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Theatrical Scripts

Adam Andrzejewski e Marta Zaręba
p. 177-194

Abstract

We analyse the role of a theatrical script and its relation to the literary work and the theatrical performance. We put forward an Argument from Modality, which demonstrates structural and functional differences between literary works and theatrical scripts. Next, we answer some potential challenges to our argument. We demonstrate that the failure to realize the far-reaching consequences of a clear distinction between the literary work and the theatrical script is a source of confusion in the debate on the relata of the relation of interpretation. In particular, we show that the relation of interpretation does not hold directly between the literary work and the theatrical performance. It is mediated by the script. The script interprets the literary work by filling in its places of indeterminacy and adjusting it for stage purposes. Moreover, the script, which is a set of instructions, is executed rather than interpreted in a theatrical performance.

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Material from this paper has been presented in Stockholm, Lisbon, Oxford, Warsaw and Dublin. We are grateful in particular to Jim Hamilton, Andrew Huddleston, Iwona Lorenc, Katarzyna Paprzycka and Mieszko Tałasiewicz for helpful discussion.

1. Introduction

1Imagine you have seen a theatrical performance Catiline based on Henrik Ibsen’s dramatic work with the same title. You noticed, surprisingly, that the performance enjoyed many changes with respect to Ibsen’s work. Say, differences in the plot and main characters. You are a bit confused. This is because you expected that the performance should be somehow faithful to the work of dramatic literature. This situation, which many theatregoers will no doubt recall from their own experience, could be, at least partly, interpreted in ontological terms. It motivates the question about the relation in which a theatrical performance stands to the literary work it is based on. The problem invites two different responses:

  1. the relation between the theatrical performance and the literary work is that of interpretation: the performance is an interpretation of the literary work; or

  2. the performance is not an interpretation of the literary work.

  • 1 See e.g. Carroll 2001, Hamilton 2001, Osipovich 2006 and Saltz 2001.
  • 2 In this article we limit our discussion to those theatrical performances only that are staged based (...)

2It is often argued that (1) implies an endorsement of a view that theatrical performance is not an independent work of art, while (2) implies that theatrical performance is indeed an independent and unique work of art1. In other words, the status of a theatrical performance depends on the relation in which a performance stands to the underlying literary work. Despite the fact that we do not seek to decide which of these two views is justified, we are going to take a closer look at the problem which is of no small importance to the understanding of the relationship between the performance and the literary work2 and, consequently, to the development of the ontology of theatre. The problem concerns the nature and the role of the theatrical script in the staging of a theatrical performance. The distinction between the literary work and the theatrical script is widely acknowledge and defending it is not needed. However, treating this distinction as obvious and trivial is perhaps a reason for overlooking the role it could play in a theory of theatrical performance. To justify this claim we present a highly metaphysical argument which is not devoted to establishing the existence of the distinction. Rather, it aims to show the ontological grounds of the distinction and its far-reaching consequences. We argue that a consistent application of the above distinction allows us to reconcile seemingly opposite views on the ontology of theatre.

3The article is structured in the following way. First, in §2 we sketch an epitome of the discussion within the contemporary analytic philosophy of theatre and diagnose the root of a certain disagreement. Section §3 is devoted to describing the problem which springs from the fact that the distinction between a literary work and a theatrical script plays no significant role in the literature on the subject. Section §4 sketches out and analyses the Argument from Modality, which is intended to show that there are the structural and functional differences between literary works and theatrical scripts. Next, in section §5, we present and refute potential challenges to our claim. From there, we go on to the final section §6 where we show how an emphasis of a role of the script can solve the disagreement presented at the beginning part of this article (§2).

2. Contemporary debate on the relation of interpretation: An example

  • 3 Saltz 2001: 229-306.
  • 4 See also Hamilton 2007: 31-33; Woodruff 2008: 37; Wolterstorff 1975: 118-119.

4Let us begin with a presentation of the exemplary view in the debate on the relation of interpretation within the contemporary analytic philosophy of theatre. David Saltz sides3 with the view that every theatrical performance is a unique production and it is not an interpretation of a literary work4. One of the most intuitive attempts to explicate the concept of interpretation is made by Richard Wollheim, who says:

  • 5 Wollheim 1980: 103-104.

The word “interpretation” has very definite associations. For the interpretative situation is one we in general conceive somewhat as follows: There are certain facts of the case; these facts can be conclusively established by reference to evidence; there are also certain constructions that can be placed upon these facts, these constructions, which are what we call interpretations, are not uniquely determined by the facts, nor is there any other way in which they can be conclusively established; interpretations are, therefore, assessed by reference to pragmatic considerations, or to considerations of theory, intuition, judgment, taste, plausibility, etc.; the distinction between fact and interpretation is comparatively clear-cut5.

  • 6 Ibidem: 98.
  • 7 Ibidem: 100-101.
  • 8 Saltz 2001: 301.
  • 9 Not all positions according to which the theatrical performance is the interpretation of the litera (...)

