Isaac Benabu is Professor in Theatre Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His interest in Renaissance Drama in general and in Shakespeare in particular has led him over the last few years to an investigation of the problematics of reading the play-text from a theatrical vantage-point, and to do so he has drawn on the debates surrounding Reception Theory and Reader Response Theory.
Until recently, approaches to the analysis of theatre were based on critical models devised for the understanding of prose-fiction, where the aesthetic effect of the work is contained within the perimeter of an individuated reader reaction. Theatre, on the other hand, aims not at the private reader’s “confessional” but at the communal effect upon and reaction of an audience, and any academic study of the subject should acknowledge the difference in aim.The theatrical text in the academy was usually read as a literary text, and when textual debates of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century subsided, a plethora of interpretative trends emerged often based on models evolved for the study of literature. And though Performance Theory has flourished since, concentrating among other things on all the silent aspects of the theatrical text, there is a relatively small body of work which approaches the theatrical text as a manual for performance, a manual in which the playwright has encoded the directives for staging. In the case of Renaissance dramatists, the problem is particularly interesting because the convention was not to supply Shavian-long stage-directions but rather to encode the “notation” within the play-text itself. In an age when the relationship between playwright, company and theatre was much closer than it is in our own day, and when written parts were addressed to the actors to enable them to memorize their parts (the lucrative potential of the printed text was discovered by entrepreneurial printers of varying scruples), exploration of the encoded theatrical stage-directions gives a fresh perspective to an understanding of the theatre of the period.