On the Nature of Dramatic Text

1.1. Dramatic text has the strange fate of being claimed by two fields of art and it is ascribed a variety of functions, possibilities and ways of existence according to the type of arguments (and sometimes also goodwill to solve problems not incidental to the field itself). The duality of dramatic text is on the one hand conditioned by the character of some historic phases of the theatre (in connection with e.g. the emphasis on “theatricality”, the search for specific theatrical means of expression, the writing of scenarios for individual productions, with the extent of adaptation and modification of the text etc.); on the other hand the nature and interpretation of dramatic text is influenced by the development of verbal art (including the development of mutual relations between literature and the theatre), by the approach to functions and by different accentuation of them; it is also strongly influenced by the tradition of theoretical thought about literature (above all genealogy based on a traditional approach to the classification of literary genres). The problems of dramatic text are projected into various contexts: there are e.g. questions of criteria of textual differentiation within the framework of broad cultural context, questions of examining the specific nature of expressive means of a given text, problems of regrouping functions, of the specific nature of reception and interpretation etc.

Both in literary criticism and theatrology there is an overwhelming tendency to follow and solve above all some concrete and single problems of the particular field, neglecting those of the other and showing little interest in theoretical problems of drama. In the history as well as the theory of literature we often come across rather marginal treatment of questions of drama and/or a distorted picture of it resulting from taking into account only some criteria of interpretation or some strata of dramatic structure. Of course, even theatrology (and above all historical research of the theatre) is not much inclined to analyze dramatic text, concentrating mostly on describing relatively stable components of, let us say, visual communication (this can be clearly seen e.g. in the separation of the history of theatre from the history of drama). Taken theoretically the fact that theatrology and literary criticism occasionally find a common point of interest when interpreting the so called “idea of work of art” (or thematic level, “content”) does not solve but rather darkens the problem.

1.2. I think that under the given circumstances it might be useful to recall some arguments connected with two sharply defined theories of drama met with in the history of Czech esthetics. They are connected with the names of Otakar Zich and Jiří Veltruský._1 Their views were contrary (or at least different) on some fundamental points and even if there were no open polemics between them (Veltruský only bases one part of his work on criticism of Zich but without analyzing his arguments), their attitudes allow us to consider them as if there had been. I am interested in the type of their individual arguments and what meaning they have for us today. I am not going to treat them from the historical point of view or try to fix them in any historical context.

2.1. Otakar Zich expressed his opinions of the essence and function of dramatic text in an extensive work called Esthetics of Dramatic Art which appeared in 1931; there he focusses his attention on two theatrical genres that are usually called “drama” and opera.

First it must be emphasized that Zich’s opinions were strongly influenced by the necessity of criticizing those conceptions which unambiguously incorporated in literature not only drama but the theatre as well. This trend arose from the rather traditional and selfevident setting of drama (i.e. dramatic text) in the framework of literature. A dramatic text was explicitly ascribed a determinative character; in a text so treated everything met with during the performance was roughly given beforehand – the components of theatrical expression only complete what is given by the text (e.g. acting is considered to be an executive art which only adds certain expressive nuances, etc.). Zich, on the contrary, starts from the opinion that the theatre is not reducible to any of its components. Having analysed some conceptions of drama he comes to the following definition: “Dramatic art” (e.g. certain type of theatre, genre of theatre – M. P.) is a work of art showing the interaction of characters through the actors acting on the stage“ (Zich 1931, p. 68). The relation of the visual component to the acoustic one of the given performance is the inseparable sign of this conception. Zich was trying to find out whether a dramatic text can substitute for what he calls a dramatic work (dramatic art) and he concludes that if the acoustic component is more or less determined by the text, the notion of visual component is fairly arbitrary and subjective in comparison to the form of this component in the performance.

When disputing the “textual” (i.e. literary) conception Zich says that its causes are often motivated by e.g. time transiency which dramatic art shares with other temporal arts (i.e. mostly with literature) and also by the fact that in literature texts rightfully occur which resemble dramatic texts – so called closet plays; Zich places here e.g. Goethe’s Faust, Mickiewicz’s Konrád Wallenrod and Gobineau’s La Renaissance. Zich tries to show how the form and function of different components of the theatre do not enable us to indentify them with dramatic text as well as deriving them from the text when confronting theatre (dramatic art) and dramatic text. Zich not only shows clearly that dramatic art is not reducible to text but he also shows how text can participate in the conception of a performance (being a so called “ideational directive”, the language of the text influencing actors manner of speech, deployment of plot, time, space and their connections, the hierarchy of characters, factors of rhythm and style etc.). The foremost problems (at least from the point of view of literary criticism) appear, however, where Zich tries to solve – in discussion with arguments of literary criticism – the question of the literary nature of dramatic text.

