Scholarly article on topic 'New Approaches in the Analysis of the Contemporary Dramatic Character'

New Approaches in the Analysis of the Contemporary Dramatic Character Academic research paper on "Computer and information sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Computer and information sciences, author of scientific article — Ioana-Tatiana Ciocan

Abstract The character is the core of dramaturgy. The current paper aims to present the newest research regarding the contemporary dramatic character. The study looks at the recent theoretical approaches that hold a double perspective on the character: as a writer's composition and as an actor's performance. The character is defined through his name, implication and role in the action, but also through his own discourse. Based on the connection between similarities and differences, each trait of a character facilitates the revelation of the whole image. The result is a microcosmic structure of a specific typology of characters, interconnected and interdependent. Certain specific, defining characteristics will be identified and, by the relational view, we will succeed to visualise the dramatic identity of the character. Such a reading pattern provides force to the characters analyzed, but also it permits the revealing and interpretation of the character as a complex ensemble which leads to new revelations on the meaning of contemporary plays.

Academic research paper on topic "New Approaches in the Analysis of the Contemporary Dramatic Character"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 92 (2013) 180 - 185

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New Approaches in the Analysis of the Contemporary Dramatic

Character

Ioana-Tatiana Ciocana *

aLucian Blaga University of Sibiu, The Faculty of Letters and Arts, 5-7, Victoriei Bd., Sibiu, 550024, Romania, _Personal address: 7, Vasile Milea Bd., sc. A, ap. 13, Sibiu, 550331, Romania_

Abstract

The character is the core of dramaturgy. The current paper aims to present the newest research regarding the contemporary dramatic character. The study looks at the recent theoretical approaches that hold a double perspective on the character: as a writer's composition and as an actor's performance. The character is defined through his name, implication and role in the action, but also through his own discourse. Based on the connection between similarities and differences, each trait of a character facilitates the revelation of the whole image. The result is a microcosmic structure of a specific typology of characters, interconnected and interdependent. Certain specific, defining characteristics will be identified and, by the relational view, we will succeed to visualise the dramatic identity of the character. Such a reading pattern provides force to the characters analyzed, but also it permits the revealing and interpretation of the character as a complex ensemble which leads to new revelations on the meaning of contemporary plays.

©2013TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Lumen Research Center in Social and Humanistic Sciences, Asociatia Lumen. Keywords: Character; contemporary drama; type-character; actor.

* Corresponding author. Tel.:+4-072-775-4037. E-mail address: ciocan_ioana@yahoo.com

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Lumen Research Center in Social and Humanistic Sciences, Asociatia Lumen. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.08.656

1. Introduction

In the dramatic composition, the character is a defining, central element. In the present paper I will identify the latest theories regarding the dramatic character and the directions of contemporary analysis on the topic, pointing out the actual changes. I will start from a short literature review, followed by various discussions and research methods into the character in contemporary dramaturgy, which regard it like as an intricately constructed unity.

2. Literature review

Most researchers have analysed the dramatic character from a double perspective: as a creation of a playwright that endows it with language, gestures and an existence, and an actor that will embody all of these. "Composition is the process that consists of gathering the elements in order to form a whole", as one of the greatest theoreticians of the theatre character, Georges Zaragoza (2006, p.165) used to say. The theoreticians have analysed the dramatic character beginning with the terminology. Etymologically, the word character (Romanian: personaj) comes from two lines: from the Latin persona, and the Greek kharakter - (kharakter, meaning the engraver and the graving tool, and even the engraving itself, as a finite product). Thus, character can be considered as a distinctive mark - (the word remained in the Germanic languages). The term persona, from which the word person and the Romanian personaj have evolved, is defined as "an actor's mask", worn on stage to ease the transposition in the fictional world. Therefore, it does not refer to the role, nor the characters presented by the playwright, nor the actors themselves, as they are interpreters of the play. The two notions (person-character/person-Romanian personaj) differ in terms of reference to the reality: the person belongs to the real world, while the character (persona) belongs to the fictional world. Semantically, the term is imprecise, encompassing various elements. However, all meanings lead to the idea of a relationship between the person in the real world and its recognizable image, obtained by imitation. "The character is, therefore, in the same time conceived as belonging to the reality and as an autonomous entity that acts in a defined and fictional space", said Robert Abirached (1994, p. 10). Jean-Pierre Ryngaert (2010) notices that current theories prefer the use of the term figure - "a form seen/considered from the outside" (p.111) instead of character, with the emphasis on the mimetic, fictional attribute. It requires the existence of a space, a place for the performance, an individual language and, last but not least, corporality. Thus, the theatre figures are "less connected to the reference of the world, and more connected to a universe of writing that has its own rules of play and representation" (Ryngaert, 2010, p. 112).

