Advertisement

Carnival and the Poetics of Reversal

  • Anthony Gash
Chapter
Part of the New Directions in Theatre book series (NDT)

Abstract

‘Reversal’ is a complex word. It may simply name a logical relation of symmetrical opposition, but shades into more evaluative words which share the Latin root -vertere (to turn): subversion, which undermines, uproots and destroys; conversion, with its Platonic and Christian history of lasting spiritual reorientation; and perversion, which, now usually used of sexual behaviour, still retains some of its original connotations of diabolic rebellion against a divinely ordained natural order — ‘women to govern men, sons the fathers, slaves freemen being total violations and perversions of nature and nations’.1 It is perhaps because they share the complexity of the word that rituals which reverse roles and suspend normal rules of conduct have attracted the attention of anthropologists, historians and semiological theorists. The purpose of this essay is to introduce some of the major issues which have been raised in these disciplines, and to suggest that it is in theatrical performance, which mediates between elite (written, prescribed) and popular (audio-visual, improvised) culture, that the paradoxes which originate in popular festivity have found their most conscious and sustained expression.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Francis Bacon, Works (London, 1824) p. 489.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    M. Gluckman, ‘On Drama, Games and Athletic Contests’, in S. F. Moore and B. G. Myerhoff (eds), Secular Ritual (Assen and Amsterdam, 1977). The rest of this paragraph is based on Max Gluckman, Custom and Conflict in Africa (Oxford, 1956 ).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    K. Thomas, ‘Rule and Misrule in the Schools of Early Modern England’, Stenton Lecture, Reading, 1976;Google Scholar
  4. C. Phythian-Adams, Ceremony and the Citizen: The Communal Year at Coventry’, in P. Clark (ed.), The Early Modern Town (London, 1976 ).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    N. Z. Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France (London, 1975 ) p. 119.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Quoted in A. H. Nelson, The Medieval Stage (Chicago, 1974 ) p. 123.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    E. Le Roy Ladurie, Carnival in Romans trs. M. Feeney (New York, 1979) p. xvi.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Davis, Society and Culture, p. 148; and U. Henriques, ‘Bastardy and the New Poor Law’, Past and Present, 87 (1980) 98–127.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, trs. H. Iswolsky (Cambridge, Mass., 1968 ) p. 11.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics, trs. R. W. Rotsel (1973) p. 103.Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (London, 1986) pp. 6–26.Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    M. A. Screech, Rabelais (London, 1979 ) p. 51.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (London, 1978) p. 200.Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    C. L. Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy 2nd edn (Princeton, NJ, 1972) p. 205; cf. p. 102, below. Donaldson cites Gluckman on the strengthening and preservation of hierarchy by reversal: I. Donaldson, The World Upside-Down (Oxford, 1979) pp. 14–15; cf. p. 102, below.Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    Leonard Tennenhouse, Power on Display: The Politics of Shakespeare’s Genres (New York and London, 1986) p. 89.Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (London, 1935); A. P. Rossiter, English Drama from Early Times to the Elizabethans (London, 1950) and Angel with Horns (London, 1961).Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral, Peregrine edn (Harmondsworth, Middx, 1966 ) p. 58.Google Scholar
  18. 25.
    K. Marx and F. Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, Collected Works, y (London, 1976) p. 36. For fuller discussion of images of inversion in Marx and Engels, see Frederic Jameson, Marxism and Form ( Princeton, NJ, 1974 ) pp. 369–72.Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    See Stuart Clark, ‘Inversion, Misrule and the Meaning of Witchcraft’, Past and Present, 37 (1967) 103–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 29.
    Erasmus, In Praise of Folly, trs. Betty Radice (Harmondsworth, Middx, 1971 ) p. 103.Google Scholar
  21. 30.
    Edmund Leach, ‘Two Essays Concerning the Symbolic Representation of Time’, Rethinking Anthropology (London, 1966) p. 136.Google Scholar
  22. 31.
    Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy trs. F. Golffing (New York, 1956) p. 27.Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    F. H. Sandbach, The Comic Theatre of Greece and Rome (London, 1977 ) p. 34.Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    Francis Cornford, The Origin of Attic Comedy, ed. T. H. Gaster (New York, 1961 ).Google Scholar
  25. 35.
    Victor Turner, The Ritual Process ( Harmondsworth, Middx, 1969 ).Google Scholar
  26. 38.
    O. B. Hardison, Christian Rite and Christian Drama in the Middle Ages (Baltimore, 1969 ) p. 285.Google Scholar
  27. 51.
    Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and its Double trs. V. Corti (London, 1974) p. 28.Google Scholar
  28. 53.
    G. Wilson Knight, The Wheel of Fire (London, 1930 ).Google Scholar
  29. 55.
    Victor Shklovsky, ‘Sterne’s Tristram Shandy’, in L. T. Lemon and M. J. Reis (eds), Russian Formalistic Criticism ( Lincoln, