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Essay On English Drama And Speech

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Contents

I. Introduction

II. The artistic character of dramatic language
II.1. Dramatic language deviates from everyday language
II.2. Dramatic language differs from language in other literary genres
II.2.a. Language in drama Is represented as spoken language
II.2.b. Language in drama Is represented as direct speech

III. The functions of dramatic language
III.1. The referential function
III.2. The expressive function
III.3. The appellative function
III.4. The phatic function
III.5. The metalingual function
III.6. The poetic function

IV. Characterisation by means of language

V. Dramatic language and action Bibliography

I. Introduction

Language has a key position in drama as it is, like in real life, the most important means of communication on stage. It has to be regarded as the one basic feature of drama that is related to both the dramatic characters and the action1. Another sign of its importance is the fact that it can, with the exception of facial expression, illumination and decoration, replace all the other signs of the stage and is able to represent space and time2.

As the main sources of this term paper I have used Manfred Pfister's Das Drama: Theorie und Analyse and Drama und Theater: Eine Einführung by Elke Platz-Waury.

II. The artistic character of dramatic language

The artificial or artistic character of dramatic language becomes obvious in its deviations from everyday language as well as from the language used in other literary forms.

II.1. Dramatic language deviates from everyday language

Language in drama is represented as spoken language or, in other words, as speech. A feature that it shares with everyday speech is the fact that its performance is bound to a communicative situation, i.e. it is dependent on the presence of the interlocutors in the same continuum of space and time.

Dramatic speech, however, is semantically more complex as regards its orientation both towards the receiver and towards the sender of an utterance. That is because every utterance in drama has got two addressees as well as two expressive subjects. In addition to the direct interlocutors in the internal communication system there is the audience as a further, silent participant. After all, dramatic dialogues are intended to be heard by the audience and to have an effect on it. And besides the fictitious expressive subject, which is the dramatic character, there is also a real one: the author3.

Dramatic language does not only deviate from everyday language as far as its situational complexity is concerned but also in terms of its employment of an aesthetically functionalised language4. It may violate the norms of everyday language, for example by the use of innovative word formations or archaisms and may introduce structural features like rhetorical stylisation or metre and rhyme5. Above that it may employ figurative speech to a high degree. The frequent use of images like metaphor, simile, synecdoche or metonymy characterises the language especially in verse drama and not so much in prose drama6. The artificial character of dramatic language is thus especially obvious in verse drama. These stylistic devices are perceived consciously by the audience but have no effect on the interlocutors of the dramatic situation as it is a convention of dramatic language that the dramatis personae are not aware of their own stylised manner of speaking7.

Even in cases where dramatic speech imitates everyday speech, for example in naturalist drama or the modern English "kitchen sink drama," we have to regard it as artistic speech. That is because the dramatist selects whatever characterises a situation or a figure most efficiently8. Verse and naturalist prose, however, are only the extremes of dramatic language. In fact, the distance between dramatic and everyday speech may vary considerably.

II.2. Dramatic language differs from language in other literary genres

There are several features that dramatic language shares with the language used in other literary genres. Like other literary texts, drama uses language as the fundamental means of mediating meaning. Another joint feature is the fact that dramatic language is, as we have already seen, arranged artistically, too9. However, dramatic language is characterised by a number of typical features that clearly distinguish it from the language used in other forms of literature.

II.2.a. Language in drama Is represented as spoken language

It is only in exceptional cases that language appears on the stage in writing, for example when banners or signboards are used10. For the most part, however, language is represented as spoken language in drama. Dramatical language can thus be described as performative. It is dependent on a performative situation which is, like the communicative situation in everyday speech, characterised by the presence of two or more speakers in the same place at the same time. Furthermore, the hearer can, if the situation is symmetrical, become a speaker as well. This performative situation differs from the situation e.g. in the novel, where speaker and listener, the relation of which is not always reversible, do not necessarily have to be situated in the same place.

The performative character of dramatic speech becomes obvious for example in shouts, questions, commands, threats, promises and persuasions, all of which are speech acts that frequently occur especially in drama11.