5David Saltz refers to Richard Wollheim, in whose view: «there is essentially an element of interpretation» in theatre because «the token has properties in excess of those of the type»6. Next, Saltz challenges this view by raising two different objections. The first refers to Wollheim’s view and sees the essence of the relationship between a literary work and its performance in the former’s capability of existing outside the type7. Saltz’s argument boils down to the following statement: «The elements that a performance adds to a play, however, very often imply no propositions about the play at all»8. So if the performance contains some additional elements in excess of those of the literary work, then the performance is not an interpretation of the literary work, given that they do not relate to it at all. We shall refer to this position as the Additional Elements Argument9.

6Saltz’s second objection refers to Noël Carroll’s influential view according to which the concept of interpretation is the key element of thinking of theatrical performance as a work of art. The core of Carroll’s concept, more elaborately presented in the section §3, is that the literary text serves as a recipe or instructions for theatrical performances. The main objection Saltz raises to Carroll’s theory is this: for Carroll, to fulfil the instructions is to interpret them. Unlike Carroll, Saltz stresses that although fulfilment of instructions has an interpretative element, instructions cannot be regarded as interpretation. (Let us call this objection the Instructions Argument). For example, the interpretation of the instruction: «Pass me a pinch of salt so that I could make a risotto», comes down to specifying what we understand by pinch. Once that is taken care of, we simply fulfil the instruction rather than interpret it, seeking to make sure that in doing so we interpret the recipe with due diligence. So if a literary text is a set of instructions (it is Carroll’s view), and if a fulfilment of this instructions for the purpose of performance is not an interpretation (it is Saltz’s view), then the theatrical performance is not an interpretation of the literary work.

  • 10 Saltz 2001: 304.

7The general conclusion Saltz reaches is that the theatrical performances are independent of the underlying literary works and there is no special relationship between these two entities, specifically, no interpretative relationship10.

8In the concluding section (§6) of this article, we shall attempt to show, however, that the application of the clear-cut distinction we have made between a script and a literary work can significantly refine the conclusions reached by Saltz in his analysis. Consistent application of the distinction between script and literary work may have – we hope to prove – an impact on further debate on the ontological status of a theatrical performance.

3. The role of the script in theories of theatre

9This part of the article concerns itself with the analysis of a certain observation made against the background of the contemporary analytic philosophy of theatre. The contemporary debate about the relationship between the literary work and the theatrical performance usually disregards the role the theatrical script plays in this relationship. Moreover, where a distinction is indeed made explicitly it is not analyzed in sufficient depth. Thus, the script/literary work distinction itself is not considered terribly interesting in the context of the performance-text relationship analysis where the textual material is performed on stage. The problem, in its heart, amounts to the fact that the script does not play important role within the philosophical theory of theatre.

10In order to better illustrate the problem, we shall look now at some views on the relationship between the literary work and the script taken verbatim from the literature on the subject.

11According to Noël Carroll:

  • 11 Carroll 2006: 101.

There is drama as composition and drama as performance. Drama as composition involves an author who creates an artwork – a play text or performance plan. Drama as performance involves executors – performers who make the performance plan qua recipe manifest by way of an interpretation (or an iterated series of interpretation).11

12In the light of Carroll’s words, Waiting for Godot is a work of art in regard to two art forms: drama as composition (i.e., the text of Waiting for Godot) and drama as performance (i.e., the actual performance of Waiting for Godot). Thus, drama encompasses two categories of things: abstract entities (drama as composition) and events (drama as performance). A typical example of the former is of course a work of dramatic literature.

  • 12 Ibidem: 108-109.
  • 13 Ibidem: 106-111.

13According to Carroll, drama as composition serves as a recipe or instructions for theatrical performances: «[…] play texts are regarded simply as recipes – semiporous formulas – to be filled in by executors in the process of producing performance artworks – rather than as fixed artworks in their own right»12. Since the literary work is simply a set of instructions to be fulfilled in staging the performance (and fulfilment, according to Carroll, can assume a number of forms), the performance is a kind of interpretation of the literary work. However, drama as composition and drama as performance can be evaluated aesthetically independently from each other and as such remain independent works of art13.

  • 14 The same conclusion with reference to Carroll’s proposal is reached by Ted Nannicelli. See Nannicel (...)

14As we can see, Carroll does not make a clear distinction between a work of dramatic literature and a theatrical script. Both are designated by the term play-text (and are used alongside the term play-plan, which refers to a set of unwritten scenarios, strategies, gambits or riffs which are embodied in improvised performances). What is more, dramatic works and theatrical scripts are lumped together as ‘drama as composition’ and are juxtaposed with ‘drama as performance’. This leads us to conclude that Carroll regards theatrical scripts as literary works14. (It would appear that the opposite is also true, i.e., literary works are scripts for theatrical performances. The conclusion is supported by Carroll’s own words whereby he regards literary works as instructions for the staging of theatrical performances.)

  • 15 Nannicelli 2011b: 406.

15A similar line is taken by Ted Nannicelli, who claims that theatrical scripts are work-determinative for theatrical performances, that is, they are instructions for the staging of performances. Crucially, he exalts them to an artistic status by virtue of the fact that theatrical scripts are literary works and, in particular, works of dramatic literature15. According to Nannicelli, this explains why theatrical performances interpret the script (or literary work) while at the same time we cannot regard them as actual instances of the script.

