Susan Bennett

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Linda Hutcheon




This thesis examines the reception of theatrical performances by their audience. Its starting points are (i) Brecht's dramatic theory and practice, and (ii) theories of reading. These indicate the main emphases of the thesis--theoretical approaches and performance practices, rather than the more usual recourse to dramatic texts. Beyond Brecht and reader-response criticism, other studies of viewing are explored. Both semiotics and post-structuralism have stimulated an intensity of interest in theatrical communication and such investigations provide an important impetus for my work. In suggesting a theory of reception in the theatre, I examine theatre's cultural status and the assumptions underlying what we recognize as the theatrical event. The selection of a particular performance is explored and from this, it is suggested that there is an inevitable, inextricable link between the productive and receptive processes. The theory then looks to more immediate aspects of the performance, including the theatre building (its geographic location, architectural style, etc.), the performance itself, and the post-performance rituals of theatre-going. The thesis shows how cultural systems, individual horizons of expectations and accepted theatrical conventions all activate the reception process and that all these are open to revision in the experience of performance. The description of an individual's experience of a particular performance is not, however, the object of this study. Instead the concern has been with an individual's culturally-constructed expectations which can be both met and/or challenged in a diverse range of contemporary theatrical performances.

McMaster University Library

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