Anne Ubersfeld (1999, p.62) examined the character through its double nature: "as a key theatrical notion, [...] textual notion whose function is to be an element in a narrative plot, [...] support of a human being, part of a complex collection of signs, which is the performance." This researcher (1999, p.62-64) identifies several aspects of the dramatic character. She highlights the quality of the character as actant, through the fact that it has an important role in the dramatic system. Moreover, it has the main role in the plot. It is the driving force, and therefore it is also an actor of the process that takes place in front of the receiver. The distinctive traits (physical, moral, psychological) contribute to the aspect of individual, leading to the idea that the relationship with reality is an essential one. Through his speech, the character also becomes the representative of an idiolect, with all the transformations and shadings it requires. Last but not least, the character is part of a combination of characters, which illustrates its integration within a group.

Robert Abirached (1994) names the characters "a sum of significants whose meaning is built by the spectator" (p.30), that is why in this work we may transform it into a sum of significants whose meaning is built by the reader. The character of whom we know everything, which suffers no transformation, and does not challenge the

reader's imagination, disappears. The characters have progressive and systematic elaboration while functioning inside a play. It is interesting to observe how present images are built and reconfigured. Dramatic character is an open character, which brings a plurality of interpretations. It is represented as "an ensemble of rapports (between image and the world, language and the word, representation and meaning), both constant and susceptible to function in accordance to various modalities, in consonance with the variations of intonation, ideology and aesthetics" (Abirached, 1994, p.28). Thus, the character is revealed as being situated into a crossroad of perspectives (Jacquart, 1998, p.97). As Jacquart considered, the analysis has a double perspective: as an identification of an image of a real person, being, symbol, or human type, but also as a connection inside a structure, a web to whom it belongs and to the functionality (through oppositions and associations) it helps.

The character is assimilated with the one that performs the action inside the creation, and the one that is illustrated in the play. He may belong to different typologies, having as criterion the oscillation between general and particular. The character is a "mix of physical, psychological, and social traits" (Dunne, 2009, p.3). Theatrical fiction is characterized by the existence of the character in writing, "as a unifying manner of the enunciation procedures, as an essential vector for action, as a crossway for meanings" (Ryngaert, 2010, p.110). The character's image implies "changes between the character analyzed as an identity or substance, the vector-character of the action and the subject character of discourse" (Ryngaert, 2010, p.112), that brings the complexity of the character. It is obviously important, as an element of identification, that this role in dramaturgy is continued by the actor on the stage. Thus, we can identify that the actors' play makes the mimesis to be unavoidable.

3. Methods

After the previous presentation of the latest theories regarding the dramatic character, I will discuss the directions of contemporary analysis on the topic. The research methods used are: the analysis, the synthesis, the observation. Having as a starting point the contemporary research on the character and identifying the most interesting elements of his characterization (the name, the language, the action), I will underline some innovative reading approaches focusing on the interrelation between the tendency to analyse characters according to typology (type-character) and the identification of character as an element belonging to the system of other characters, as part of a pre established group.

