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Offending the Audience


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AT: Tongue-Lashing A: Peter Handke Pf: 1966, Frankfurt/Main Pb: 1966 Tr: 1968 G: Drama in 1 act; German prose S: Bare stage, 1966 C: 4m or fThe audience is ushered into the theatre with even more formality than usual, and those whose clothing is too casual are to be refused admittance. When the curtain rises, the stage is empty but for four speakers, who, after initially ignoring the audience, begin to address them directly. At first, the speakers destroy any illusions the audience might have about the nature of the piece. They then make statements about the relationship of the audience to the stage: they even congratulate the spectators on being so lifelike, such good performers. In the final section they intersperse insults among the compliments, rising to a crescendo of abuse. Finally, thanking the audience for being ‘perfect’, the curtain falls only to rise again immediately while boisterous taped applause is fed into the auditorium.

AT: Tongue-Lashing A: Peter Handke Pf: 1966, Frankfurt/Main Pb: 1966 Tr: 1968 G: Drama in 1 act; German prose S: Bare stage, 1966 C: 4m or f

Never in the history of the theatre had a play, and a first play at that, so totally rejected all the normal expectations of a drama, making Waiting for Godot seem conventional by comparison. The young Austrian Handke here offers a ‘speech play’ without plot, characters, scenery, or even actors, ‘a prologue to future theatre visits’ that challenges the ‘thoughtless thinking’ of the public. The surprise of the piece, like that of a practical joke, can occur only once, and depends on the formality of conventional theatregoing and on received notions about drama. In a village hall or in a postmodernist context, what once seemed explosive now looks like a wet squib.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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