"As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye": Comic Catharsis in The Comedy of Errors
Since it was first articulated by Aristotle in the Poetics, the notion of “tragic catharsis”—the depiction of negative emotions through performance in order to inspire and then purge those same negative emotions in the audience—has been fundamental to our understanding of the tragic form, and of how performance works more broadly. The concept of an equivalent “comic catharsis” has proven more elusive in Western literary criticism, perhaps because Aristotle does not devote as much space to the discussion of comic performance genres. Nevertheless, there are several possible ways we might begin to theorise the function of comic catharsis in performance.
The Comedy of Errors, while not performed as often as other Shakespearean comedies, is particularly useful for this kind of practice-focused exploration of stagecraft and emotion. The plot, as the title attests, depends on a series of unlikely coincidences, mistakes and misunderstandings brought about by the actions of two sets of identical twins in one small town. There are two compelling hypotheses for the staging techniques employed to realise this play in its original performance context, developed through rigorous textual analysis and interdisciplinary enquiry.
Funded by the Australian Research Council through the Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions
Anticipated completion: April 2017 (Phase One); November 2017 (Phase Two).
"A Vigorous and Significant Force: The origins and future of subsidised performance in Australia"
This project will explore all of the accidents, mis-communications and near-misses that went into the formation of Australia's first arts funding body, the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, and the organisations it instigated including the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), the Australian Opera, and the Australian Drama Company. The AETT’s extensive document archive, as well as the its own publications, lay bare the many conflicts that lay at the heart of the Trust’s mission from the outset. It will then turn to a sociological account of how the values and dispositions that drove the formation and early activities of the Trust are still enshrined in the contemporary field of cultural production. The unsettled debates that dogged the activities of the Trust from its very first days, especially around the value of supporting home-grown Australian work and the role of high culture in Australia, continue to destabilise the field to this day.
Anticipated completion: 2018, as monograph.