You are on page 1of 10

1

Name: Adenle, Adepeju Temitope


Mat. No.: 109013019
Course: Theory of Drama
Course Code: ENG 85
Question: Discuss the theoretical viewpoint and categorize them into the appropriate categories.

INTRODUCTION
“What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out.”
(Alfred Hitchcock: 1989-1980)

Every art form is out to imitate one thing or the other, the difference is in what they imitate and

how high they regard each other concepts of imitation. As no art can survive without a look

alike, it therefore becomes imperative, for dramatists who pride themselves as reflectors, not just

to imitate but to give their plays more to project than mere imitations.

Meyer Abrams grouped the various literary theories into four coordinates which summarizes

theorist major concerns as mimetic (universe), pragmatic (audience), expressive (author) and

objective (text).

Universe
Universe
Mimetic Theory

Artist/Author Audience
Expressive Theory Works of Arts Pragmatic Theory

Text
Objective Theory
2

MIMETIC THEORY

“Nature creates similarities. One need only think of mimicry. The highest
capacity for producing similarities, however, is man’s. His gift of seeing
resemblances is nothing other than a rudiment of the powerful compulsion in
former times to become and behave like something else. Perhaps there is none of
his higher functions in which his mimetic faculty does not play a decisive role.”
--- Walter Benjamin, "On the Mimetic Faculty" 1933

Long before man learnt how to document their thought, imitation has been around, man had live

and survived purely on the strength of imitation, that is, man is imitation, imitation is man. The

word “imitation” is referred to differently in diverse cultures but one thing they can all agree to is

the fact that imitation is key to their existence. When the Greeks of the classical period wanted to

characterize the basic nature of painting and sculpture, poetry and music, dance and theatre, i.e.

things we today call works of art, most of them agreed that such things were mimemata (in

singular form mimema), the result of an activity they named mimesis. Mimesis is a literary theory

which evaluates a work of art in terms of imitation/copy which is the most ancient way of

judging any work of art in relation to reality, for this reason, all these theories treat a work of art

as a photographic reproduction. Mimetic criticism insists that literary works does not reflect

reality as such and as such the artist is regarded as an imitator of aspects of the observable

universe, such as in a situation whereby a blind man is asked to touch an elephant and asked

which animal it is he was touching and he said a snake where as he has his hands on the tail.

Plato is the foremost crusader of the word in ancient Greek and every other theorist (Aristotle,

Horace, Longinus, Dryden,) has either refuted or agreed with his definition of the concept. From

Plato perspective, imitation in drama is one that is influenced from the gods; one that extols the

truth and seeks universal existence. The dramatist must imitate the actions of great and noble
3

men. The universe itself is an imitation, or appearance, of the eternal ideas which are the locus of

all value, while all other human knowledge and products are also modes of imitation. Plato

equally divides his universe into three realms: the realm of ideas, the realm of particulars, and the

realm of reflections of particulars (that is, art and other shadows).

In Aristotle‟s Poetics, the various kinds of poetry are also defined as “modes of imitation” of

human actions. Imitation is instinct based on Aristotle‟s Poetics and we actually take pleasure in

these imitative acts. Aristotle‟s use of the term imitation differs from that of Plato, as for him the

forms of things do not exist in another-worldly realm, but are inherent in the things themselves,

so that it is no way derogatory to point out that drama imitates models in the world of sense.

Longinus “On the Sublime” views mimesis as sublimity which is achieved through the eminence

and excellence of language. To him, imitation is as a result of long experience, inspiration that is

gotten from the imitation of Greek models who have been before as he says that great poet and

dramatists who do this effectively has achieved sublimity. He identified seven sources of

sublimity which is further grouped into two; inborn and art. The sublimity achieved through

innate capability is embedded in the ability of the dramatist to grasp conceptions and have a

strong passion. While the other form of sublimity achieved through art involves the proper

handling of figures, noble phraseology, and dignified and spirited composition. Sublimity is the

power of choosing and combining the right element to each other to form a single body and

through this the audiences are either attracted by the choice of ideas or by the arrangement of the

composition. Sublimity is therefore the imitation and emulation of great writers and poets who

have been before us. A good technique is therefore required of the dramatist in other to be able to

achieve astute level of mimesis through the use of imagination and embellished words as
4

Longinus says that more emphasis is on the poets‟ skill on how to achieve sublimity by the use

of well ornamented language.

Horace, still in the footsteps of the neo-classics in his „Art of Poetry’, defines his concept of

mimesis as the imitation of Greek models. To achieve this however, the playwright should take

into consideration the fact that he must restrict himself to subject matter he can relates with so as

to allow for a free flow of words, clarity and orderly arrangement. The playwright has the power

to carry his audience where ever he pleases so long as there is charm in the play. The plot

structure must correspond to the emotional state of the speaker which happens in two ways; by

following the conventions of the stage and by inventing materials that are self consistent.