2.2. Zich states that literary criticism claims not only the language but also the plot and characters of drama as elements approximating it to epic poetry. He tries to show differences in the construction and conception of plot (and time): but not on the relation of dramatic text to the epic but on that of dramatic (theatrical) art to epic. This shift is caused by dramatic text being explicitly ascribed a dramatic function. Zich’s arguments against literary criticism are weakened in that point by his failing to confront the plot and time structures of the epic and drama in their literary forms. He does not ask whether a new specific variation of plot and time continuity, showing the influences both of theatre and literature, may appear when drama is read. The above mentioned shift is also proved by the categories of “real” (“objective”) and “imaginary” which Zich uses. The concentration on the confrontation of the epic vs. dramatic (theatrical) art does not allow Zich to admit a “functional shift” which was going to be fundamental for Veltruský later on.

The above mentioned direct confrontation of epic poetry and dramatic (theatrical) art may be explained as well by Zich’s identifying the literary form of drama with the epic (as to the structures of plot and time) and also, as we shall see later, by his opinion that drama cannot fully gain a “poetic” (literary) function. On this point we must admit that cursory experience will show us that dramatic text is influenced by the epic but not to such an extent as to enable us to speak – as Zich does – of entire literary dependence of dramatic text. The influence of the epic on drama may vary according to e.g. the nature of particular literary context and genre deployment, the type of theatre and its relation to literature, etc., but it cannot prevail onesidedly. Finally, Zich’s transferring the question into the field of reading gave rise to numerous problems which might be solved mainly by the sociology (or psychology) of literary reception._2

2.3. Anyhow we come across a most relevant problem in Zich’s conception of dramatic text when we follow his reasons for excluding a dramatic text from literature. This is also the very point which made Veltruský react contradictorily later on. Zich comes to conclusion that “dramatic poetry does not exist because a dramatic work of art is not an exclusively verbal art and we are not entitled to use pars pro toto here. Only those ‘dramatic texts’ which are intended by their authors to be autonomous as merely literary texts belong to literature, that is to epic literature, even if they have a so called ‘dramatic form’ of direct speech only” (1931, p. 75)._3 As dramatic text “records only one component of a real work, it might serve only as its imperfect and inclomplete substitute” (Zich 1931, p. 73). A literary work must be autonomous and, taken by itself, must satisfy the demand of being poetic. For Zich “every verbal formation is ‘poetic’, but only if it has an esthetic effect (1931, p. 75; underlined by M. P.). We must look for the meaning of the word “poetic” not in our subjective impression of the subject, but in its objective nature – i.e. in the material. The language of poetry must be artificially created so that it functions esthetically.

Zich’s opinion of the literary aspect of dramatic text is on the whole limited to this definition, and the specification of “poetic quality” was not substantially deepened, though Zich promised to do so in the last part of his book. His attitude is somewhat less relentless when he speaks of the relationship of dramatic art (and the theatre) to the so called mother arts (though his basic thesis concerning the nonexistence of dramatic poetry remains valid). Zich asserts that in the case of these arts artists try to find “an exemplum, a model of how to stylize their own components of dramatic art without violating the principle of dramatic quality” (1931, p. 388). There is a “practical relationship” between a certain component of a dramatic work of art and “mother art”. Zich admits that dramatic text even must have literary values but not to the detriment of its dramatic quality. The postulate of poeticality is only a directive for verbal stylization. We recognize that a given component has artistic value when, all by itself, isolated from the whole of the work, it has such an artistic effect as a work of mother art; but its dramatic effect would be “weakened if not destroyed by this isolation”. Zich says that if he admits (following the postulate of poeticality) the literary effect of the text, it does not contradict his former opinions about the “restrictive meaning of the text” as they concerned mostly the aspect of dramatic quality. It is true, of course, that Zich implied here broader possibilities of the effect of dramatic text; nevertheless the relationship between dramaticality and poeticality is not further developed.

Having disqualified dramatic text from poetry, Zich substantially interfered with established notions of literary criticism – especially those of delimitation of the substance of literary works of art and elementary genealogical classification. His conception of dramatic art and the determination of the text to be staged led Zich to demands for dramatic quality which were often opposed to poetic quality. The only texts which in his opinion fully realize the demand for poetic quality are so called closet plays, but he did not describe the nature of these plays in detail nor show the movability of their limits. Even though “poeticality” was supposed to be determined according to the “objective nature of the subject” (“material”), Zich in fact started from the author’s intention determining the sphere and way of existence of the text (“to be staged”); in this way its function was established which its relation to the “mother art” could only modify.

