Staging Spontaneity: Corporeal Expression and the Paradox of Acting in the German Theater Discourse Around 1800 Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Feminella, Matthew
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • This dissertation explores how theories of spontaneity and the body are integrated into acting discourses on the German stage. I argue that the spontaneity of the human body represents a recurring feature in the acting discourses around 1800, which provoked a variety of responses from theorists of the theaters. These responses range from theorizing how to utilize corporeal spontaneity for the benefit of the theater to how to diminish its potential inimical effects on dramatic production. Theorizing about actors and spontaneity led these thinkers to re-conceptualize their notions of anthropology, semiotics, media, and human agency. Chapter 1 examines how Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in his correspondences and dramaturgical writings develops acting techniques that seek to reconcile intentionality and spontaneity. Chapter 2 explores the evolution of Friedrich Schiller’s conception of acting and spontaneity from his early dramaturgical writings on the affect of actors to his notion of theatrical grace in “On Grace and Dignity.” Chapter 3 examines Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s attempts in his “Rules for Actors” to mitigate the uncertainty generated by spontaneity by introducing corporeal regimes of bodily discipline that regulate actors both inside and outside of the theater. Chapter 4 investigates how Heinrich von Kleist frames spontaneity as a solution to an anthropological and theatrical problem in “On the Puppet Theater,” in which the human body’s ability to react without prior thought can accomplish otherwise elusive physical and mental tasks.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Trop, Gabriel
  • Downing, Eric
  • Koelb, Clayton
  • Hess, Jonathan
  • Pollmann, Inga
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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