Dryden‟s mimesis borders on his debate “nature versus nurture” which focuses on the ability to

be a good playwright as innate or learnt. He raised practical, topical and social issue of his period

and says that the representations of human situations hinges on how the playwrights does it

effectively in terms of creativity. Mimesis therefore lies at the centre of aesthetic and literary

theory. Imitation can come in diverse form but then, something is being imitated or represented

in the play.

PRAGMATIC THEORY

What is the after effect of a text on the reader, and are we to use the word catharsis, release,

purification, cleansing, purging, purgation, liberation, or freeing up to describe this effect?

Something has to happen when you read a play or you visit the theatre to see a production. It is

inescapable. This is what the pragmatics subscribes to; the progress of human knowledge and

those ideas are tools whose validity and significance are established as people adopt and test

them in physical and social settings, ideas therefore demonstrates their value in as much as it

enriches human experience. Art must teach and delight. This is possible through the emphasis on
5

the reader‟s relation to the text. The play must achieve certain effect on the audience, for

example, when Oedipus met with his father and killed him, the audience must have been shocked

and ask the actor on stage how he could act so rashly, but then, that is the effect; outrage, shock

and pity. Sharing this view on the effect which a play has on the audience is Sidney (virtuosity),

Horace (teach and delight), Plato (utility), Longinus (eloquence and subtlety), and Aristotle

(therapeutic).

Sidney‟s “An Apology for Poetry”, focuses on the ability for art to bring delight and teach the

audience. Art aims at teaching goodness. He prefers imaginative literature that teaches better

than history and philosophy saying that literature has the power to reproduce an ideal golden

world not just the brazen world. Artist are out to recreate the world as he said that nature is dull

and needs to be coloured; imagination therefore comes in to decorate the raw materials which

nature gives to the playwright. Longinus pragmatic views tilts towards the ability of a play to

effect the audience in a subtle way which is flashed at the right moment (appropriateness) and

this helps in the creating the power to please, persuade, and move the readers through the uplift

of their soul. This effect is created by an effective combination of nature and art through the

grandeur of thought expressed by the use of lofty and natural expressions. The therapeutic and

medicinal nature which drama takes which arises as a result of purgation of emotion is meant to

produce pity, fear and delight in the audience. This also occurs when the plot, the characters and

other dramatic essentials is well put. Take a play like The Wives Revolt which deals with the

issue of oil exploration in the area and the consequences of such petroleum activities in the

socio-economic and political life of the people the play is an exposition on the impact of oil

money and how it tears families and society apart. The effect of this kind of oil money is
6

perceived in many ways in the community. Koko, the wife of Okoro exposes the way the men

use their money:

“You men spend all your money drinking together any way, and
come home to beat your wives or drive them out of bed with your
stench and snoring. Admit it. You rigged the whole thing to do us
out of our fair share of the money that the white men paid us” (7)

J.P. Clark in this play is able not only to delight the audience through his use of the situation in

the play but also he has moral lessons for his audience. The audience laughs and at the same time

feels pity for the situation women seem to find themselves especially when on their exile they

contracted an infection. To teach and delight is therefore achieved in the pragmatic reality

through the dexterity of the playwright to infuse the right amount of element to achieve its

objectives. P. B. Shelly essay „A Defence of Poetry’ believes that art strengthens the moral

faculty and gives pleasure. The artist is a moral teacher who gives an idea and pleasure to the

society by teaching them indirectly. Art to him therefore performs social and moral functions

along with its aesthetic pleasure. The playwright gets his money and the audience gets their

thrill. This way, it‟s a win-win situation.

EXPRESSIVE THEORY

The idea of „individualism‟ is crucial to the understanding of the expressive theory because it

focuses on the poet infusing himself (vision and state of mind) into a play through the use of

imagination, genius and emotion. This theory gained prominence during the Romantic age

through the technique of abiding trust in nature‟s goodness, equality of people, a premium on

detail and subjectivity. Playwrights here tended to appeal to the emotions of the reader than the

intellect. The playwrights used his imagination to present an illusion of reality, with many
7

details. Laman 2010, in his analysis of the expressive theory described them as viewing art as

the means of portraying unique, individual feelings and emotions of the artist and good art should

successfully communicate the feelings and emotions which the artist intended to express. William

Wordsworth‟s spontaneity recollected in tranquility and Colerigdes‟ realization of the supernatural

in a natural form show the extent at which the playwright is able to use his imagination to make the

abstract natural and the natural abstract. The expression of emotion therefore takes supremacy. The

source of a dramatic production lies in nature or in the poet‟s heart. Language expresses the natural

form and it is closer to rural life with simple and lucid language of common people. A Doll’s

House by Henrik Ibsen can be read as the playwrights putting his thought on paper writing about

his thought and feelings about the issues that border on the family as an institution, the press and

their nosiness, repression of women and others.

John Keats „Letters‟ the playwrights gets inspired by beauty which for him is a source of

knowledge beyond the reach of consecutive reasoning. By consecutive reasoning Keats‟ means the

use of reason and he associates life of sensation with emphatic emotions experience for the

excellency of art is in its intensity which is capable of making all disagreeable evaporate.