2.4. However, Zich’s solution – above all of problems of literary criticism – gives rise to some questions. First, there is the problem of identification of intentionality and “purpose” in the text itself, which may sometimes be inconsistent with the author’s intention; it was not Zich who explicitly formulated this problem theoretically._4 In this connection the question arises of how some dramatic texts (not only of closet plays), in spite of being supposed to be staged, have the effect of independent and specific literary works, that is how they gain the “incidental” esthetic function only as a language formation. Finally we have to consider that the field of the theatre is broader than that of dramatic art and that a certain conception of the theatre can influence the nature of dramatic text to such an extent that it approximates to literature, whereas the opposite procedure may mean that literature will influence the forming of theatrical or even dramatic expression.

3.1. Of course, Zich does not deal in his work with dramatic text only, but he intends to describe what he calls “dramatic art” and which is already a theatrical expression. Therefore he does not treat the whole range of problems connected with text. It was Jiřf Veltruský who devoted some of his works solely to dramatic text, criticizing Zich in some points. He deals with drama mainly in two of his works: Dramatic Text as a Component of the Theatre, and Drama as Literature; evidently each of them concerns a different aspect of the problem. I am going to touch on the former work only briefly_5 as I want to concentrate on the latter with regard to Zich’s radical opinions on literary problems.

3.2. In the article Dramatic Text as a Component of the Theatre Veltruský tries to prove that the means of dramatic text predetermine the forming of individual components of staging: “though the concrete forming of every single component is not always clearly and explicitly determined, its total meaning and its position in the structure are always given” (Veltruský 1941, p. 142). Veltruský shows how sound values inherent in the text influence the vocal performance of an actor, how the gaps resulting from the removal of author’s notes are “filled up”, he shows the mutual relation between author’s notes and direct speech etc. The central problem is the relation of text and a stage figure as two elementary semiotic systems of the total theatrical sign (“the sign system of acting” and “the sign system of language represented by drama”). Veltruský’s article introduces quite a few new ideas, but his radical thesis of “predetermination” gave rise to some objections based not only on the experience of avant-garde. It is interesting that Veltruský’s paper appeared not long after a period of numerous attempts to search for a new theatrical expression and attempts to define theatricality as a specific form of expression._6 In this paper Veltruský overestimated the value of author’s notes and underestimated the semantic possibilities of kinesic and paralinguistic means, which especially in acting may go far beyond the “directives” of text; the thesis concerning the “total meaning” of a particular component is not a sufficient condition, as it is based on the correspondence of meanings and not signs and is too general with respect to the importance of the sign aspect of the art of actors. Besides, a theoretical paper should take into account the historically changeable, uncertain and sometimes ambivalent nature of author’s notes (if there are any at all). When solving the problem of the relation of dramatic text and performance, we must consider the mediating meaning of so called director’s script (provided it is not identical with the dramatic text). On the other hand it should be seen that Veltruský showed – especially when analyzing the direct speech – various aspects of text (e.g. in sound values of speech, some relations in text etc.), which every theatrical interpretation must contain.

3.3. I am going to concentrate above all on Veltruský’s paper Drama as Literature. It will allow us to continue in the open problem of Zich’s interpretation of dramatic text (it means that I will deal mostly with the problems of literary criticism). The fact that Veltruský’s work appeared in its English revised version not long ago enables me to mention the main topics and attitudes only and then to deal more thoroughly with the problems I consider to be of present interest._7

Veltruský’s approach is a very specific one as to his theoretical conception as well as the elaboration (and selection) of problems to solve. He wants to prove what literary theory and history tacitly work with, that drama is an autonomous literary work of art.

The concept of “drama” is used to designate a literary kind._8 Veltruský starts from the classical division into lyric, epic and drama and he wants to prove that drama is an integral part of literature. The literary kinds differ by “different organization of the same material only, i.e. of language” (Veltruský 1942, p. 407). Veltruský maintains that “all plays, not only ‘closet plays’, are read in the same way as poems and novels” (1977, p. 8–9, and 1942, p. 406)._9 The modern theory of literature in his view has shown that a literary work is sufficiently realized by silent reading and there is no reason why drama should be an exception. Veltruský adds that so far the literary structure of drama has never been completely separated from the components added for a theatrical performance. What bears the meaning in a performance becomes the meaning when drama is read.

The way of explication and interpretation Veltruský has chosen for treating the subject is – as he says – usual for a structural analysis: it starts with language and ends with theme._10 He shows the elementary attributes of dramatic dialogue, the characteristics of denomination in dramatic dialogue, the construction of semantic contexts. The most important is the part where he describes the means of semantic unification which should overcome certain disparities occuring between different semantic contexts of dialogue. Veltruský further follows monologue and dialogue appearing in all three literary kinds, then he shows how the dramatic characters and dramatic plot are constructed by linguistic means, how situation and theme are denoted and at the end of the book he compares the three literary kinds from several points of view.

