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1In contemporary theatre it seems that things are no longer in the margins but at the center of the stage. Contemporary dramaturgies’ concern with the notion of identity, their sustained experimentations with and questioning of the traditional definition of the theatrical character have led to a renegotiation of the relationship between the animate and inanimate on the stage, and to a major re-appraisal of the role of things. While the autonomy and even integrity of the theatrical character is called in question, things take on a life of their own: “things have a life”, as Beckett puts it. Thus they tend to lose their traditional status as “accessory props” (where “accessory” entails “secondary”, “inessential”) and become full-fledged actors in the drama. Questioning the theatrical characters’ faculty of expressing themselves, and contesting the traditional hierarchies of Western thought which takes for granted the primacy of speech, contemporary dramaturgies invest things with the power of signifying beyond their own objectal function. While they remain manifestations of the existence of a material, objective world, they also become the privileged means of expression of subjectivity, acquiring meaning according to who owns, covets, collects, fetishizes, manipulates, distorts or destroys them.

2This volume seeks to investigate the paradoxical “life of things” in contemporary English-language theatre, to apprehend the idiolect they speak on the stage (depending on whether they are treated realistically or metaphorically) as well as the role they play in the economy of the dramatic text. One recurrent concern has been to highlight the generative function of objects in contemporary theatre, where action often springs less from the necessity of plot or the will of characters, than from the possibilities offered by the mere presence of things, which are used as pretexts for the invention of new theatrical situations (as in Howard Barker’s Thirteen Objects, or Forced Entertainment’s exercises in controlled chaos).

3Contributions on contemporary drama and theatre in the English language around the world are followed by a public interview given by Howard Barker at Université Paris IV on 12 October 2007.

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Electronic reference

Élisabeth Angel-Perez and Alexandra Poulain, IntroductionÉtudes britanniques contemporaines [Online], 35 | 2008, Online since 22 March 2019, connection on 19 January 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Élisabeth Angel-Perez

Université Paris-Sorbonne

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Alexandra Poulain

Université Charles de Gaulle-Lille 3

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Licence Creative Commons
Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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