4. Discussions and results

Contemporary characters are more and more open and permit various interpretations. Formed by lights and shadows, they are incomplete in the world of fiction; their features have to be decrypted from behind diverse meanings. In the past, the character was always built in connection to the human condition. A short overview of the evolution of the dramatic character through the history of literature shows how the character has been transformed. Defined as "a collection of signs and features resulting from its language and actions" (Zaragoza, 2006, p.10) the dramatic character is shown in antiquity as an existential type. In that period, the search for morality, even at a minimum and hardly noticeable and perceptible level, results in the lucidity that defines the dramatic character, which is half way between reality and fiction. The classical theatre shifts the view somewhat: the character becoming the exponent and representative of a passion. In the classical theatre the protagonists "do not create; they react out of a reflex, not out of reflection; their innovations are limited to fast adaptation" (Corvin, 1994, p.158). The tendency is "to blend the actor with the character" (Zaragoza, 2006, p.10). This is when a new approach to theatre emerges, the evolution of the play (the spectator sees the passion behind the character). Starting with the naturalistic movement, the representation changes, and the character often overlaps with the person, with a more prominent tendency towards reality. The aesthetic turbulence of the past centuries

also led to an evolution/revolution of the theatre. Fundamental beliefs, along with moral and religious criteria, began to lose their traditional and functional value. This is why a new human comedy at the end of the 20th century, and at the beginning of the 21st, is characterized by an upside-down world, a reversed universe, dominated by caricature, grotesque, abnormal situations and incoherent speech. Thus, the character loses its unity, and the traits, until now ill defined, become increasingly vague.

The various theatrical aesthetics, or literary and historical periods, has brought with it various notions regarding the character (as a real entity, having historical or mythological references or as an abstract creation). The degree of reality existing within a character may be diminished so much that the result is an anonymous enunciator, or a voice without specific features, with no humanity or feelings. The character is one of the elements that impose distance between the reader/spectator and the play, but the distance differs according to the aesthetics of a specific period, to the cultural transformations and modifications, or to the public's preferences. The sources identified in the creation of characters are diverse: history, mythology, economic and social states, a certain trait of character, an imperfection or even the abstract. The external influence (given by references already identified in the text) can also lead to fake reading hints, especially in contemporary works that rely on irony and parody.

In the analysis of a play's characters, it is necessary to start from the playwright's stage directions, first of all from the list of names, where the first suggestions on the characters, but also on the entire structure of the creation, can be found. This list is an overview of clues for subsequent interpretations. "A character is not built only based on a name, but we cannot ignore the manner in which the authors baptise the character", as JeanPierre Ryngaert (2010, p.113) mentions. Next is the speech, as an indication of their identity and relation to the plot, action and conflict -"Conflict reveals and heightens the character's objective. Without obstacles, we don't feel the importance of the character's needs" (Dunne, 2009, p. 112). The names are obvious for a social, economic or historical belonging. An interesting situation is one where the characters do not have a name, a clear identity, or a past. The process would be to explore the relation or expression of an idea or feeling. Sometimes these can even disappear and be replaced by numerical suggestions, or elements of a general framework. This can lead to a limitation of the clues, or, on the contrary, to a transition from the particular to the general. The character is defined also by its actions, through the way it is involved in the plot. It is also important to analyse the role that the character has in the rising action, and how it influences its presence on the stage. The analysis goes towards illustrating the character as a determining force, as an actant. "The great actions or the driving force of a character can be determined starting from a detailed study of its successive actions" (Ryngaert, 2010, p.117). The action and the character are found in interdependence; one supports the other, and one without the other cannot achieve the dramatic illusion. For example, an easily recognizable action supposes coherent, homogenous characters, while the protagonists of conflicting situations are characterized by heterogeneity and hybridization: "We learn who dramatic characters are by observing them in action and making inferences about what they do" (Dunne, 2009, p. 110). Apart from action, the character is also determined through its language. Its lines, dialogue and monologues, all create a distinctive image, which forms its text. In the theatre, this represents the most important textual mark of the character, illustrated by what they say and the way they say it. By analysing the character's speech, the significance allocated by the playwright can be identified. Therefore, we can deal with talkative individuals, or ones that do not make their presence felt in the text. In the analysis, one should not take at face value the words of the characters, because, in the background, the language changes noticeably from one interlocutor to the other. Taken separately, the speech can only limit characterization. Only by correlation, by reference to the receiving person, and to the purpose of the communication, can one see the complete image. The character is regarded as an entity of words (Abirached, 1994, p.23) and is created through its language, dialogues, monologues and outbursts, but also through instances of whispering, muttering, or even complete silence.