  • 16 Carroll 1998.
  • 17 Hamilton 2001: 309.
  • 18 Hamilton 2007: 23-26.
  • 19 According to this view a performance is never a performance of some other work, nor is it ever a pe (...)
  • 20 Ibidem: 26.
  • 21 Someone could argue that Hamilton’s position is rather epistemic than metaphysical in nature. That (...)

16Identifying the two is common for the opponents of the theory according to which theatrical performances are interpretations of literary works. In his polemic with Carroll’s views16 James Hamilton notes that with the last hundred years «this has been a literary text when it functions as a script for performance»17. The statement captures the quintessence of the traditional view on the ontology of theatrical performance, which Hamilton refers to elsewhere as the literary model18. (Here we refer to his reconstruction of this view. However, Hamilton presented and defended the alternative ingredience model)19. In keeping with this theory, theatrical performances are always performances of some literary works. Supporters of the theory say the same applies to, e.g., improvised theatre. Here, says Hamilton, the performance is a performance of the script (it is about the script), which we can produce by transcribing the particular performance. The script is then produced ‘retrospectively’ in relation to the performance, i.e., we write it out having first seen the play20. In reviving the traditional view on the nature of theatrical performance, Hamilton does in fact identify a literary work with a theatrical script. This is because, in his analysis, Hamilton claims that the possibility of there being a script (based on a transcript) in improvised theatre would support the literary model21.

17A similar understanding should inform our reading of David Osipovich, who argues against the theory that theatrical performances are interpretations of literary works. Osipovich says:

  • 22 Osipovich 2006: 461.

The underlying assumption here is that all theatrical performances can be scripted. This allows the literary theory to acknowledge that performances have elements in excess of their scripts while still asserting the script’s ontological primacy22.

  • 23 Ibidem: 464-465.

18What Osipovich means is that in order to prove the theory that performances are not interpretations of literary works one has to show that theatrical performances are (by nature) unscripted. And if the performance is unscriptable, there is no possibility that it can be regarded as an interpretation of text23. As we can see again, according to Hamilton and Osipovich, the fact that theatrical performances cannot be scripted shows that theatrical performances are not interpretations of works of literature.

19The above statements have been quoted here to reaffirm that, in the case of the theorists, we are dealing with a purely lexical distinction between a literary work and a script. Both terms are used interchangeably in diverse arguments and the concept of script does not play important role within the philosophical theory of theatre.

4. Argument from modality

20The Argument from Modality shows how important is distinction between the theatrical script and literary work. The argument is not designed to establish the existence of the wildly acknowledged distinction but it aims to show the ontological grounds of the distinction and its far-reaching consequences. It also helps to describe the nature of the relationship between these two objects and theatrical performance.

21Suppose there is a theatrical performance T which comes with a script S written by person β, where T is a performance of literary work L written by person α. For the sake of the argument, let us make the following background assumptions:

[A1] Theatrical performance T is true to the intention of author (β) of script (S). Idealizing a little, let us assume that no important detail was left out in the performance of the play, that is, neither the actors nor the script writers erred in any way in bringing the play to the stage.

[A2] Both script S and literary work L exist, but they are unknown to us (we have no epistemic access to them). All we know is performance T.

The Argument from Modality can be formulated as follows:

  • 24 In this case reconstruction is taken to be a kind of creation, i.e., creation of another copy (toke (...)

221. Consider a situation in which, even though we have no access to S, we wish to reconstruct24, on the basis of T, such a script S* that would be the closest to S, i.e., such S* which could be used to perform T. Then:

 

23[Premise 1] Given the theatrical performance T staged at time t1 it is always possible to reconstruct script S* at time t2 which will be similar to S.

 

24The similarity of S* to S admits of degrees. Thus, in order to create a script Sn* which is maximally similar to S, we can use the following procedure: based on S* we stage performance T1. Next, based on performances T and T1, script S1* is created, which itself serves as the basis for performance T2, etc. In case Sn* on the basis of all previous T (where n approaches infinity: n→∞), we get a script which is maximally similar to S. In this idealized situation, the premise takes on the following form:

 

25[Premise 1’] Based on theatrical performance T staged at time t1 it is always possible to reconstruct at time tn script Sn* (where n→∞), which is maximally similar to S.

 

262. Let us now consider a situation where, despite not having access to literary work L, we wish to reconstruct L* that would be closest to L, i.e., L* whose performance is T. Then:

 

27[Premise 2] Based on theatrical performance T staged at time t1 it will almost never be possible to reconstruct at time t2 literary work L* which would be similar to L.

 

28Were an analogical procedure to be used in the context of Premise 1, i.e., staging performance T1 based on literary work L*, followed by creating literary work L1* based on T and T1 and performing T2 based on L2*, then, with n→∞, we would not approach L. That is, L*, L1*, L2* may differ significantly from one another.

 

29[Conclusion] Thus, the relationship between literary work L and theatrical performance T is not the same as the relationship between script S and theatrical performance T.

 

  • 25 According to the principle of nonidentity of discernibles, object which have incompatible propertie (...)

30The above conclusion can be stated as follows: given their different modal and epistemic properties, we should not identify the script with the literary work, each of which stands in a different relation to the theatrical performance25. This fact becomes apparent when we consider that, in an idealized situation, we are able to extract the script from the theatrical performance, but we are not, in principle, able to extract the literary work from any other work, at least not to the same extent as we can from the script.