3.4.1. Although Veltruský’s conception is thoroughly and consistently worked out and represents an entirely new and individual way of solving the problems, there are some facts which make its fundamental thesis doubtful – i.e. the statement that all plays are literary works. In the following notes I am going to concentrate on some problems which I consider important for the theory of dramatic text and which in a way touch on Veltruský’s (and sometimes Zich’s) solutions.

Veltruský truthfully described the disruption of the unity of semantic context caused by the differences in the context of individual speeches and he showed the necessity of finding the means of semantic unity. Here he followed up Mukařovský’s description of the semantic construction of a sentence, the principles of which, as Mukařovský says, can also be used for the construction of wholes larger than a sentence. Let us recall that there are three principles: 1) concentration on the unity of sense in the perception of a sentence, 2) the principle of an accumulation of meanings, 3) the oscillation between the semantic statics and dynamics which is given by the polarity between denomination and context. Mukařovský linked these principles with his idea and formulation of “semantic gesture”._11

After analyzing the tension between the interacting contexts, Veltruský searched for the semantic unity of dialogue. This unity in such a case is given by the subject-matter (theme) and the extralinguistic situation. In the case of dramatic text, provided it is supposed to be read and evaluated as literature, such a situation and subjectmatter can be presented only by linguistic means. The reader should understand drama as a discourse united by the author, who defines the integral context which is in interaction with partial contexts. Veltruský wants to show the means which create the feeling of the continuity of the discourse, as well as those which cut the discourse up into segments. In the latter category it is necessary to distinguish “between those which serve the structure of the discourse itself and those which spring from the extra-linguistic situation” (Veltruský 1977, p. 15, and 1942, p. 421). The means presenting the extra-linguistic situation “through the direct speeches belong basically to two distinct categories. The speeches may contain direct descriptions, characterizations, accounts of the situation or its parts […], or else the situation may be first hinted at by a shade of meaning that slightly colors an utterance or all the utterances” (Veltruský 1977, p. 37, and 1942, p. 444). With regard to the semantic unity great attention should be paid to author’ notes which Veltruský holds as “the elementary (underlined by M. P.) means of semantic unity of dialogue” and as “an integral part of the literary structure” (1942, p. 450; 1977, p. 42).

3.4.2. In my opinion there are some reasons why we cannot generalize the function of notes for all texts in such a way. In the history of drama the presence of notes has often been closely connected with the theatre or with a sort of theatricality (and we know that the theatre and literature have not always approximated to each other). Besides often there were no notes (except for a list of characters), as the stage directions were supposed to be conveyed during staging (e.g. the author himself was the producer); or the text was variously adapted during staging (or sometimes it almost originated there). That means that notes are not necessarily part of the original intention and their presence or absence may be just incidental from the point of view of literature.

But even in cases where the notes do form a part of the dramatic text, we can see a wide scale of them ranging from purely stage directions to truly poetic notes. In an extreme case the former type may be close to a “director’s script” and then the interaction between the spheres of drama and theatre make their literary value doubtful. The question of notes-names of characters where they appear in a text without any further specification is debatable as well; besides, we sometimes come across the names of characters as the names of stage figures, i.e. connected with their theatrical functions (and that influences their semantic position in the text).

Notes vary as to the level of generality or particularity and this also questions their stylistic value corresponding to the stylistic value of direct speech. There are cases when the level of notes and that of direct speeches are in contrast as to the means used, the contrast need not be functional from the point of view of the conception of the drama as a literary work. In drama – provided it is not intended to be read_12 – notes are usually not a self-sufficient literary means of creating the world of the work. It is true anyway that they may participate in the semantic coherence of the text (and sometimes its semantic unification) but they do not always do that systematically and consistently (remember e.g. the regularity of their distribution in the text); their presence does not yet mean that they are an adequate means of unification (sometimes they can even emphasize the gaps between the speeches).

3.4.3. I cannot analyze here the very interesting problem of semantic unification (“semantic gesture”) which Mukařovský indicated in some concrete analyses (solving the problem not on the level of literary kind or genre but on concrete works). Nevertheless I want to stress the fact, which is very important for theory of drama, that the category of semantic unification was used to describe conditions and possibilities of esthetic functioning of a work of art. This unification is not only to outline the composition of a work and follow the relations between units, but the concept implies “integrating of antinomies” of a work as well and it is to show the dynamic unity of a work of art. Therefore Veltruský was right in focussing his attention on the relation between semantic statics and dynamics. Anyway, dramatic text resists the demand for “the isolation of literary structure” by the circumstances of its origin as well as its elementary determination. We have already seen that in the problems concerning notes. It is true that dramatic text is usually “within the reach of the esthetic function”, but it is not always conceived with regard to it, and thence it does not make use of all means that would be available on the literary level. We cannot e.g. assert quite definitely that – from the theoretical point of view – the presence or absence of notes is significant with regard to the literary conception in the same way as we might do in the case of presence or absence of dialogue in a novel. The “crossing” of functions or the “shift of purpose” results in drama (if it is read) in e.g. confusion of connotation and denotation (i.e. in some cases connotation must substitute for denotative determination of a situation, emotional attitudes, the description of a character etc.), in the specific accumulation of meanings and by linguistic means “taking over” the plot (reference to narration), in transfers in the hierarchy of means and even in their probabilist structure, in the shift of time relations etc. It seems that the category of semantic unification should be supplemented by categories of semantic cohesion and coherence_13 and it should count on dramatic text being fragmentary and hybrid. The last two concepts should imply that to solve the problem of literary and esthetic functions of dramatic text is often impossible without reference to its relation to the theatre.

