Speaking the body, representing the self : hysterical rhetoric on stage
This thesis centres on the twin discourses of hysteria and theatre, and contends that an examination of hysteria, which is above all a performative disease, can illuminate our understanding of performance on the public stage. My analysis of the history of hysteria shows that our modern understanding of the condition developed out of the interactions between the physician/analyst and the live body of the hysteric, with all its symptomatic acts, this thesis, which has as its central concern the live body of staged performance, uses the history of those interactions to re-centre attention on the symptomatic acts of the performing body on stage, and on the process of reading such acts. Drawing its material from a number of stage performances from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - from the texts of melodrama such as The Dumb Man of Manchester(l837) or The Bells (1871) through the work of the American actress Elizabeth Robins in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (1891) and her own play Alan's Wife (1893) to modem texts such as Helne Cixous's Portrait of Dora (1976) - this thesis reads those performances, and the relationship of those performances to their audiences, through the lens of hysteria: using an understanding of hysteria to read those texts anew and, in reverse, using the texts to develop, and critique, a model of hysterical performance rhetoric. Such a model, this thesis argues, with its very basis in a condition of rejection of or failure to fit into the dominant discourses of society, is not limited in application to performance texts which take hysteria as their subject. Instead it can be more widely employed as a key part of a radical theatrical politics by those who today find themselves silenced by the dominant discourses and values of our own era.