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The Art of Theater (New Directions in Aesthetics)


The Art of Theater (New Directions in Aesthetics) Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Are theatrical performances merely interpretations of works of dramatic literature? Theatrical performances change according to a number of influences, from audience and cast, to time and place. Our actual experiences in viewing theatrical performances reflect this truth: we understand that when we see a play, we are seeing a particular director and cast’s vision and artistry. The Art of Theater argues that performance is, and has always been, an art form in its own right, distinct from the literary texts that it uses. It is an affirmation of how we actually encounter theater, and James R. Hamilton gives us the tools to identify the fundamental elements that are needed to grasp the independence of theatrical performance.

Examining the competing views of text–performance and performer–audience relationships, The Art of Theater applies a philosophical approach to the understanding, interpretation, and appreciation of theatrical art.

Book News Annotation:

Hamilton (philosophy, Kansas State U.) argues that theatrical performance is a distinct art form in which works are identified and assessed separately from the literary texts they draw from. He first enumerates changes in theatrical practice that influenced his argument and explains how a practice can be an art form, based on three requirements. He then discusses how audiences identify performances as separate from the text, how they understand what performers do, and the role of theatrical style. Some of the material in the book is based on previously published articles. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (


The Art of Theater argues for the recognition of theatrical performance as an art form independent of dramatic writing.


The Art of Theater argues for the recognition of theatrical performance as an art form independent of dramatic writing.

  • Identifies the elements that make a performance a work of art

  • Looks at the competing views of the text-performance relationships

  • An important and original contribution to the aesthetics and philosophy of theater

About the Author

James R. Hamilton is a member of the Philosophy Department at Kansas State University. His research is in aesthetics, focusing on theater. He has published articles in the British Journal of Aesthetics, the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, and the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, has entries in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics and the Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, and has received NEH and Big XII Fellowships.

Table of Contents


Part I: The Basics:.

1. The Emergence of the Art of Theater: Background and History.

1.1 The Backstory: 1850s to 1950s.

1.2 The Decisive Influences: Brecht, Artaud, Grotowski.

1.3 The Decisive Years: 1961 to 1985.

1.4 The Final Threads: Absorption of New Practices into the Profession and the Academy.

2. Theatrical Performance is an Independent Form of Art.

2.1 Theatrical Performance as Radically Independent of Literature.

2.2 Theatrical Performance as a Form of Art.

3. Methods and Constraints.

3.1 Idealized Cases that Help Focus on Features Needing Analysis.

3.2 Three General Facts about Theatrical Performances and the Constraints they Impose on any Successful Account of Theatrical Performances.

4. Theatrical Enactment: The Guiding Intuitions.

4.1 Enactment: Something Spectators and Performers do.

4.2 The Crucial Concept: “Attending to Another”.

4.3 What it is to “Occasion” Responses.

4.4 Audience Responses: Willing Suspension of Disbelief, Acquired Beliefs, or Acquired Abilities?.

4.5 Relativizing the Account by Narrowing its Scope to Narrative Performances.

Part II: The Independence of Theatrical Performance:.

5. Basic Theatrical Understanding.

5.1 Minimal General Success Conditions for Basic Theatrical Understanding.

5.2 Physical and Affective Responses of Audiences as Non-Discursive Evidence of Understanding.

5.3 The Success Conditions for Basic Theatrical Understanding Met by Moment-to-Moment Apprehension of Performances.

5.4 “Immediate Objects,” “Developed Objects,” and “Cogency”.

5.5 Objects of Understanding having Complex Structures.

5.6 Generalizing Beyond Plays.

5.7 The Problem of “Cognitive Uniformity”.

6. The mechanics of basic theatrical understanding.

6.1 The “Feature-Salience” Model of Spectator Convergence on the Same Characteristics.

6.2 What it is to Respond to a Feature as Salient for Some Characteristics or a Set of Facts.

6.3 A Thin Common Knowledge Requirement.

6.4 A Plausibly Thickened Common Knowledge Requirement.

6.5 The Feature-Salience Model, “Reader-Response Theory,” and “Intentionalism”.

6.6 Generalizing the Salience Mechanism to Encompass Non-Narrative Performances.

6.7 Some Important Benefits of the Feature-Salience Model: Double-Focus, Slippage, “Character Power,” and the Materiality of the Means of Performance.

6.8 The Feature-Salience Model and Explaining How Basic Theatrical Understanding Occurs.

7. What Audiences See.

7.1 Identifying Characters, Events, and Other Objects in Narrative Performances.

7.2 Re-identification of Characters and Other Objects in Narrative Performances.

7.3 The Special Nature of Theatrical (Uses of) Space: Performances and Performance Space.

7.4 Cross-Performance Re-identification.

7.5 Identifying and Re-identifying Objects in Non-Narrative Performances.

7.6 Added Benefits of the Demonstrative and Recognition-Based Approach to Identification and Re-identification.

7.7 Theatrical Performance as a Fully Independent Practice.

Part III: The Art of Theatrical Performance:.

8. Deeper Theatrical Understanding.

8.1 General Success Conditions for Deeper Theatrical Understanding.

8.2 More Precise Success Conditions: Two Kinds of Deeper Understanding.

8.3 Some Puzzles about the Relation Between Understanding What is Performed and Understanding How it is Performed.

8.4 Deeper Theatrical Understanding and Full Appreciation of a Theatrical Performance.

9. What Performers Do.

9.1 What Performers Do and What Audiences Can Know.

9.2 The Features of Performers and Choices That Performers Make.

9.3 Theatrical Conventions as Sequences of Features having Specific “Weight”.

9.4 What is Involved in Reference to Theatrical Styles.

9.5 More about Styles, as Produced and as Grasped.

9.6 Grasp of Theatrical Style and Deeper Theatrical Understanding.

10. Interpretive Grasp of Theatrical Performances.

10.1 Success Conditions for Interpreting What is Performed and Interpreting How it is Performed.

10.2 Eschewing Theories of “Work Meaning”.

10.3 Interpretation and Significance.

10.4 Interpreting Performers.

11. Full Appreciation of a Theatrical Performance.

11.1 The Case of the Culturally Lethargic Company.

11.2 Broader Implications of the CLC Problem.

11.3 The “Imputationalist” Solution.

11.4 Solving the CLC Problem Without Resorting to Imputationalism.

11.5 Full Appreciation of a Theatrical Performance and the Detection of Theatrical Failures.


A. The Idea of a Tradition and Tradition-Defining Constraints.

B. Constraints Derived from Origins in Written Texts.

C. What Really Constrains Performances in the Text-Based Tradition.

D. The Myth of “Of”.



Product Details

Hamilton, James R.
Hamilton, James
Theater - History & Criticism
Theater -- Philosophy.
Drama -- History and criticism.
Edition Description:
WOL online Book (not BRO)
New Directions in Aesthetics
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
June 2007
Online electronic file accessible through online networks
Grade Level:
9.19x6.37x.79 in. 1.10 lbs.

Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Drama » History and Criticism
Children's » General
History and Social Science » Military » General History
Humanities » Philosophy » Aesthetics
Languages » ESL » General
Metaphysics » General

The Art of Theater (New Directions in Aesthetics) New Hardcover
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Product details 248 pages Blackwell Publishers - English 9781405113533 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , The Art of Theater argues for the recognition of theatrical performance as an art form independent of dramatic writing.
"Synopsis" by , The Art of Theater argues for the recognition of theatrical performance as an art form independent of dramatic writing.

  • Identifies the elements that make a performance a work of art

  • Looks at the competing views of the text-performance relationships

  • An important and original contribution to the aesthetics and philosophy of theater

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