3.5. A theory of dramatic text must take into account the relevancy of “intersection” of two types of intention:

1) Most texts are intended to be staged and thus their elementary purpose is given. It is projected into the text in the form of different instructions, restrictions and even omissions motivated by the requirement of this or that theatrical conception and style and at the same time the literary requirements may be neglected.

2) There is some disproportion between the means and their purpose (“aim”) allowing different possibilities of functional shift (often irrespective of the author’s particular intention and the supposed cultural function of the text). The so called author’s intention may be considered, in a given context of perceiving and evaluating, to be, in a way “inherent” in the text.

The position of drama (being published as a literary work but originally intended to have another existence) is a specific one, as its interpretation must count on the two possible aims. The isolation of literary structure based on the possibility of “functional shift” can hardly neglect the aim of being staged, not only because the text is often incoherent and dicontinuous from the literary point of view, but also because the significance of the relation between “intentionality” and “non-intentionality” is affected._14 I mean the fact that the means of semantic unification (intentionality in Mukařovský’s sense) are not often connected with non-intentionality but with “empty places” resulting from the theatrical “purpose”.

3.6. This brings us to some other problems. Let us recall Hegel’s remark that “what makes drama dramatic, i.e. action and its lively movability, is missing in printed drama” (1966, p. 336), which reminds us of some of Zich’s views. Supposing text is basically intended to be staged, we must realize that speech is part of a broader category of action, within the framework of which it has different positions: from having a major role (in some special cases it may even become action itself) up to cases where it has a quite minor character.

The literary (read) version of drama must anyway rely on action being carried by linguistic means only, even where their role within the total (supposed) category of action is not so important. This causes certain shifts leading to different accentuation of individual means. It makes monologues and narrative parts more important, the preferred texts are those with an active role of language, with close dialogic interaction, with a message of action, etc._15 Another problem is consequent on e.g. the mediated signification in the read version: the means which act as signs (or bearers of meaning) in a performance are only mediated by the language meaning in the literary (read) version; this concerns not only the author’s notes but sometimes dialogic action as well. A reader need not know why some units gain certain positions as a result of the theatrical function of the text, but he anyway may feel them as e.g. “impoverishing the meaning”, as sharp semantic reversals, discontinuances not motivated by the requirement for intentional literary semantic construction, schematic nature of denomination (of e.g. names of characters) etc._16 The contemporary literary atmosphere can also in a great measure influence the literary (reading) possibilities of drama by a certain conception of context (by the degree of its discontinuance or cohesion), or by comprehension of the semantic value of the dialogue (not only dramatic dialogue) etc. In any case there is the question of whether we may neglect, when identifying and evaluating the literary quality of a drama, the numerous gaps both in language and thematic construction of the drama (and thence certain inconsistencies in the reading itself) which do not arise from a particular literary conception, but whose relation to it is incidental, and at the same time they are not functional even from the point of view of “inner” intentionality.

3.7. I think that a necessary condition for interpreting drama as literature is to specify the position of direct speech (dialogue) among other dramatic means. This is a demand based on the mentioned supposition of “total action”, which is not negligible even in solving the problems of the literary structure of drama. It also includes the problem of the “self-sufficiency” of language in its different functions (including the esthetic one).

To put it schematically, we can examine a broad repertoire of texts where on the one hand there are texts where speech has the dominant role, e.g. the language is evidently esthetized, the speech is monologized (not only by monologues but by monologization of dialogic relations as well), or the speech becomes action in a prevailing measure – in all these cases we can observe that some explicitness and synthetization is formed even on the dialogic level_17 and is accompanied either by the limitation or modification of nonverbal communication, which is influenced by the nature and function of direct speech. On the other hand there are texts where utterance (direct speech) has just a general nature either because physical action (or its denomination) takes place in a great measure or because e.g. speech gains its full meaning only in coexistence with the particular situation (or rather the speech completes its meaning)._18 Both poles are connected with transitional spheres (their breadth can have a different historical validity): on the one hand they may tend towards closet plays (leading to the dialogical novel), on the other hand to a libretto, synopsis, scenario, i.e. to texts often having questionable literary value.

