Performance: intentions and reception

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

This week I’ve gone back to my research into the 1888 Lyceum Macbeth, and more broadly into nineteenth century conceptions of Lady Macbeth. So, here’s something I’ve been musing on (with reference to the lady on the left):

What does it mean when audiences and critics interpret an actor’s choice onstage (a line-reading, action, gesture, pose, motivation, whatever) in a way an actor hasn’t intended? Or even in a manner that specifically contradicts the actors’ intentions for that action (or moment, or line-reading, or gesture, or…)?

What are the issues raised? What are the implications for the actor? For the audience? For the critic? For the, er, performance historian?

I’d love to hear your views.

2 thoughts on “Performance: intentions and reception

  1. JJ

    Actor here. It’s a good thing; everyone’s entitled to their own interpretations and it can teach you new things about the role. I don’t mind what people take away, as long as they get something.


    JJ Moore


  2. Andrew

    Acting, like speech, is not a direct communication of meaning or intention from the actor to the audience so an actor can never know how anyone in the audience will respond. I don’t know if anyone reads Saussure any more but he invented Structuralism which proposes a pairing between the signifier, a word, image, gesture, etc. and the signified which is the meaing associated with that signifier. In a culturally homegenous group you can assume signifiers and signified are reasonably consistently coupled but every individual’s cultural terms of reference are slightly different so everyone in the audience will interpret everything on stage differently. Keir Elam’s The Semiotics Of Theatre And Drama is a good introduction on theatre sign systems if you wanted to take it further but semiotics is a big topic so there’s loads of stuff.



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