To Act, To Do, To Perform

Drama and the Phenomenology of Action
Alice Rayner
A philosophical inquiry into how action is constituted by language, materiality, and performance


To Act, To Do, To Perform ably demonstrates how the field of drama can offer distinctive answers to questions currently being asked in philosophy and literary theory. It is a phenomenological study of action using methods of philosophy, literary study, and dramatic theory. It is interdisciplinary in its approach, using concepts from Aristotle and Kenneth Burke through Heidegger to Lacan and Derrida.

The chapters examine four dramatic works: the dimensions of action involving the active/passive position of a subject (in Waiting for Godot), the difference between withdrawal from action and performance (in The Three Sisters), and the visible or "demonic" element of the material act (in Macbeth). The final chapter on Hamlet examines the interplay of these elements as action is found to dismantle itself in performance even as it is being repeated.

These analyses demonstrate the processes by which the representation of action intersects with a dismantling of action in a performative present. They indicate how ideas about both subjects and their acts are limited by the language that divides subjects from processes. Together they account for how a fuller sense of action, taken from drama rather than analytic philosophy, might dissolve conventional dichotomies between text and performance, subject and object, fiction and reality.

Alice Rayner is Associate Professor of Drama, Stanford University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Rayner's elegant study examines the nature and complexity of dramatic action from diverse critical perspectives. . . . In a sophisticated and carefully documented analysis, she defines distinctions between concepts of behavior, action, and performance and mediates such contingent issues as intent, materiality, passivity, and the dynamics of meaning. Points of reference are drawn from philosophy, semiotics, and psychology as well as from literary theory and performance methodology."
  • ". . . vital reading for anyone interested in performativity and action, whether from a theatrical or philosophical perspective. . . . Rayner's central insight—her distinction between acting, doing, and performing—is especially fruitful. Perhaps even more important, rather than rest within the comfortable confines of theatre studies, To Act, To Do, To Perform looks through theatre and drama to make a genuine contribution to cultural theory and philosophy at large."
    Theatre Journal

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 176pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1994
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10537-3

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  • $74.95 U.S.