Dramatic Essay Form Metatheatre Tragedy

Research -- Drama






Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).


A study of the tension between modernist literature and the theater. After reconstructing the emergence of Wagner's extreme form of

theatricality, this book examines writers and directors--from Mallarmé and Yeats to Stein, Joyce, and Beckett--whose suspicion of

the theater motivated their most daring formal innovations, their most important poetic choices, and their most radical reforms of the



New paperback edition published August 2011.





Comparative Literature 56:1; Modernism/Modernity 11:1;Theatre Journal 55:3; Modern Drama 46:2; Theatre Research International 29:3;The Germanic

Review 78:4; Brecht Yearbook 29; The Comparatist (May 2004); James Joyce Quarterly 40.4; Journal of Beckett Studies 15:1&2 (Fall 2005/Spring2006); Midwest Book Review pick.




Theaterfeinde: Die anti-theatralischen Dramatiker der Moderne, expanded German edition, translated by Jan Küveler (Freiburg:

Rombach Verlag, 2006).












Kult (read this review online)



Editorial Work and Introductions



Against Theatre: Creative Destructions on the Modernist Stage, editor, with Alan Ackerman (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).


Reviewed in University of Toronto Quarterly 79:1 (winter 2010);Theatre Journal 60:1 (2008).










Modern Drama: Critical Concepts, editor, a 4-volume anthology of critical writing (New York: Routledge, 2008).












Tragedy and Metatheatre: Essays on Dramatic Form, by Lionel Abel, with an introduction by Martin Puchner (New York: Holmes

and Meier, 2003).











Six Plays by Henrik Ibsen, with an introduction and notes by Martin Puchner (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003).












Norton Anthology of Drama, 2 vols., general editor, with J. Ellen Gainor and Stanton Garner, Jr.

(New York: Norton, 2009)










Theatre Survey, 2004-2008


Editor, Theatre Survey, Cambridge UP. Read editorials on drama, theater, and the archive.

See especially issue 49:2, which contains the English version of Alain Badiou's short book ontheatre, Rhapsodie

pour le théâtre. To order the special issue, print this form.

Theater and Philosophy: a lecture by Alain Badiou, with responses by Martin Puchner andBruno Bosteels, organized

by Emily Apter at NYU on November 7, 2008.


States of the Field, co-editor, with Jody Enders, anniversary issue of Theatre Survey 47:2 (2006).





Other Editing


Kafka and the Theater, guest editor, special issue of The Germanic Review 78:3 (2003).


Modernism and Anti-Theatricality, co-editor, with Alan Ackerman, special issue of Modern Drama 44:3 (2001).





"Dramatism," The Work of Genre: Proceedings of The English Institute 2009, edited by Robin Warhol (Cambridge: English Institute, 2011).

"Drama and Performance: Toward a Theory of Adaptation," Common Knowledge 17:2 (spring 2011): 292-305.


"Performing the Open: Actors, Animals, Philosophers," in Animals and Performance, special issue, edited by Una Chaudhuri, TDR 193 (spring 2007).


"The Performance Group: Between Theory and Theater," in Restaging the Sixties: Radical Theaters and Their Legacies, edited by James Harding and Cindy

Rosenthal (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006).


"The Avant-Garde is Dead: Long Live the Avant-Garde," in Mapping the Neo-Avant-Garde, edited by David Hopkins (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006).


"Das Innenleben der Puppen: Neugier und Gewalt im unmenschlichen Theater," in Philologische Neugier, edited by Caroline Welsh (Berlin: Max Planck

Institut, 2004). Reprinted in: Umwege des Lesens: Aus dem Labor Philologischer Neugier, edited by Christoph Hoffmann and Caroline Welsch (Parerga

Verlag, Berlin, 2006):79-90.


"À l'arrière-garde du modernisme: Wyndham Lewis," translated by Gilles Philippe, in Les Arrière-Gardes au Xxe sciècle, edited by William Marx (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2004): 181-193.


"Debord and the Theater of the Situationists," Theatre Research International, 29:1 (March 2004): 4-15.


"Screeching Voices: Avant-Garde Manifestos in the Cabaret," in Avant-Garde Critical Studies, ed. Dietrich Scheuneman (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001): 113-135.


"Kafka's Anti-Theatrical Gestures," The Germanic Review 78: 3 (summer 2003): 177-193. Reprinted in Franz Kafka, edited by Harold Bloom, Bloom's Modern

Critical Views (New York, 2010).


"Reading the Sirens' Gestures: Kafka between Silent Film and Epic Theater," Kafka Society Journal, 21: 27-39.



Encyclopedia Entries


"The Modernist Drama," in Encyclopedia of Modern Drama, edited by Gabrielle H.Cody and Evert Sprinchorn (New York, Columbia University Press, 2007).


"The Closet Drama," inEncyclopedia of Modern Drama, edited by Gabrielle H. Cody and Evert Sprinchorn (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).