The interpretation of the character and the theoretical discussions generated by specific analyses have their roots in the confusion between text and representation, the subjective elements the actor adds through his own feelings and visions, and "the objective data identifiable within a text" (Ryngaert, 2010, p. 107). Often, and mainly in contemporary texts, there is ambiguity that will be doubled by performance and the actors' discourse. At the textual level, the character is inserted in different ways, sometimes only abstract or allusive. The consequence is the difficulty of playing, which becomes a (re)writing. With regard to the actors, the problem is deeper. While performing, they are neither persons of reality, because they enter fiction, nor characters, because actors modify the purely scriptical existence of characters, by adding an intimate, original and personal note. The author starts from the relation that the actor has to create with the character of the play. This relation is one of alteration, but also of identity: alteration in relation to others and with the character himself, identity with the character represented, and in "the skin" he enters. The actor (de)doubles and redefines himself. Thus, the character has to be regarded as an autonomous identity: as a dress that the actor wears and as an image that already exists within the dramatic text.

Another observation that I may add when analysing the contemporary theories, is that one has to identify the functionality of the character within plays, both in its textual and stage form. The character's materialization is brought about by the actors' performance. The starting point is the consideration that the theatrical character cannot be considered as an oscillation between reality and fiction, words and body. On stage, the actor reveals in front of the spectators a double of the character, incarnating his image from a specific perspective: "Only on stage the character meets his own materiality, the sign meets his significance and words their recipient", says Robert Abirached (1994, p.9). Thus, the basic idea is that the great development of dramaturgy takes place only through show and performance.

Dramatic characters must be interpreted through the relationship they have with others in the group to which they belong. Patrice Pavis (1997) said: "the character integrates inside the system of other characters." (p. 250) A microcosm of some categories of characters, interconnected, interdependent, which establish interrelations, appears. However, characters overlap this place, where they are important exclusively through the relations of which they are part, and must be analysed as entities with consciousness and changing feelings. Thus, there has to be an analysis of contemporary characters in accordance to the typologies they belong. Specific to contemporary dramaturgy is the presence of a variety of different typologies within the same play. The character is allowed to walk inside a world governed by absurd rules, which results in a comic configuration, both grotesque and tragic -a contemporary world.

This paper is not exhaustive; I identified the new research methods regarding the dramatic contemporary character, demonstrating the advantage of analysing the character as a whole - an entity with consciousness, with a history, with an existence and particular traits, a part of a group, and his transposition, his double - the actor.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, this paper shows that the character in contemporary dramaturgy must be analysed as a textual creation (with a name, specific traits, and one that performs the action and has its own language), but also as an actor that embodies this image. Moreover, the paper proves that research on the dramatic contemporary character must bring together both its individuality and the relationship it is part of. The performance of a contemporary character cannot be done inside a pure play, because the character's world is insecure, but the characters are neither solely elements inside a group, nor only types, they cannot be reduced to these perspectives. They have to be perceived as a whole, where inside are both the connections they have with others, and the typical relations of interiority.

Acknowledgements

Research conducted within the POSDRU/CPP107/DMI1.5/S/76851 project, co-financed from the European Social Fund through the Human Resources Development Sectorial Operational Program 2007-2013.

References

Abirached, R. (1994). La crise du personnage dans le théâtre moderne. Paris: Gallimard. Corvin, M. (1994). Lire la comédie. Paris: Dunod.

Dunne, W. (2009). The dramatic writer's companion: tools to develop characters, cause scenes, and build stories. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jacquart, E. (1998). Le théâtre de dérision: Beckett, Ionesco, Adamov. Paris: Gallimard. Pavis, P. (1997). Dictionnaire du théâtre. Paris: Dunod.

Ryngaert, J. P. (2010). Introduction a l'analyse du théâtre (3rd ed.). Paris: Armand Colin. Ubersfeld, A. (1999). Termenii cheie ai analizei teatrului. Iaçi: Institutul European. Zaragoza, G. (2006). Le personnage de théâtre. Paris: Armand Colin.