31Let us see how the above argument works in practice. If we are in a theatre watching the preview of theatrical performance (T) of Waiting for Godot (L) by Samuel Beckett (α), directed by Roger Blin (β) based on some script (S), then, based on this performance, we will be able to create script (S*), which would be similar to the script penned by (β). Moreover, if we were to run through the tiresome procedure described in step 1, we would be able to get a script maximally similar to S. On the other hand, we would not be able to reconstruct, based on T, literary work (L), which would be similar to Samuel Beckett’s work (α). We can of course, in such circumstances, create some literary work on the basis of this performance, but the probability that this work will be similar (or maximally similar) to Beckett’s work is close to zero. The difference will be even more apparent if our original work is written in prose or is a lyrical composition, rather than a piece of drama.

5. Possible challenges

32As with any philosophical argument, the Argument from Modality is open to a barrage of criticism. The part of the article that follows deals with two such attacks that may be launched against each of the premises in our Argument. Let us call them the Script Unreconstructibility Objection and the Literary Work Reconstructibility Objection. Refutation of the above objections will not only help us defend the Argument but also throw some light on the nature of a script and its relationship with a literary work.

5.1 Script Unreconstructibility

33In keeping with Premise 1 of our Argument from Modality, we can reconstruct the theatrical script from any theatrical performance (working backwards). The main argument against being able to do so is that every performance has certain unique spatiotemporal properties that a script is not capable of supporting. According to Osipovich, at the heart of a theatrical performance is the interaction of a particular cast with a particular audience, which, being a product of unique circumstances, cannot be recaptured in a script

  • 26 Ibidem: 463.

[…] the very fact that a theatrical performance occurs in real time and in the physical presence of its audience means that the possibility exists for the unexpected – for spontaneous creation on the part of the actors and spontaneous happenstance on the part of the world26.

  • 27 Cf. Roman Ingarden’s notion of indeterminancy: «We find such a place of indeterminacy, whether it i (...)
  • 28 Nannicelli 2011a: 409.

34It is worth noting that Osipovich’s argument is credible in so far as the script, by its very nature, contains the elements listed above, that is, the script reflects the spatiotemporal requirements as to the interaction of a particular cast of actors with a particular audience. It also bears mentioning that, as a rule, a script is not created for the purposes of a performance on a given day, for example, 12th November, 1987. Scripts are written for a string of theatrical performances delivered by a cast for the benefit numerous audiences. A script is clearly something different than a synopsis or a transcript of a theatrical performance from a particular day and place. It contains many places of indeterminacy that need filling in27. Thus, the result of reverse script creation based on a theatrical performance is not a simple summary of the performance. Moreover, reverse script creation requires special skills, different from those needed to make a transcript or to write a synopsis of the performance. It would appear then that a script contains places of indeterminacy and because it is more than just a transcript, it does not have to (and in fact cannot) support all the properties of a performance (such as being performed at a particular place and time). This way one and the same script can be the basis for running many performances (seen by different theatregoers at different times). A similar point was expressed by Ted Nannicelli, who, in a polemic with Noël Carroll, claims that we cannot identify a screenplay with a transcript of a film28. In other words, being able to script a performance does not imply that there can be no spontaneous and unique interactions between the audience and the actors in a theatrical performance.

  • 29 Writing a theatrical script is a protracted process, mainly because the script is subject to numero (...)
  • 30 Ingarden 1973: 19-90.

35The way to think about a script is as consisting of two main parts: dialogue (so called primary text) and stage directions (so called secondary text). A point worth noting is that the stage directions in a script differ significantly from those in a literary work29. Stage directions in a literary work, which is intended to be received through reading, are there to help the reader visualise the depicted world and to use his imagination to fill the places of indeterminacy30.

5.2 Literary work reconstructibility

  • 31 Hamilton 2007: 23-26.
  • 32 Susan L. Feagin made some extremely interesting remarks concerning the distinction between dramatic (...)
  • 33 Some strands of this theory (i.e., classical approach originating with Aristotle) regard a theatric (...)

36In keeping with Premise 2 of the Argument, using a theatrical performance based on literary work L as our guide, it will almost never be possible to reconstruct literary work L*, such that it is similar to L. The premise may seem counterintuitive from the perspective of the conventional view referred to by theorists as the literary model or interpretationism31. This view assumes that where theatrical performance T is a presentation of literary work L on stage, the relationship between T and L is that of interpretation32. Supporters of this view claim that theatrical performances, being an interpretation of some literary work, enable the viewer to gain direct access to this work33. The fact that the viewer gains access to the underlying literary work through the theatrical performance is an argument in favour of reconstructibility of the literary work based on the performance seen on stage. Thus, in line with the claims made by interpretationism, Premise 2 of our Argument is simply false – it is not true that a theatrical performance does not provide access to the literary work the performance is based on.

37When the objection is formulated as above, we have two defences to range against it. First, the objection can be read in two ways: weak and strong. The strong reading asserts that we are always able to reconstruct the literary work via the theatrical performance; the weak reading suggests it is possible only in some circumstances.

