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Play Me Ishmael: "Springs and Motives" Behind Moby-Dick's Theatrical Body

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dc.contributor.advisor Zwarg, Christina, 1949- Bradford, Henry 2015-07-22T17:19:55Z 2015-07-22T17:19:55Z 2015
dc.description.abstract Behind its mask, the problem this paper pursues is the problem of drama in narrative. Often when discussing narrative, describing the text's work in dramatic terms becomes a compelling, though largely metaphorical mode of analysis, perhaps in 'roles' being played, the 'stage' being set, or merely that the diction and action seem qualitatively 'dramatic.' Why are figurative comparisons with drama so ubiquitous, especially when applied to a literary form whose authorial and readerly mechanics are strictly not performative? Herman Melville's Moby-Dick tempts this language, especially by phasing in and out of textually dramatic forms, but surface structures are only one manifestation of the novel's preoccupation with performance. This paper chases the driving forces of the performative within Moby-Dick, homing in on the novel's consciousness of corporeal embodiment and social performance by way of Melville's personal and historical theatrical contexts, then teasing out that consciousness in a reading of Orson Welles' play, Moby Dick – Rehearsed. By exploring nineteenth century contemporary conceptions of performance, on and offstage, this paper moves outside the theater proper to connect the pervasive culture of liminal social performativity and 'audience sovereignty' with Melville's construction of characters who perform on liminal stages. Ahab's contemplations of the human body and metaphysical existence parallel concerns of characters and actors – who is embodying whom? Endebtedness to Shakespeare echoes in the first scenes of Welles' play, when the company preparing to rehearse their play of Moby-Dick bemoans being diverted from putting on Lear; like the struggle apparent in Melville, the nameless cast and their stage manager debate the proper way to create performance. The young actor playing Ishmael brought the script, but it is unclear whether or not he produced it, which reflects back on the complicatedness of an authorial narratorial relationship in the production of narrative drama. Melville's written narrative, rather than struggling against formal limits, becomes something unexplored: a narrative drama of Ishmael's performance of what it is to write. The unexplored, to conclude, lies at the heart of Melville's performative impulse, and distinguishes Moby-Dick as much from its contemporary staged drama as from Shakespeare. Melville took a second look at America and saw a hitherto unexplored performative world within the 'New World,' prompting the creation of the unique and unprecedented narrative dramatic novel.
dc.description.sponsorship Haverford College. Department of English
dc.language.iso eng
dc.subject.lcsh Melville, Herman, 1819-1891. Moby Dick
dc.subject.lcsh Melville, Herman, 1819-1891 -- Criticism and interpretation
dc.subject.lcsh Theater
dc.title Play Me Ishmael: "Springs and Motives" Behind Moby-Dick's Theatrical Body
dc.type Thesis
dc.rights.access Open Access

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