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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Nomadic stages: On the emergence of literary drama in the age of Enlightenment
by Lande, Joel B., Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2010, 202; 3432745
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores the role of the itinerant stage in the development of German literary drama in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the first half of the 18th century, scholars and playwrights attacked what they perceived as the irreverent and vulgar conventions of the itinerant stage. The invective advanced against the itinerant stage—the most prevalent vehicle of theatrical performance in German-speaking territories throughout the Early Modern period—provides the interpretive framework within which the itinerant tradition is understood up to the present day. Such an appropriation of the reform narrative impairs, however, a consideration of the formal regularities responsible for the enduring success of the itinerant stage. It also obscures the complexity of historical change. For the reform aspirations identified with such figures as J. C. Gottsched and G. E. Lessing do not mark the end of the itinerant tradition, but instead an installment within a trajectory that continues to the literary achievements of the period known as Storm and Stress.

The investigation of the history of the itinerant stage unfolds across four chapters. The first analyzes the formal strategies constitutive of itinerant performance. The use of a stock comic figure to interrupt the flow of dramatic action fosters a unique mode of social representation. Drawing on the texts of Shakespeare and Gryphius as well as sources of less renowned provenance, the itinerant stage weaved together comic jest, ostentatious violence, and heroic gravitas to foster a unique mode of theatrical meaning. In the second and third chapters, I focus on the legislation of distinct genres during the Enlightenment reform of the itinerant stage. The generic division between comedy and tragedy, which took place under the banner of a return to classical forms, introduced new modes of dramatic continuity and of social representation. My discussion of Enlightenment tragedy (Chapter 2) focuses on the Enlightenment effort to restrict the political estates worthy of appearing on the tragic stage. At this historical moment, the dissemination of sanitized dramatic texts provides the foremost instrument in the effort to establish a forum for the representation of the political elite. Yet, the theoretical design of the tragic genre posed a stark contradiction to the incessant invocation of the common people that inhabit the field beyond theatrical visibility. The development of Enlightenment comedy (Chapter 3) articulates a new model of dramatic continuity in order to exclude the interruptions of the stock comic figure that was the signature of itinerant performance. I show that Enlightenment comedy articulates a model of human fallibility that ensures the concatenation of individual dramatic episodes. The final chapter (Chapter 4) focuses on the return of the itinerant stage in theoretical utterances and dramas in the latter part of the 18th century. The comic figure, in particular, plays a salient role in discussions on the felicitous employment of laughter-provoking effects. A young generation of writers (Möser, Lenz, Klinger, Goethe) air their objections to elitist and excessively austere tendencies of the Enlightenment reform effort when they plea for a return to dramatic conventions that had their home on the itinerant stage. What appears as a return to a forgotten theatrical tradition, in fact, involves a significant realignment of the forms of comic jest and of political representation on the itinerant stage. When the itinerant stage reappears in dramatic discourse, it does so within theoretical parameters inherited from the reform movement. Throughout the theoretical debates and dramatic depictions of the 18th century, the itinerant stage does not appear as a uniform object, but serves an epistemic medium within which the Enlightenment reflects on the conditions of theatrical performance.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wellbery, David E.
Commitee: Santner, Eric, Wild, Christopher
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Germanic Studies
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 72/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Germanic literature, Theater History
Keywords: Enlightenment, Germany, Itinerant stage, Literary drama
Publication Number: 3432745
ISBN: 978-1-124-37691-2
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