3.8. It should also be added that the kind and nature of “linguistic means” changes according to the communicative possibilities of individual kinds and genres in connection with the demand for the realization of the esthetic function. This can be seen in e.g. various accentuation of values of a word, sentence, utterance, discourse; or in the relevancy of various linguistic levels; or even in the specifity of the relation between language and theme. In any case both the purpose and nature of linguistic means should be conceived with regard to the nature and possibilities of the “material”.

In the structuralist conception the esthetic function is connected with focussing on the message itself, on its inner construction. Mukařovský defines a function in general as “the way of utilizing the features of a given phenomenon” (1948 I, p. 80). The dynamic conception of the hierarchy of functions sometimes enables a function to be considered as dominant, though it did not have such a role originally, i.e. it becomes dominant beyond its original destination (let us recall the above mentioned disproportion between means and purpose). In contrast to former literary theories which mostly conceived drama as literary work on the basis of its theme, Veltruský showed how all levels share in the realization of literary structure. He built upon the above mentioned theory of functions which allows a description of the functional shift, which is the important point in the case of drama. Nevertheless some problems are left open: e.g. the connection between the supposition of the esthetic function and the theory of literary kinds; then there is the question whether and how “linguistic means” (their definition, construction and organization) correspond to that function.

3.9. In drama – as we have seen – the possibilities of language are not made use of to such an extent as in the case of the lyric and epic. The dialogic functions lead in many cases to a greater dependence of the linguistic means on the extra-linguistic situation (which is not always described) within the semantic structure of text already. The above mentioned position of direct speech among other dramatic means influences the possibility of realization of the esthetic function: the emphasis can be transferred from evident esthetization, which can already be seen on the level of direct speech (in e.g. “poetic” dramas) to various extra-esthetic functions and up to the entire absence of conditions for the esthetic function.

The “dramatic” and “theatrical” functions (here I must take into consideration some of Zich’s remarks – though not so sharply outlined) influence the nature of “linguistic means” in dramatic text and thus they form broader or narrower conditions (if any) for the esthetic function to be realized. The matter is complicated by the fact that literary criticism often defines drama on the basis of linguistic means (dialogue character) though not regarding their art structure. What we call dramatic text is often delimited above all by its belonging to the theatre (or theatrical genre); literary criticism then from its viewpoint accepts or rejects particular texts (e.g. scenarios, librettos etc.) rather arbitrarily._19

We can see that even texts which relatively satisfy the demands for a literary work cannot avoid the influence of the theatre on the nature of linguistic means and thus on the possibility of the esthetic function being realized. Every literary interpretation of drama should be made on the basis of the two mentioned features: the fragmentary nature_20 in the very concept of which there is the fact that drama does not aspire to totality and integrity of message by using literary means only; and hybridity based on the demand for completation of verbal expression by other communicative means. Both categories should show the relative ambiguity of the literary existence of dramatic text.

3.10. To conclude I would like to mention a conception of a classical literary problem within the framework of which the self-evident idea of the literary character of drama has been maintained. It is a question of literary kinds. Veltruský builds on the classical opinion of the three basic literary kinds: the lyric, epic and drama._21 As a matter of fact Czech structuralism did not elaborate on the problem of literary kinds and genres._22 Veltruský was the first to concentrate thoroughly on one type of literary discourse as a literary kind. The problems concerning this conception I would like to point out are, roughly, these: 1) it is not such a problem to determine what distinguishes the three kinds on the level of language (as well as other criteria), but rather what unifies them when opposed to other literary discourse; 2) what is the basis for the classical tripartition applying either to the historical point of view or the classifying criteria (if the condition in 1 is kept).

Ad 1) What unifies the kinds is firstly the fact of verbal record, secondly the condition of the esthetic function, (various remarks by Veltruský as well as his general attitude show that he started from this condition). But we have already seen that aiming at the esthetic function is more complicated in the case of drama than in the case of the other kinds. From a certain point of view it is not possible to include all| dramas as literature (unless we eliminate the demand for the esthetic function and are content with verbal recording); nevertheless even dramas which we do include here, do not satisfy this condition to such a degree as the lyric and epic do.

Ad 2) It appears that the classical tripartition is not firmly established either historically or on the basis of classifying criteria. This uncertainty even led to strict statements about drama not belonging either to the tripartition or to literature._23 It seems that certain classifications (and the mentioned tripartition is one of them) have a justifiable historical function, but that it will be necessary to work out a new typology as well as new criteria capable of describing the wide variety of texts in a better way. Otherwise – if we stick to the classical classification – we should have to use another formulation of the esthetic function or even to cease requiring it as the unifying feature of all three traditional kinds of literature.

