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Kurze Geschichte Des Deutschen Theaters.

This thought-provoking summary of theatre in German-speaking countries from the middle ages to the present offers an interesting approach to theatre history. Emerging as a leading voice in semiotics and Theaterwissenschaft, Fischer-Lichte enters engaging scholarly territory here, proceeding along the lines of her recently translated The Semiotics of Theatre (trans. 1992). She positions the actor and performance, rather than the written text, as central signs of the theatre - a kind of inquiry which until recently has tended to be neglected in both theatre history and semiotics. This focus parallels Fischer-Lichte's rethinking of the term theatre itself. She is skeptical about whether one can define theatre or theatre history at all; and she dismisses the idea that there is (or ever was) a consensus about what is meant by theatre. She thus finds herself in the radical position of writing a theatre history while problematizing the notions of both theatre and history. She does not seek out the origins of certain forms of theatre, showing a progression from "primitive" to "civilized," for such a teleological project has been, in her words, long obsolete. Rather than such an all-encompassing approach to history which she finds reductive, Fischer-Lichte draws from recent shifts in historicism (particularly in the field of cultural studies) which concentrate on "micro" histories and individual experiences. According to Fischer-Lichte, theatre histories which merely reconfirm accepted periodizations or trace smooth, chronological, linear developments do so by accumulating "fact upon fact, description upon description, source upon source, anecdote upon anecdote" without sufficiently using the material to problematize an issue (7). These prior histories ignore the irregular process of history, the material that falls between the cracks. Accordingly, this book does not offer categorizations like "Theatre of the Enlightenment" or "Theatre of the Seventeenth Century," because Fischer-Lichte continually poses questions about periodization itself. The question she repeatedly asks is not why an epochal change occurred, but if it occurred.

Fischer-Lichte also questions the validity of categorizing theatre by genre or by geographical location as a single determining analytical tool. She instead conducts a diachronic study, pointing out how some forms of theatre functioned differently in various places over time. For example, she convincingly argues that the Fastnachtspiele (carnival plays) in Lubeck were different from those in Nurnberg, effectively contesting the notion of a universal Fastnachtspiel paradigm.

Nonetheless, Fischer-Lichte does settle on a scope of material one might expect in a theatre history: her study is chronological (from medieval to postmodern), and she supports her arguments with weighty evidence from extensive research. Fischer-Lichte therefore negotiates between positivist pragmaticism and her semiotic theory, both documenting and interpreting history. She explores the semiotic relevance of material aspects of the theatre, exploring questions like: Who were the actors and audience members for each kind of performance? What kinds of theatrical conventions were introduced and when? And what cultural work did performances serve within society?

In the first chapter Fischer-Lichte discusses festivals, religious plays, Fastnachtspiele, the "baroque system of theatrical representations" (traditionally called baroque theatre), and the "function of theatre in court and church representations." She examines these theatrical events as they resonate in the social context, focussing on audience reception. In contrast to the prevailing view that there wasn't much theatre in German-speaking countries during the middle ages, Fischer-Lichte argues that theatre was in fact as widespread as the festivals.

The second chapter looks primarily at the theatre reforms of Gottsched, Lessing, Goethe and Schiller. Fischer-Lichte again pursues a performance-based inquiry, pointing out why attempted reforms often failed to work. For instance, Lessing did not reach the bourgeois family with his burgerliches Trauerspiel (bourgeois tragedy) at first; theatre-goers instead wanted to see more entertaining theatre like opera, ballet, pantomime, and Singspiele. Fischer-Lichte concludes that, counter to what prior histories often claim, theatre reform and public taste were not always in synch.

The third chapter examines the Vienna Volkstheater, Wagner, the Meiningen Players, and the end of the bourgeois theatre of illusion. Considerations of audience reception again drive Fischer-Lichte to trace differences between the audience that was targeted, and the one that came - from the mixed Viennese audience of Das Theater in der Leopoldstadt, to the aristocratic Burgtheater, to Wagner's failed attempt to reach his idealized audience. Fischer-Lichte also distinguishes between different simultaneous theatre movements in Vienna, pointing out that while the Volkstheater professed the same ideology as the bourgeois illusion theatre, it expressed different aesthetic values.

In her final chapter Fischer-Lichte surveys the widening scope of theatre and the theatricalization of life in the twentieth century. She traces the revival of theatre as festival, revolutionary and agitprop theatre, the historical avant-garde, the emergence of the director, expressionist and Bauhaus theatre, Brecht's epic theatre, theatre under fascism, and theatre in the age of mass media. The final part of this ambitions chapter suffers somewhat because Fischer-Lichte attempts to deal with this vast array of forms through concentrating on micro-historic examples; a disproportionally lengthy section of the chapter, for example, explores the problem of staging classics in the twentieth century by covering a hundred-year performance history of Schiller's Don Carlos. While this section is interesting, Fischer-Lichte does not give that kind of detail to other modern movements and hurries through her discussion of theatre from the last part of this century.

Unfortunately, this book has also failed to include several important women playwrights who have been recently (re)introduced by feminist scholars. Most notably absent is Marieluise Fleisser, Brecht's contemporary and "collaborator" who was re-discovered in the 1960s. Fleisser is listed in the name index, but the reader is led to a wrong page number and Fleisser in fact does not appear in the book.

Overall, this book is a welcome addition to theatre history. Fischer-Lichte's research is both voluminous (some chapters have over four hundred footnotes) and thorough. For German-speaking students and scholars alike, this excellent resource should undoubtedly be on the shelf.

KATIE N. JOHNSON University of Washington
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Title Annotation:Gay & Lesbian Queeries
Author:Johnson, Katie N.
Publication:Theatre Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1995
Previous Article:Theatre and Cultural Interaction.
Next Article:The Subject's Tragedy: Political Poetics, Feminist Theory, and Drama.

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