II.2.b. Language in drama is represented as direct speech

"All literature is made up of words," but the things that are said in plays, which "are made up of spoken words"12, are conveyed directly without being mediated or filtered by means of a narrator - unlike in the communication system of the novel13.

In so far as direct speech, in the form of both dialogue and monologue, is the predominant mode of verbal expression in drama, it is tied to the characters. This fact enables the audience to infer a figure's character from what it says14. That is why it has been among the most important conventions of drama since the antiquity that the utterances of a figure be in accord with its nature and its views of the world.

The interlocking of language and acting or, in other words, the supplementation of dramatic speech by facial expression and gestures has to be considered as another characteristic of dramatic language15.

III. The functions of dramatic language

Dramatic utterances are polyfunctional: they can have several functions at the same time, both in the internal and the external communication system. However, the functions in the internal and external communication system do not necessarily have to coincide16.

III.1. The referential function

The spoken word in drama functions as a means of representing objects like humans, things or events that are talked about17. This referential or informative function of language does not only refer to the internal communication system but aims at the audience as well. It dominates those elements of the plot that are presented rather in a narrative form, especially forms of dramatic report like the exposition or a messenger's report18.

III.2. The expressive function

Characters are brought to life by their choice of words and style. In drama, a figure's verbal behaviour is among the most important means of characterisation. The soliloquy of reflection, for example, is predominated by this expressive function as it expresses the consciousness of the speaker19.

However, apart from the cases of conscious and intended expressive self-characterisation20 the expressive function is existent, at least latently, in all utterances of a character21. By its utterances a figure can unintentionally reveal certain traits of character or show itself as the member of a particular social level22.

III.3. The appellative function

The more a speaker tries to influence his or her dialogue partner, the stronger the appellative or conative function of dramatic language will be23. It is probably the most important function in the internal communication system of dramatic texts. As regards the external communication system, this function is, apart from didactic dramas, not that important24.

III.4. The phatic function

The phatic function of language is associated with the channel between speaker and listener and is designed to create and maintain the contact between both. Some of the phenomena that have appellative function, for example addressing the dialogue partner, also function phatically as they create a communicative contact. Dramatic utterances also function phatically as regards the external communication system, for example in those cases where they are meant to arouse the audience's eager anticipation of the following events25. The phatic function of language is especially frequent in modern drama where the dialogue is above all a means of creating and maintaining contact between the dialogue partners while the referential function is not that important26.

III.5. The metalingual function

This function of language is associated with the verbal code. It becomes important when the verbal code itself becomes the central theme of a dialogue27. This is the case for example when the meeting of two dialogue partners results in a contrast between vulgar language and a more differentiated mode of expression28. Also when these differences between the codes of the dialogue partners have become too big the eventual communication breakdown implicitly points to the metalingual aspects of these utterances29. The metalingual function also dominates in word- or language plays like puns as these are making use of the witty and satirical possibilities of language30.

III.6. The poetic function

This function only applies to the relationship between the internal communication system of the dramatis personae and the external communication system of the audience31. The fact that the characters in a shakespearean drama are talking blank verse is not appreciated as poetry by their dialogue partners but only by the audience. In those cases, however, where the poetical function of an utterance is explicitly or implicitly emphasized in the internal communication system the utterance in question is assigned a metalingual function as well32.

IV. Characterisation by means of language

As has been pointed out before33, a dramatic figure is portrayed by what it says and how it says it. Accordingly, the correspondence of the language a character uses and his or her position in society has been considered important from the antiquity to the 18th century. When we look at how a figure is characterized by means of its utterances, we have to consider whether this verbal self-presentation is implicit or explicit, or, in other words, whether a figure voluntarily or involuntarily characterises itself34. A character can explicitly and consciously outline a picture of itself. However, information conveyed in this way is not objective and should be evaluated as a rather subjectively coloured self-presentation. On the other hand, a figure can reveal its true character involuntarily and unconsciously, for example through the style of language it uses - does the character speak standard English or some dialect or other subcode and thus show itself as the member of a particular social level?35 Another aspect that can help to define a character is his verbal behaviour towards his or her dialogue partners and how he responds to what they say. Does he ignore what the others say or does he interrupt the others? Does the character frequently turn to monological speech? All of these points would indicate a certain degree of egocentricity on the part of the figure in question.