  • 34 Jakobson 1960.
  • 35 This does not mean that as a result of attempts at recreation we are not able to produce any litera (...)

38An observation which will underpin our response to the stronger reading of the objection is this: literary works play a number of different roles – they are used for educational purposes, as persuasion tools, they contain a moral or political message, they are used by the lyrical I / narrator as a means of channelling their feelings, etc. It is worth keeping in mind though that one of the more important, if not the most important, functions of a literary work is its poetic function, closely connected with the language side of it. The poetic function is marked by the focus of attention being turned to the linguistic message. The purpose of a literary work is essentially for it to be read. The poetic function of the language shapes the aesthetic reception of the work34. Ultimately, the aesthetic evaluation of a literary work concentrates on the work itself and cannot be achieved with another work of art as its basis. Moreover, every literary work is a record of someone’s view about the order of things in the world, i.e., it performs a representative function (or epistemic function); it facilitates creation of the depicted world. Thus, if we are not able to reconstruct the linguistic characteristics of the literary work (i.e., a certain ordered sequence of expression-items), we are not able to reconstruct the world presented in this work (its representative function) and to capture its poetic function35. Let us come back to Premise 2 of our Argument: a theatrical performance does not enable us to reconstruct a work of dramatic literature whose dialogue and stage directions have been significantly modified for staging purposes in particular cases (eg., some scenes were cut, rearranged, etc.). Even if it was possible to reconstruct the depicted world, any reconstruction of the linguistic characteristics which determine the poetic function of the work would not be possible, which is best illustrated by theatrical performances based on prose works. To sum up, being able to reconstruct the representative (epistemic) level of the work does not go hand in hand with being able to reconstruct its poetic characteristics.

39This is not the case with a theatrical script and attempts to reconstruct the script based on a theatrical performance. It could be argued that the main function of a script is to bring to the stage a performance, that is, to bring into existence certain intentional sequences of states of affairs. Note that if we regard the script as a set of certain instructions necessary to put on a performance (used by the director for pragmatic purposes), then an exact duplication of the form in which the instructions have been rendered is not necessary to stage the performance (it is a sufficient but not a necessary condition). In other words, two instructions (imperatives) in a similar but different language form (eg., «If you want to keep your life, go to the convent.» / «If you value your life, become a nun.») can have the same content and do an equally good job of bringing about certain states of affairs (as is the case with two sentences formulated differently but expressing the same proposition).

40With the strong reading of the objection dismissed, the question arises whether we can dispose of the weak one as well. Note that in situations when we are dealing with a particular literary work, which is actually identical to the script at the language level, it may appear that, despite Premise 2 of the Argument, we are able to reconstruct the literary work based on the theatrical performance (since, by Premise 1, we are able to reconstruct the script). Note too that from the historical point of view some literary works first existed as theatrical scripts (see Hamlet) and only in time became literary works in the strict sense of the word (i.e., works that were intended to be read).

  • 36 Let us also assume that the content of the literary work is identical to the content of the washing (...)

41In order to respond to this challenge, let us carry out the following thought experiment. Suppose that some avant-garde literary work is indistinguishable in its form from a washing machine manual. This work is of course a work of art in every respect. Suppose also that John, who was trying to fix his washing machine, had lost his instructions manual. The statement we wish to prove is: John can use the avant-garde work36 to fix his washing machine if he perceives this work as a set of imperatives which, once fulfilled, will cause a certain state of things to exist. By analogy, object O can be perceived as a script only if it is regarded as a set of instructions that must be fulfilled. If object O is perceived as a literary work, it cannot be both a washing machine manual and an avant-garde work of literature to the same person at the same time.

42To clarify matters, let us consider another example illustrating the problem and the proposed solution. Suppose there is some work of dramatic literature which is also fairly unconventional (let us call it The Confession). The work is characterized by brevity, short dialogue as its mode of verbal expression, no stage directions, being identical in form to the script, etc. The work is used to stage a theatrical performance. In this situation, the procedure for script and literary work recreation alike will, at the outset, yield: L=L*=S=S*. In other words, despite our intentions, the example shows that a script is a literary work and that trying to distinguish between the two is pointless.

43It is hard deny that in the above example we are actually recreating the literary work. It should also be sufficiently clear that it is not possible to perceive the end product both as a literary work and a script at the same time. This is because the script and the literary work, existing in their own right, have two mutually exclusive properties: a literary work cannot be modified (due to its poetic function), while a script as a set of instructions can have minor modifications made to it. Its modality is thus different and exemplifying by one object these two properties is incoherent. This discovery can be interpreted more radically, that is, it could be claimed that we are dealing here with two collocating non-identical but indistinguishable in terms of form objects, or else that the identity of the script and the literary work is contingent. On the latter understanding, let us assume that there is (i) person δ, who is staging performance Z based on X and Y. In this case, only objects of type X are literary works per se, while objects of type Y are literary works contingently (in certain special circumstances). This means that the primary function of a theatrical script is its pragmatic function (being-a-set-of-instructions), rather than an aesthetic (poetic) function, as is the case with a literary work.

