Dramaturgies of the imagination: The theatre as a laboratory of spectatorial agency in Lessing and Kleist.

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Woisnitza, Mimmi.
Description:242 p.
Format: E-Resource Dissertations
Local Note:School code: 0330.
URL for this record:http://pi.lib.uchicago.edu/1001/cat/bib/10168485
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Other authors / contributors:University of Chicago.
Notes:Advisors: David J. Levin; Christopher J. Wild.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--The University of Chicago, Division of the Humanities, Department of Germanic Studies, 2015.
Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 76-08(E), Section: A.
Summary:My project explores the emergence of the imagination as a formative force in German drama of the long eighteenth century. It is well known that a host of eighteenth-century German aesthetic theorists---among them Baumgarten, Kant, and Fichte---conceive of the imagination ( Einbildungskraft) as the primary faculty mediating between sensual perception and acts of reasoning. What is less well known is that, at the same time, the imagination comes to play a key role in the newly emerging culture of literary theatre whose advocates seek to resolve the medial tension between the dramatic text and the sensual presence of events on stage. The dramas of Lessing and Kleist in particular investigate this tension between text and image by evaluating prevailing imaginative practices and by exploring new ways of utilizing the imagination. In their works, a broad array of theatrical techniques---including teichoscopy, ekphrasis, masquerade, and mise en abyme---are deployed in an effort to solicit, shape, and direct the audience's imaginative engagement. In addition to representing and negotiating different modes of imaginative engagement on the level of the plot, the plays reflect upon their own medial status by staging the pitfalls and revelations that might result from just such engagement. In two chapters on each author, I investigate the dramaturgical strategies of individual plays while taking into consideration each drama's historical context. I argue that Lessing and Kleist explore the operations of the imagination in different theatrical genres and target established theatre conventions. To be sure, the functions each author assigns to the imagination differ significantly. Lessing, who considered the "free play of the imagination" to be the principal goal of artistic reception in his Laokoon essay, sought to harness his spectators' imaginative engagement as an essential tool of enlightenment and moral reform. In his early comedies Der Misogyn (1748) and Die Juden (1749), Lessing deploys theatrical means to 'free' the imagination of his characters (and in turn, that of his audience) from moral prejudices (Chpt. 1). Miss Sara Sampson (1755) and Minna von Barnhelm (1767) put to the test the effects of tragic sympathy on the imagination. Both plays pivot around characters whose sympathetic imagination is activated to improve their ethical judgments. In the process, Lessing encourages his audience to revisit its own spectatorial response (Chpt. 2). Kleist's plays, by contrast, are intensely sceptical of the free play of the imagination. The two comedies Der zerbrochne Krug (1803) and Amphitryon (1807) ridicule the ethical and political failures resulting from the manipulation of the imagination. The regulation of such abuse is relegated to institutions of authority (Chpt. 3). In the wake of Prussia's defeat against France and the ensuing French occupation in 1807, Kleist comes to pursue an even more pronounced political agenda in his plays. Penthesilea (1808) and Das Kathchen von Heilbronn (1808), two plays usually taken to be apolitical, I take to present opposite models of imaginative immoderation that can be read as allegories for Germany's response to the political and territorial crisis at the time. Both plays, I argue, strive to incite political decisiveness in the audience's imagination (Chpt. 4).
By comparing what I call Lessing's and Kleist's "dramaturgies of the imagination," my study explores a particular aspect of German theatre history that is enormously important for a contemporary concern with theatrical reception. Be it the attempts of theatre semiotics to conceptualize the spectatorial reception of a dramatic performance, recent scholarship on the relationship between image and text in the theatre, or the polemics against a "dramatic" theater whose reliance on illusion obscures the theatricality of stage performances, these approaches all testify to the lasting impact of the eighteenth century German theatre's discovery and deployment of the imagination.