4. I hope that this outline has shown sufficiently the contribution of both theories (Zich’s and Veltrusky’s) in spite of the debatable questions I have pointed out. In my opinion both theories are most productive where the description of different functions of dramatic components is independent of radicalness and explicitness of the basic attitude, i.e. drama either is or is not a literary work. Then the description of different semantic relations of dramatic structure is valid for both theatrology and literary criticism. As we have seen, the two authors’ attitudes are essentially different in that Veltruský sees dramatic text as a (determining) model of performance as well as an independent literary work, while for Zich text is only a part of performance, the conception of which may be influenced by some of its components, but he denies its independent poetic existence which is often in contradiction to the dramaticality.

The specific nature of drama makes its position in a way ambiguous in the sphere of theatre as well as in the sphere of literature. The radicalness of the theses affirming that drama is not literature, or that drama is both literature and theatrical text, which are both in my opinion unsufficient – correspond to this ambiguity. That all results in the necessity of delimiting the nature of text on the basis of not one but several cultural contexts. In addition, literary criticism, if it intends to follow the literary value of dramatic text, cannot do so without understanding its various theatrical functions (including basic “intentionality”) and similarly a theatrological interpretation should not be made without considering literary influences. In the historical continuity the relationship between literature and theatre being interwoven in the questions of dramatic text may be variously radicalized (from complete separation up to relative identity) according to the nature of particular context. After all, even the concept of “drama”, itself signifying in some languages sometimes dramatic text as a literary genre and sometimes one of the theatrical genres (a play), records this duality that we must always have in mind.

(Herta Schmid, Alozsius van Kesteren (eds.): Semiotics of Drama and Theatre. John Benjamins Publishing Co., Amsterdam/Philadelphia 1984, s. 102–126)


Both authors are ones of the foremost personalities of Czech esthetics and theory of theatre. Otakar Zich (died in 1934) represented the climax of the line preceded by Czech Herbartism and in many ways he formed a transition to the Czech structuralism. Zich’s sphere of interest was very wide including apart from esthetics problems of many fields of research e.g. musicology, literary criticism, theatrology … Jiří Veltruský, one of the representatives of the Czech structuralism, Mukařovský’s disciple and later his assistant, concentrated mostly on the problems of drama and theatre. Although Veltruský was much younger than Zich, the temporal distance between the concerned works is not big (about 10 years). Recently Veltruský has been dealing with semiotics of acting, puppet theatre (this interest was indicated at the end of the thirties), the semantic of visual arts.

In the present state of research the sociology of literature (sociology of art) has been becoming more and more important as very subtle analyses of works of art often result in the lack of clear view of the actual functioning of some components or the hierarchization of them. Very often what was analyzed as a potential semantic possibility is automatically understood as a substantial feature of a work without offering the criteria of this determination. As to the reading: Zich admits existence of so called theatrical reading in which one can imagine the “real” plot and time connected with the performance as if it were performed by actors on the stage. Zich points out that one must have “a sense of dramaticality” for such reading. The demand for theatrical reading should be at least approximately satisfied whenever we are dependent on the mere text; the given demand must “of course, be satisfied by the director, the actor, the author…”.

This is what Zich says about the relation poeticality-dramaticality: “the more poetic the dramatic text is, the more probably can we expect its dramaticality to be weakened” (1931, p. 37).

In Czech esthetics this problem was dealt with most consistently in J. Mukařovský’s article “Intentionality and Nonintentionality” which was read in the Prague Linguistic Circle in 1943, but was not published until 1966 (Mukařovský 1966).

I wrote about this Veltruský’s paper in a greater detail in the article U základů sémiotiky divadla II: Semiotická témata v české meziválečné teatrologii (At the Roots of Semiotic of Theatre II: Semiotic Themes in the Czech Theatrology between the Wars), Wiener Slawistischer Almanach 5, Wien 1980.

For example, in the Czech translation of Tairov’s articles Osvobozené divadlo of 1927, we come across this formulation: “We know that the periods when the theatre flourished came when it did not stick to written plays and created its own scenarios” (Tairov 1927, p. 163). It would be possible to object (in support of Veltruský’s view) that such a scenario determines the performance in many ways; Veltruský, however, built on what Tairov calls “written plays” – it can be judged also from his not mentioning the mediating link of the so called director’s script.

The paper Drama as a Literary Work was published in the miscellany Reading on Language and Literature in 1942, the editors of which were B. Havránek and J. Mukařovský (Veltruský 1942). Its to an extent altered English version Drama as Literature was published in 1977 (Veltruský 1977). I relied on the Czech version, but I tried to verify the solutions in both in the points I concentrated on. Besides I tried to confront two versions in general. In addition to several smaller changes one extensive change was made: the passage on the so called semantic gesture was left out in the English version.