6. Implementation of the script / literary work distinction

44We have argued so far that the Argument from Modality motivates the fact that there is an the actual difference between literary works and scripts. This observation seems to be an uninteresting point in itself. However, the distinction does become more important when we use it to clarify current debate on what a theatrical performance is. We shall try to show, using the example introduced in §2, how the proposed distinction between a literary work and a script can help trace the paths of development of the theatrical work theory.

456.1 We shall first address the Additional Elements Argument. The argument appears to be reducible to the following schema:

    • 37 Let us assume that a theatrical performance consists of a sequence of states of affairs, eg., scene (...)

    Theatrical performance T consists of an ordered sequence of states of affairs {A, B, C, …} and literary work L consists of an ordered sequence of imagined states of affairs {a, b, c, …}.37

  1. Theatrical states of affairs {A, B, C, …} correspond to literary states of affairs {a, b, c, …} such that A is mapped onto a, B is mapped onto b, etc.

  2. If the theatrical state of affairs A is an interpretation of the literary state of affairs a, then A is mapped onto a.

  3. If no literary state of affairs x corresponds to theatrical state of affairs X, then X is not an interpretation of x.

46Consequently, in a situation where theatrical performance T consists of a large number of states of affairs which do not correspond to the intentional states of affairs constituting literary work L, we cannot claim, according to Saltz, that T interprets L.

  • 38 Saltz 2001: 302.

47In order to evaluate Saltz’s argument, we shall try to use the distinction between a script and a literary work we have proposed earlier (§4). In our view, even if we grant Saltz’s theory and accept that a performance full of additional elements in excess of what can be found in the literary work is for this very reason not an interpretation of the literary work, it seems that in this particular case we are dealing with the interpretative element in respect of the literary work via the script. Note that a script (but not a literary work) is a set of instructions written with the express purpose of bringing into existence a particular theatrical performance. Secondly, it seems that in writing a theatrical script we rely on a particular literary work, which we modify for the sake of the performance. If we are to look for an interpretative element anywhere in this process, then this is the place: creation of the script itself (understood as a set of instructions) can be regarded as an interpretation of some literary work. The point is not inconsequential in that it could be endorsed by Saltz himself, who claims elsewhere that in following cooking recipes we actually interpret them (eg., concerning the definition of pinch)38. In our view, there are at least three ways in which the script can interpret the underlying literary work:

48(a) Filling the places of indeterminacy in the literary work
Literary works often leave out some details of character description leaving them to the reader’s imagination. A script, which is an adjustment of the story for the purposes of stage performance, contains information about how the actor is to carry himself on stage, speak, dress, etc. Each of these fillers can be an interpretation.

 

49(b) Choice of dialogues
Not all dialogues which can be found in the literary work are so important as to be included in the theatrical performance. The script contains only those dialogues which, from the director’s point of view, are crucial to his achieving the aim of the performance. Choosing some dialogues over others from the entire literary work is an interpretation of that work: the director decides which parts of the work are key for plotting story lines in the theatrical performance.

 

50(c) Transformation of dialogues and the world depicted for stage purposes
The script often modifies the world depicted in the literary work (e.g., by changing the setting which forms the backdrop to the story) and transforms the dialogue. Changes can be made to the chronological order of the dialogue, lines can be lengthened or shortened, the language can be stylized, etc.

 

51As we can see, the Additional Elements Argument acknowledges the existence of parts of a theatrical performance that do not correspond in any way to parts of the literary work, e.g., additional dialogue between characters, a setting which is diametrically different from that described in the literary work, or even a change of sex of one of the characters. At this juncture, however, three points merit attention.

52Firstly, the grounds which form the basis for the Additional Elements Argument may well be the basis for the so called Missing Elements Argument. On this view, the majority of theatrical performances do not contain all storylines traced out in the literary work. If that is the case indeed, then, by analogy, the Additional Elements Argument should not be regarded as undermining the view that theatrical performances are interpretations of literary works.

53Secondly, those additional elements are in fact an interpretation of the literary work through the medium of the script. Furthermore, the script contains places of indeterminacy of its own which are filled in in its making (plus greater or lesser modifications made during rehearsals). In effect, any additional scene or dialogue in a theatrical performance, even though it does not refer explicitly to any particular part of the literary work, refers to the literary work regarded as a certain integrated whole. For example, modification of a character’s closing monologue refers to the whole work, since the monologue was enhanced with messages that are meant to bring into sharp relief key developments in the whole literary work. This way turning the spotlight on the role of the script occupying the ground between a literary work and a theatrical performance can shed light and rebalance the importance of the place and the role of the interpretative relationship in a literary work.

546.2 Let us turn briefly now to Saltz’s Instructions Argument directed at Carroll’s conception. In the light of the distinction we have made earlier into a script and a literary work, it remains for us to agree with Saltz that instructions are actually filled in rather than interpreted. Carroll’s theory views a literary work as a set of instructions whose purpose is to help stage a theatrical performance. However, given our distinction, it is the script, not the literary work, that should be treated as a set of instructions due to the different functions the two objects perform (i.e., the pragmatic function of the script and the poetic function of the literary work). Moreover, as we have indicated above, even if a particular text can do either as a literary work or as a script (or a set of instructions), it cannot be both for the same person at the same time (as noted earlier, the two are incompatible in terms of their modal properties). Paradoxically, our approach allows us to reconcile these two positions – aiming at a pluralist conception and abandoning the limiting monistic view. Following Saltz, we hold that instructions are essentially filled in, rather than interpreted, but we don’t take this to mean that the literary work itself is not interpreted. In keeping with Carroll, we subscribe to the set of instructions view, but add a qualification that it is the script, rather than the literary work, that serves as a set of instructions. In other words, our aim is to show how indicating the role of the script in the context of the above debate allows us to refute the Additional Elements Argument while bringing into an emphasis of the role of the being-instructions-for-a-theatrical-performance relationship. This approach makes it possible to keep the valuable aspects of both positions. It reconciles the two views by introducing the idea of the script.

