Theatre Theory: Week 3 Structuralism & Semiotics. “Is this a dagger I see before me?” (...I don’t know?! Give me a sign...) . Approaching theory: . C hoosing to emphasise a concept in a new way, is much more important than discovering a new concept .
“Is this a dagger I see before me?”
(...I don’t know?!
Give me a sign...)
Red was your colour.
If not red, then white. But red
Was what was wrapped around you.
Blood-red. Was it blood?
Was it red-ochre, for warming the dead?
Haematite to make immortal
The precious heirloom bones, the family bones.
When you had your way finally
Our room was red. A judgement chamber.
Shut casket for gems. The carpet of blood
Patterned with darkenings, congealments.
The curtains - ruby corduroy blood,
Sheer blood-falls from ceiling to floor.
The cushions the same. The same
Raw carmine along the window-seat.
A throbbing cell. Aztec alter-temple.
Only the bookshelves escaped into whiteness.
And outside the window
Poppies thin and wrinkle-frail
As the skin on blood,
Salvias, that your father named you after,
like blood lobbing from a gash,
And roses, the heart’s last gout,
Catastropic, arterial, doomed.
Your velvet long full skirt, a swathe of blood,
A lavish burgundy.
Your lips a dipped, deep crimson.
You reveled in red.
I felt it raw - like the crisp gauze edges
Of a stiffening wound. I could touch
The open vein in it, the crusted gleam.
Everything you painted you painted white
Then splashed it with roses, defeated it,
Leaned over it, dripping roses,
Weeping roses, and more roses,
Then sometimes, among them, a little bluebird.
Blue was better for you. Blue was wings.
Kingfisher blue silks from San Francisco
Folded your pregnancy
In crucible caresses.
Blue was your kindly spirit - not a ghoul
But electrified, a guardian, thoughtful.
In the pit of red
You hid from the bone-clinic whiteness.
But the jewel you lost was blue.
Hughes, Ted Birthday Letters, Red. Faber & Faber. London
Remember the project of theory:
To re- establish connections between literary study and three academic fields:
LANGUAGE / HISTORY / PHILOSOPHY
Words are ‘unmotivated signs’,
this is not a new thing to say. (Plato)
it is a new thing to emphasise.
What is the implication if we make this a central notion?
If words are arbitrary, thenlanguage can’t possibly be a reflection of the world and experience”
An attack on Liberal humanism (trust the text).
2. Words can’t be defined in isolation from other words. Its meaning depends on its definition to other words.
Meanings of words are relational
THEY ARE UNDERSTOOD when look at in context of ‘how they relate to each other’ ( We have no concept of ‘day’ without the linked concept of ‘night. No notion of ‘good’ without the notion of ‘bad’).
This ‘coining’ has implications on its meaning:
terrorist vs. freedom fighter
council estate vs. social housing
Language establishes our world, it doesn’t just record it.
Meaning is always attributed to the object [or idea] by the human mind, and
constructed by and expressed through language: it is not already contained within the thing.
Applying the ideas of structuralism to theatre: If we ‘read’ a scene through the application of semiotics, what new questions might we ask? Where might we find meaning?
semiotics seeks to describe the way in which the set becomes a sign: how it signifies place, time, social milieu and mood. Semiotics also identifies and explores those elements of the actors performance that signify character and objective to the audience.
SEE LINK BELOW FOR THE EXAMPLE USED IN CLASS
David Tennant's Coward Soliloquy - Hamlet - BBC Two
Does your dog bite?
(We used this example in class for a semiotic reading of why this jokes works. i.e. HOW ITS MEANING IS MADE!)
Am I a coward? Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?
Plucks off my beard and blows it in my face? Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i' the throat
As deep as to the lungs? who does me this, ha?
'Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be But I am pigeon-liver'd, and lack gall
To make oppression bitter; or ere this I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave's offal: bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave, That I, the son of a dear father murder'd,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words
And fall a-cursing like a very drab,
Fie upon't! foh!--About, my brain! I have heard That guilty creatures, sitting at a play,
Have by the very cunning of the scene Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaim'd their malefactions; For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ, I'll have these players Play something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle: I'll observe his looks; I'll tent him to the quick: if he but blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen May be the devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy,--
As he is very potent with such spirits,--
Abuses me to damn me: I'll have grounds More relative than this.—
the play's the thing Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king .
In review: KEY IDEAS ARISING FROM STRUCTURLAISM (How might these points take issue with Liberal Humanism? Think your way through the different elements which make up theatre how might structuralism and semiotics bring you to a new understanding of theatre as a sign system):