Veltruský says that the criterion of drama is the “spontaneous evaluation by an unprejudiced reader”. This criterion seems to be missing in the English version.

The word “all” is in the Czech version – in contrast to the English one – stressed. It seems that in the introduction to the English version the thesis about drama “being an integral literary work as well as lyric and epic are, for the specific sign of literature is that language is its only material” (Veltruský 1942, p. 406) was eliminated without being substituted by anything else.

The opening part is much shorter than the Czech one. Veltruský left out a fairly long passage were he explained his approach and described the concept of “semantic gesture” which he at first took as a starting point. It is a pity that Veltruský did not transfer the problem of semantic gesture onto a level acceptable in a different scientific and language context, as in the given conception it is fundamental for defining conditions of the functioning of a literary work. It is true that some procedures connected with semantic gesture were kept by Veltruský in observing semantic statics and dynamics, though I find it disputable to connect it with the characteristics of a literary kind (I think they are functional on the level of a work or works by a particular writer or school etc.).

Mukařovský defines the semantic gesture e.g. in the following way: “The semantic gesture can be specified as concrete, but not qualitatively predetermined semantic intention” (1966, p. 100). It “organizes the work as a dynamic unity from its simplest elements up to its general outline” (1948, I, p. 120). It is “as to the content an unspecified gesture, by which the writer choses and combines elements into a semantic unity” (1948, III, p. 239; 1948, II, p. 374).

Anyway, Hegel says about the orientation at a reader: “In my opinion no theatrical piece should be published, but the manuscript should, as it was in the ancient days, belong to the repertoire of the theatre and should be distributed as least as possible. In that case there would not be published so many dramas which in spite of having refined language, beautiful feelings, wonderful reflections and deep ideas, lack what make drama dramatic, that is action and its vivid movability” (1966, p. 336). At the beginning of the 20th century G. B. Shaw saw the problem rather differently (Shaw 1934, and 1965). He was already accustomed to the plays being published and he examined the conditions and the possibilities of readers’ reception of a dramatic work.

This concerns e.g. the problems of “functional sentence perspective”. It is significant that Mukařovský when considering the semantic unification (“semantic gesture”) followed Mathesius’ formulations on FSP (these became fundamental for further thoughts about the problem in the Czech linguistics).

We can find the explanation of this relation in the above mentioned Mukařovský’s paper Intentionality and Non-intentionality.

J. Honzl (1956) recommended to distinguish between action and a message on action, which is a functional distinction if we are speaking in this relation of action in its narrower sense, because in theatre every expression has a character of action, even e.g. narration.

Though voiced reading is not a condition of a drama being realized by the reader, the schematicality comes forward especially in case of reading aloud a drama (see Hegel, 1966).

In this connection I would like to refer to the problem of the relation written-spoken. This is quite evident in the case of drama, as it is conceived with respect to a certain form of a spoken realization. This problem is anyway a very complex one and it would require to be solved separately. The relation between written and spoken language has been described especially by J. Vachek (e.g. Vachek, 1942).

Of course, in the case of monodramas it may be constructed on the monological level. The position of monodrama is a special one in sometimes making use of the means of inner and outer dialogization (cf. Goethe’s Proserpina or Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape).

The role of notes is becoming more important in such text, but we know, that dramatic usage need not always describe a situation or an action, or is not always due to describe the atmosphere by purely literary means. Of course, the interpretation of particular texts evaluates the function of the notes if there are any.

It would be e.g. interesting to show why we do not encounter as permanent and systematic evaluation of dramas as literature as it is in the case of similar evaluation of other works of literature. Much can also be seen from the practice of editing dramas and plays (in connection with the problems of translations, too; e.g. the difference between translating plays to be published in collections and translating them if they are to be presented on a contemporary stage).

It does not concern the fragmentary quality of e.g. Kafka’s Castle but that which occurs in the development of the text itself already. Compare also Zich’s formulation, which shows the fragmentary nature from the point of view of theatre (so it is valid mutually): “do not let us forget that the text alone is not a complete work, but only its part” (Zich, 1933).

In the English version Veltruský sometimes speaks about narration instead of epic, which makes the distinguishing criteria rather confusing – cf. (Genette 1977). In this version Veltruský also uses the term “genre” instead of “kind”.

Mukařovský only refers to the difference between the dialogue and monologue, further he reminds different consequent temporal characteristics: actual presence and transitoriness (the dialogue having both, lyric only the former, epic the latter one). Later Veltruský tried to differentiate the literary kinds using a wider range of criteria – but that all was done on the basis of the tripartition of literary kinds.

This radical view is held by S. Skwarczyńska (e.g. 1970). Cf. (Ziomek 1977).


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