55To sum up, we take a firm view that, under our approach, the interpretative relationship does not occur directly between the literary work and the theatrical performance. It is mediated by the script. It is the script that interprets the literary work filling in its places of indeterminacy and adjusting it for stage purposes. The script, however, as a set of instructions, is not itself the subject of interpretation. Rather, it is executed in order to bring about a certain sequence of states of affairs (in this case, a theatrical performance). We wish to make it clear though that our observations do not rule out Saltz’s final conclusion whereby every performance is a unique production. The aim of this article was to show that the distinction between a script and a literary work has a bearing on the current debate on the ontology of theatre. It can be seen that at least with some theatrical performances the interpretative relationship is key for their genesis, i.e., it applies at the time a script is produced based on a literary work.

7. Conclusion

56Although the argument presented here and further analysis of the theoretical application of the script – literary work distinction may appear highly metaphysical, paradoxically they are actually in tune with the widely-felt intuitions about the nature of theatre. At their heart are strictly descriptive intuitions reflecting artistic practice regarding most theatrical performances whereby the script and the literary work are not as a rule seen as being identical. Thus, taking into account artistic practice and the ramifications of our argument here, we propose that current debate on whether a theatrical performance is an interpretation of a literary work be refocused on answers to the following pair of questions: Is a theatrical performance an interpretation of the underlying script?, and Is the script an interpretation of the underlying literary work? Our proposal to modify the original debate is meant to imply that questions concerning the ontology of theatre are far more complex than they may at first appear. Surely, one of those questions is a question about the nature and role of a theatrical script, which we have sought to flesh out and analyse in our article.

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Bibliografia

Aristotle
– 1984, Poetics, trans. by Ingram, Bywater, New York, McGraw-Hill.

Carrol, N.
– 1998, A Philosophy of Mass Art, Oxford, Clarendon Press.
– 2001, Interpretation, theatrical performance, and ontology, “Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism”, LIX: 313-316.
– 2006, Philosophy and drama. Performance, interpretation, and intentionality, in D. Krasner and D.Z. Saltz (eds), Staging Philosophy: Intersections of Theater, Performance, and Philosophy, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press: 104-121.

Feagin, S.
– 2011, Discovery plots in tragedy, in N. Carroll and J. Gibson (eds), Narrative, Emotion and Insight, Philadelphia, Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium: 154-172.

Fischer-Lichte, E.
– 1992, The Semiotics of Theater, trans. by J. Gaines and D.L. Jones, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Hamilton, J.
– 2001, Theatrical performance and interpretation, “Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism”, LIX: 307-312.
– 2007, The Art of Theatre, Oxford, Blackwell.
– 2009, The text-performance relation in theater, “Philosophy Compass”, IV: 614-629.

Ingarden, R.
– 1973, The Cognition of the Literary Work of Art, trans. by R.A. Crowley and K.R. Olson, Evanston, Northwestern University Press.

Jakobson, R.
– 1960, Closing statements: Linguistics and Poetics. Style in Language, New York, T.A. Sebeok.

Nannicelli, T.
– 2011a, Instructions and artworks: Musical scores, theatrical scripts, architectural plans, “British Journal of Aesthetics”, LI: 399-414.
– 2011b, Why can’t screenplays be artworks?, “Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism”, LIX: 405-414.

Novitz, D.
– 2000, Interpretation and justification, in J. Margolis and T. Rockmore (eds), The Philosophy of Interpretation, Oxford, Blackwell: 4-24.

Osipovich, D.
– 2006, What is a theatrical performance?, “Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism”, LXIV: 461-470.

Russell, B.
– 2011, The Problems of Philosophy, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Saltz, D.
– 2001, What theatrical performance is (not): The interpretation fallacy, “Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism”, LIX: 229-306.

Thom, P.
– 1993, For an Audience: A Philosophy of the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, Temple University Press.

Wittgenstein, L.
– 1953, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford, Blackwell.

Wolterstorff, N.
– 1975, Toward an ontology of artworks, “Noûs”, IX: 115-142.

Woodruff, P.
– 2008, The Necessity of Theater, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

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Note

1 See e.g. Carroll 2001, Hamilton 2001, Osipovich 2006 and Saltz 2001.

2 In this article we limit our discussion to those theatrical performances only that are staged based on some literary works. Of course, there are theatrical performances that are not based on any preexisting literary works, eg., experimental theatre or happenings. Such productions, however, are not the subject of our analysis.

