpart

    is that

    of

    a secular ritual, disguised,

    as so

    many

    rituals are in the modem world, in rationalistic terms) is analogous not only to

    alchemy but also to psychotherapy:

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    The psychotherapist seeks to encounter the unconscious, to understand some of its

    contradictions and antagonisms as well as its creative elan. To transform what is

    negative into a positive and fruitful orientation or ruling principleof the personality is his

    goal. In so doing, the psychotherapist is elevating unregenerate matter (a leaden

    condition) or chaos into a new golden sphere or cosmos.

    40

    The action of

    Equus

    on the spectator is analogous to that of the play's

    psychiatrist on his patient - both are processes

    of

    discovery, journeys into the

    unconscious, encounters with the irrational parts of the self. Just

    as

    Alan uses

    commercial jingles to ward off this encounter, the play supplies the spectator

    with a set of safe, familiar objective terms to protect himself with. In both

    cases, an illusion of individual control is encouraged which permits the ritual

    experience - be it the initiation of the patient into his individuality or of the

    spectator into his collective identity - to occur.

    t

    is worth pointing out that, in the foregoing response-oriented analysis of

    Equus

    a curious complicity is revealed between two paradigms of theatre

    usually regarded

    as

    organizing radically opposed spectator-responses: the

    Brechtian and the Artaudian. While both Artaud and Brecht take as their points

    of departure the paltry, passive responses inscribed in realist drama, the

    alternatives they suggest seem to constitute two wholly different spectators.

    Brecht's spectator is observer, critic, thinker, judge; Artaud's is ritual

    participant. The dichotomy thus introduced into twentieth-century theatrical

    thought and practice

    is

    a reflection of the dichotomy suffered by the West since

    the Enlightenment, and now in the process of decay.

    Equus

    is simply one example of a general trend in modem drama away from

    intellectualism or, more precisely,

    through

    and

    beyond

    intellectualism,

    towards experience. The critical problematic to which this drama gives rise

    an

    example

    of

    what Pavis calls the time-lag

    of

    critical discourse - can begin

    to be overcome by cultivating a spectator-oriented criticism. The description of

    how a play works on a spectator - rather than ofwhat it means - can supply the

    terms our criticism needs in order to erase the gap between theory and its object.

    NOTES

    The Death of the Author, in Sallie Sears and Georgianna W. Lord, eds.,

    The

    Discontinuous Universe: Selected Writings

    n

    Contemporary Consciousness

    (New York, 1972), p.12.

    2 For a brief and amusing survey of hypothetical readers suggested by various

    critics, see Robert Rogers, Amazing Reader in the Labyrinth of Literature,

    Poetics Today,

    3,

    NO 2

    (1982), 31.

    3 Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study o

    Literature (Ithaca, N.Y. 1975), Chapter 7, pp. 13

    1

    -

    160

    .

    4 Stanley E. Fish, Interpreting the Variorum, Critical Inquiry, 2 (Spring 1976),

    465-4

    85.

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    4

    West Virginia University Philological Papers

    25 1979), II8-

    2

    7

    35 Baldwin, 126.

    36 Antonin Artaud,

    The Theatre and Its Double

    trans. Mary Caroline Richards New ,

    York, 195

    8

    ), pp. 42 77.

    37

    Baldwin,

    1

    2

    3.

    38

    Artaud, p.

    48

    my emphasis).

    39 Ibid., pp. 87.

    1

    2

    3.

    40 Knapp. p.

    2.