The history of drama is typically viewed as a series of inert "styles." Tracing British and American stage drama from the 1880s onward, W. B. Worthen instead sees drama as the interplay of text, stage production, and audience.
How are audiences manipulated? What makes drama meaningful? Worthen identifies three rhetorical strategies that distinguish an O'Neill play from a Yeats, or these two from a Brecht. Where realistic theater relies on the "natural" qualities of the stage scene, poetic theater uses the poet's word, the text, to control performance. Modern political theater, by contrast, openly places the audience at the center of its rhetorical designs, and the drama of the postwar period is shown to develop a range of post-Brechtian practices that make the audience the subject of the play.
Worthen's book deserves the attention of any literary critic or serious theatergoer interested in the relationship between modern drama and the spectator.
W. B. Worthen is Alice Brady Pels Professor in the Arts, and Professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre at Barnard College, Columbia University; he also serves as Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia, and as co-chair of the Ph.D. in Theatre Program.
"Strikingly original. . . . The first study of modern drama that takes the implicit or explicit presence of the audience into constant consideration."—Simon Williams, author of Shakespeare and the German Stage
“Modern Drama and the Rhetoric of Theater is a book of unusual depth and rare intelligence…What decisively distinguishes Worthen's project from all others is the importance it accords to the audience, thereby extending one of the premises of theatre semiotics far beyond its usual, rather mechanical applications.”—Una Chaudhuri, The Drama Review