V. Dramatic language and action

The audience has to be able to follow the course of the drama and is not normally inclined to do so for more than three hours. That is why conciseness, clarity and coherence are the principles that shape the conception of a drama and the structuring of speech36. As a result a character's utterances are mostly restricted to the really essential things. This economy of speech based on the selection of representative aspects undertaken by the playwright is an outstanding characteristic of dramatic language37. The relationship between what a character says and the action is thus a strictly functional one - "[A character in a play] is limited in his or her utterances to what bears on the play as a whole, keeps it moving"38. In other words, apart from the mere informative function a character's utterances often simultaneously represent actions and imply stage directions39. They are able to cause changes in the dramatic situation40 - dramatic dialogue can thus be defined as spoken action41. This idea of language as action is called speech act theory.

However, speech does not necessarily have to be related to the action. The banter of servants and clowns in Shakespeare's plays or Beckett's dialogues for instance are examples of conversation for conversation's sake that do not bring about any changes in the dramatic situation42.

Bibliography

Asmuth, Bernhard. Einführung in die Dramenanalyse. Stuttgart: Metzler 19903.

Bentley, Eric. The Life of the Drama. New York: Atheneum 1979.

Pfister, Manfred. Das Drama: Theorie und Analyse. Wilhelm Fink: München, 1982.

Pfister, Manfred. The Theory and Analysis of Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.

Platz-Waury,Elke. Drama und Theater: Eine Einführung. Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 19995.

[...]



1 Elke Platz-Waury, Drama und Theater: Eine Einführung (Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 19995 ) 128. Bernhard Asmuth, Einführung in die Dramenanalyse (Stuttgart: Metzler 1990³) 8 f.

2 Platz-Waury 130.

3 Manfred Pfister, Das Drama: Theorie und Analyse (Wilhelm Fink: München, 1982) 149. Referred to as "Pfister" in the following.

4 Manfred Pfister, The Theory and Analysis of Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991) 104.

5 Pfister 150

6 Platz-Waury 135 - 137

7 Platz-Waury 136. III.6. Poetic function.

8 Pfister 150. Platz-Waury 135. V. Dramatic language and action.

9 Platz-Waury 134. II.1. Dramatic language deviates from everyday language.

10 Platz-Waury 130

11 Platz-Waury 140. V. Dramatic language and action.

12 Eric Bentley, The Life of the Drama (New York: Atheneum 1979) 70.

13 Platz-Waury 133.

14 Platz-Waury 134. IV. Characterisation by means of language.

15 Platz-Waury 134.

16 Pfister 151-153. Platz-Waury 148.

17 Platz-Waury 148.

18 Pfister 153. Platz-Waury 148.

19 Pfister 156 f. Platz-Waury 150.

20 Pfister 152.

21 Platz-Waury 150.

22 Pfister 152.

23 Platz-Waury 149.

24 Pfister 160.

25 Platz-Waury 148 f.

26 Pfister 161. Platz-Waury 149.

27 Pfister 163. Platz-Waury 150. II.6. The Poetic Function.

28 Platz-Waury 151.

29 Pfister 163. Platz-Waury 150.

30 Pfister 164. Platz-Waury 151.

31 Pfister 166 f. Platz-Waury 152. II.1. Dramatic language deviates from everyday language.

32 Platz-Waury 152. II.5. The metalingual function.

33II.2.b. Language in drama is represented as direct speech. III.2. The expressive function.

34 Pfister 177.

35 Pfister 152.

36 Platz-Waury 49.

37 Platz-Waury 138. II.1. Dramatic language deviates from everyday language.

38 Eric Bentley, cited after Platz-Waury 138.

39 Pfister 152.

40 Pfister 169. Platz-Waury 138.

41 Eric Bentley, cited after Platz-Waury 139.

42 Pfister 170. Platz-Waury 141.

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