or, what do we see when we see a play?


Rebellato, Dan. "When We Talk of Horses: Or, What Do We See When We See a Play?". Performance Research 14, no. 1 (March 2009): 17-28.

What does Hamlet look like? When an actor stands before us claiming to be Hamlet, do we think he (or she) in any way visually resembles Hamlet? If not, what are we looking at?

This essay is about the nature of ordinary theatrical perception. More specifically, it concerns the relation between the things we see and hear on stage and the fictional world being presented to us. The theatre isn’t illusionistic; that is, we don’t think the events being depicted are actually happening. So do we think that the events on stage ‘resemble’ the fictions? This doesn’t make sense either because of multiple productions of the same play and of modern-dress productions. So, what is the nature of our engagement with what happens on stage.

My article for Performance Research presents three possible models, associated with Kendall Walton, Greg Currie and Bernard Williams, and then, tentatively, proposes that we think quite differently about theatrical representation: that it may be metaphorical.

You can read it here.