OBJECTIVE THEORY

These groups of critics focus more on the text without the influences of the writer or the reader.

The text here is supreme and once this text is produced the writers fizzles out and the only

interpretation to be gotten is what can be inferred from the text, the direct message which the text

itself has which has to be inferred within the text. to them there is no correspondence between

the universe and the work and we cannot know the true nature of either the audience or the

author. The only thing left to study is the work. So when we read a play like „The Trial of Dedan
8

Kimathi‟ the main idea to be gotten from the text is that Dedan Kimathi is a freedom fighter,

who symbolizes the attempts of the common man to assert his rights to self-determination and

self-definition in colonial Kenya against oppression. The reader is not to put the fact that Ngugi

Wa Thiong‟o is a Marxist oriented writer and so he has written a rhetoric concerning his belief

which the expressive theorists would agree with that Ngugi has put himself into the play nor is

the audience to put his interferences gotten from various aspect of society which Alexander Pope

identifies as three kinds of reader; those that judge a text based on the writer, based on who

wrote the text and based on the need to praise the writer. To the objective theorist therefore the

text is autonomous. History, biography, sociology, psychology, authorial intention and reader‟s

private experiences are all irrelevant. The attempt to look at the author‟s relationship to a work is

“Intentional fallacy” while any idea of looking at the reader‟s individual responses is “the

Affective Fallacy”. The audience job is to interpret the play. A play is considered good or bad

based on the complexities that the play projects and how well the playwright is able to knit

closely the themes to the central themes or idea. The reader is advised to study the text using the

technique called “close analysis”, a situation in which he pays attention to the syntax, images and

structure of the play. A look at John Crowe Ransom‟s „Criticism as Pure Judgment‟ reveals his

emphasis on the readers ability to be familiar with the technical practices of writers and be an

expert in judging when they perform brilliantly, fairly, or badly. The intent of the

reader/critic/audience is first to read his text sensitively, and make comparative judgment s about

its technical practice. The reader shouldn‟t be swayed by the „psychologism‟ or moralistic

understanding to judge a text; it is an inadequate way to judge because a moralistic reader wishes

to isolate and discuss the theme of the text and not the text itself. Texts to him should be

democratic in nature and the use of local texture (that is, imagination, plot, characterisation,
9

ornaments. Ransom also talks about two types of discourses, poetic and scientific and the good

reader is one who studies the techniques embedded in the text and this gives him the capacity to

interpret well especially when he studies the metrics/language and their implication for structural

composition but this metric is only an abstraction to the poem. Objectivity is therefore crucial

just as the name of the theory implies. Objectivity on the part of the reader not to allow any

external or internal interference occur while reading the text and on the writers part not to expect

much after the text has been written. A good text would always survive the test of time based on

the complexities generated within the text which the author has created using technicalities

which he has infused into his work.

CONCLUSION

A text can fit into any one of the four coordinates postulated by M.H. Abrams depending on the

interpretation the reader gives to it. The objective of any work is to serve a purpose, now the

purpose might be the elevation of the magnificent nature of the text, or the dynamism which the

reader projects, or perhaps it is the ability of the text of the playwright to mirror/copy right nature

and or, the interconnectedness that is supposed to operate between the text and the reader

Whatever it is that is been aimed at, it simply shows that the text is performing a function and

this debunks the notion of art for art sake postulated by Immanuel Kant, art just must have a

purpose and this purpose can be realized in diverse way the reader just has to locate it and the

writer just has to project his representations good enough.


10

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. U.S.A:

Oxford University Press, 1953.

Dafter Laman. “Expressive theory.” Online posting. 26 Mar. 2010. 8 Apr. 2011

<http://www.scribd.com/doc/29650608/ExpressiveTheory>

Kaplan, C. and William D. Anderson. Criticism: Major Statement. New York: Bedford/St.

Martins, 2000.

Ogunpitan, S.A. A Comprehensive Grammar of Literary Studies. Lagos Arimus Ltd, 2003.

Soria de Veyra, Nino. “Defining theory” Online posting. Nd. 8 Apr. 2011
<http://www.ninosoriadeveyra.com/theory-defined.html>

Suzuki, Sally. „Notes On M.H. Abrams’s “Orientation of Critical Theories.” Online posting. S,

3 Oct. 2010. 8 Apr. 2011 <http://www.beholdmyswarthyface.com/2008/05/notes-on-mh-

abramss-essay-orientation.html>

Trumbull, W. Eric. “Romanticism” Online posting. 3 Nov. 2004. 08 Apr. 2011

<http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/spd130et/romanticism.htm>

“Critical Theories from Plato to Postmodern.” < http://www.bachelorandmaster.

com/criticaltheories/about-expressive-theory.htm> 8 Apr. 2011.

“Romantic Era Theatre.” <http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cach: TbWESfSYpaIJ :

www.trimble.k12.ky.us/tchsweb/teachers/jgraham/ahstudy_files/Romantic>