"Joe Orton," in Contemporary British Writers (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999): 363-78.



Performance Reviews


"Tall Horse: Animating Animals," HotReview, edited by Jonathan Kalb (2005).

"Beckett/Albee," directed by Lawrence Sacharow, Theatre Journal 56: 2 (2004): 306-308.

"Two Puppet Operas," HotReview, edited by Jonathan Kalb (2004).

"Mother Courage and Her Children," HotReview, edited by Jonathan Kalb (2004).


"Mabou Mines Dollhouse," HotReview, edited by Jonathan Kalb (2003).

"An Interview with JoAnne Akalaitis," director of In the Penal Colony, with music by Philip Glass, The Germanic Review 78:3 (summer 2003): 261-264.



Book Reviews


The Portable Theater, Alan L. Ackerman Jr. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), Theatre Journal, fall 2001.

Theater der Keuschheit, Keuschheit des Theaters: Zu einer Geschichte der (Anti-) Theatralität von Gryphius bis Kleist, by Christopher J. Wild (Freiburg im

Breisgau: Rombach, 2003), Germanic Review (spring 2007).



Also see:


Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos and the Avant-Gardes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).


The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).


"On Henrik Ibsen," London Review of Books 29:3 (February 2007).


"In Memoriam Harold Pinter," N+1 (January 2009).


Books :: Editorial Work and Introductions :: Theatre Survey :: Articles :: Encyclopedia Entries :: Performance Reviews :: Book Reviews ::

The term "metatheatre" now so casually bandied about, and sometimes with little acknowledgement of its origins, was first coined by Lionel Abel in 1963. In Metatheatre: A New View of Dramatic Form, he argued that increased self-consciousness on the part of the playwright and his creations along with the dissipation of "implacable values" inspired by a humanistic view in the early modern period made it impossible for Shakespeare and Calderón (and all subsequent Occidental authors) to write tragedies. But rather than bemoan plays like Hamlet and Life is a Dream as failed tragedies, Abel grouped them into the new-minted form of metatheatre. As more than simple manifestations of the play-within-a-play device, these plays are "theatre pieces about life seen as already theatricalized" (vi). Tragedy and Metatheatre aims "to reconnect metatheatre to its originator and thus to use Abel's work as a point of departure for rethinking the term metatheatre as a powerful tool for understanding the history of theatre" (1). To that end, twelve of the essays appearing in the original book have been reproduced here, rounded out by four more reprints from other sources and two new works. Neither of the two new contributions, "What is Tragedy?" and "The Novelization of Drama," directly addresses the issue of metatheatre, and so in terms of the intended reconnection or rethinking, this collection is akin to a time traveler arrived from the past. Through the reissue of this historical artifact, Abel's conception of metatheatre is restored to our collective attention with an invitation to assess its continuing impact.

It behooves me, therefore, to briefly consider Abel's legacy in light of current scholarship, reflecting back across the intervening four decades. Pavis's entry on metatheatre in his Dictionary of the Theatre rightly acknowledges Abel as the originator of the term, but dismisses the rest of his treatise as simply an extension of the theatrum mundi metaphor (210). Having extensively surveyed the literature of metatheatrical theory and criticism for my dissertation, I am inclined to agree with this assessment. For example, in the essay "Hamlet Q.E.D." Abel aptly shows that Hamlet, Claudius, and Polonius use dramatic techniques with varying degrees of success to direct others in implicit plays-within. However, the conclusions drawn from this observation ultimately stall around the idea that Hamlet's world is a stage and therefore is not a tragedy. Abel's persistent focus on the generic contrast of tragedy with metatheatre as historically sequential and mutually exclusive limits the potential influence of the book in two ways. First, it circumscribes definition and analysis of this self-reflexive phenomenon within the proposed generic contrast to classical tragedy, thereby limiting consideration of other aspects. Second, this oppositional relationship will not hold water since it quickly becomes apparent, as Martin Puchner points out in the introduction, that the shift from tragedy to metatheatre that Abel describes happens much earlier than he imagined. In fact, "it is almost impossible for theatre not to become metatheatre. For how could any theatre not know, somehow, and show that it knows, somehow, what it means to be theatre" (13). And so even the earliest definitive tragedies inevitably express some metatheatrical elements. In the end, the rhetorical structure of pairing of metatheatre with tragedy, although perhaps useful in stimulating Abel's original meditations, does not hold a significant place in the genealogy of metatheatrical criticism.

The primary critical attraction of this collection lies in moments scattered amongst the main tragedy-versus-metatheatre argument. As Abel surveys two millennia of great dramatic works, a number of intriguing but fragmented ideas are generated, but remain tantalizingly undeveloped and unconnected. For example, in "Genet and Metatheatre" Abel describes "a new feeling of reality" when the audience is made aware of the costume as costume: "We tend to think of real blood on the stage as a fake; now the magic of metatheatre can make stage blood seem real; at least we can think of it as real for a moment and...


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