Metadrama in Shakespeare

Topics: A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare, Theatre Pages: 9 (2675 words) Published: May 23, 2000
‘Shakespeare's plays reflect not life but art.' Make use of this remark in writing an essay on Shakespeare's use of Metadrama.

Shakespeare constantly plays with metadrama and the perception of his plays as theatre and not life with the complications inherent that in life we all play roles and perceive life in different ways. The play has recognition of its existence as theatre, which has relevance to a contemporary world that is increasingly aware of precisely how its values and practices are constructed and legitimised through perceptions of reality.

Critic Mark Currie posits that metadrama allows its readers a better understanding of the fundamental structures of narrative while providing an accurate model for understanding the contemporary experience of the world as a series of constructed systems. From this quote metadrama can be said to openly question how narrative assumptions and conventions transform and filter reality, trying to ultimately prove that no singular truths or meanings exist. In respect to the plays of Shakespeare, critic John Drakakis supports this notion arguing that Julius Caesar may be read as a kind of metadrama: by figuring Caesar, Brutus, Cassius and others as actors, self consciously fashioning Roman politics as competing theatrical performances the play enacts the representation of itself to ideology, and of ideology to subjectivity. Moreover if the subjects within the fiction of Julius Caesar are radically unstable by virtue of their representations then so is the theatre whose function is to stage this instability. This means that Julius Caesar fits within this essay's definitions of Shakespeare's work reflecting art not life, but also if we are to think of life in terms of people playing roles within their lives where ‘All the world's a stage' , and perceiving reality in a myriad different ways then theatre reflects life reflecting art - a complication that students of Shakespeare would expect the Bard to enjoy. Feste in Twelfth Night exemplifies this notion, "Nothing that is so is so"

(Act IV scene i, line 8)
Shakespeare uses Feste to foreground the artificiality of the complex theater and language systems that the audience absorbs, saying, ‘Nothing that seems real is how you perceive it'. It is a metadramatic irony that Shakespeare uses the fool to do this. Wordplay for the comedic fool and for Shakespeare is at the heart of their art. Shakespeare repeatedly draws attention to theatrical devices and mechanisms and foregrounds the fact that his plays are carefully constructed art. This essay examines the various metadramatic constructions that Shakespeare used to achieve this and examines the effect of these dramatic constructs for the audience.

Dramatic constructions were written to be presented and understood in performance. The nature of these constructions lies in how they are assembled. How the words work with and against each other – ambiguity, paradox, pun, literary and cultural reference. Some aspects of the works are conscious, some unconscious but the playwright's intentions do not matter as we the audience view the art first and then the artist.

There are certain conventions used in Elizabethan theatre. The audience needs to know how these conventions work before they can accept them. As there were only two or three professional theatre groups operating at the time Shakespeare knew his audience and there is evidence to suggest that he wrote specifically for these people who no doubt kept returning because they enjoyed the way he wrote and the experience of the play. One convention which foregrounds the theatrical is the ‘aside' where for example Hamlet speaks very loudly so that the audience who may be ten meters away can hear him clearly and yet another person on the stage only three meters away cannot hear a word. The audience accepts this as a known convention. The effect of this is that the audience continues to interpret and actively...

Bibliography: Scholes, Robert. "Metafiction." Metafiction. Ed. Mark Currie. New York: Longman, 1995
(Shakespeare 's Tragedies - ‘Fashion It Thus, Julius Caesar and the politics of representation ' John Drakakis, MacMillan Press London 1998)
(Jefferson. Ann. "Patricia Waugh, Metafiction The Theory and Practice of Self-conscious Fiction." Poetics Today. 7:3 (1986): 574-6.)
Hamlet, New Swan Shakespeare Advanced Series. Ed. Bernard Lott Longman Group Ltd 1970
The Complete Oxford Shakespeare, Oxford University Press 1987 Suffolk Ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor
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