3 Saltz 2001: 229-306.

4 See also Hamilton 2007: 31-33; Woodruff 2008: 37; Wolterstorff 1975: 118-119.

5 Wollheim 1980: 103-104.

6 Ibidem: 98.

7 Ibidem: 100-101.

8 Saltz 2001: 301.

9 Not all positions according to which the theatrical performance is the interpretation of the literary work would be undermined by the Additional Elements Argument. Cf. Novitz 2000; Thom 1993; Fischer-Lichte 1992. An illuminating analysis of these positions can be found in Hamilton 2009.

10 Saltz 2001: 304.

11 Carroll 2006: 101.

12 Ibidem: 108-109.

13 Ibidem: 106-111.

14 The same conclusion with reference to Carroll’s proposal is reached by Ted Nannicelli. See Nannicelli 2011a: 406-408.

15 Nannicelli 2011b: 406.

16 Carroll 1998.

17 Hamilton 2001: 309.

18 Hamilton 2007: 23-26.

19 According to this view a performance is never a performance of some other work, nor is it ever a performance of a text. The text of the literary work could be used as one of the ingredients to create a performance. Ibidem: 31-33.

20 Ibidem: 26.

21 Someone could argue that Hamilton’s position is rather epistemic than metaphysical in nature. That is, for Hamilton, it is mostly important to grasp and describe the actual practices of performers and spectators rather than to engage into the purely metaphysical dispute. Although we find ourselves in a nearly complete agreement with such the claim, we still see a need for establishing a general ontological framework for the philosophy of theatre.

22 Osipovich 2006: 461.

23 Ibidem: 464-465.

24 In this case reconstruction is taken to be a kind of creation, i.e., creation of another copy (token) of the text which is (maximally) similar to the original thus they fall under the same type.

25 According to the principle of nonidentity of discernibles, object which have incompatible properties are not identical. One could raise a question whether such properties like being-derived-from-T and not-being-derived-from-T can be regarded as differential properties (many philosophers assume that epistemic or ‘intentional’ properties fail to differentiate things – the fact that an uneducated plumber knows that water is hot but does not know that H2O is hot says nothing about the identity or lack of it between water and H2O. In consequence, the fact that S and not L can be derived from T does not preclude S and L being identical. We shall refer to this point in §5.

26 Ibidem: 463.

27 Cf. Roman Ingarden’s notion of indeterminancy: «We find such a place of indeterminacy, whether it is impossible, on the basis of sentences in the work, to say whether a certain object or objective situation has a certain attribute». See Ingarden 1973: 50.

28 Nannicelli 2011a: 409.

29 Writing a theatrical script is a protracted process, mainly because the script is subject to numerous modifications during rehearsals. Each time the director can modify the script to fit the circumstances (time, place, number of actors, etc.).

30 Ingarden 1973: 19-90.

31 Hamilton 2007: 23-26.

32 Susan L. Feagin made some extremely interesting remarks concerning the distinction between dramatic action and narration described in terms of different ways of presenting a story (through the acting the story out and through telling it) and differences in effects on those who are watching a dramatic action in theater as opposed to those who are listening to someone tell a story and those reading plays (or scripts). See Feagin 2011: 155.

33 Some strands of this theory (i.e., classical approach originating with Aristotle) regard a theatrical performance as a kind of addition to the literary work. The performance allows us to grasp the message conveyed by the literary work and subsequently express it through stagecraft. Cf. Aristotle 1984: 232-233.

34 Jakobson 1960.

35 This does not mean that as a result of attempts at recreation we are not able to produce any literary work. The work we will produce though will be substantially dissimilar to the original literary work L (the poetic and the performative roles played by both works, the original and the recreation, will be substantially different). We do not deny, however, that they will be similar at some level, especially that one way of viewing the relation of similarity is to regard two objects as similar if they have at least one property in common (they are similar in that particular respect). To consult the alternative views of the relation of similarity see Wittgenstein 1953: §§65-67 and Russell 2011: 58-63. We say that script S* is maximally similar to S, we take it to mean that it performs the same function as S to the maximum degree. Whenever we say that literary work L* is maximally similar to L, it too, to the maximum degree, performs the same function as L. The principle as such does not rule out that the relation of similarity obtains for reasons other than performing-the-same-function-as (the principle has been conceived with the sufficient rather than necessary conditions in mind).

36 Let us also assume that the content of the literary work is identical to the content of the washing machine manual.

37 Let us assume that a theatrical performance consists of a sequence of states of affairs, eg., scenes, dialogues, while the literary work is made up of imaginative sequences, intentional states of affairs (eg., describing actions of characters in the depicted world). Note that the term imaginative states of affairs can be replaced – depending on the type of ontology of a literary work we accept – with text or quasi-logical judgments. The point made by the Additional Elements Argument remains largely unchanged despite varying conceptions.

38 Saltz 2001: 302.

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Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Adam Andrzejewski e Marta Zaręba, « Theatrical Scripts », Rivista di estetica, 65 | 2017, 177-194.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Adam Andrzejewski e Marta Zaręba, « Theatrical Scripts », Rivista di estetica [Online], 65 | 2017, online dal 05 décembre 2017, consultato il 18 juin 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/2169 ; DOI : 10.4000/estetica.2169

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Adam Andrzejewski

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Marta Zaręba

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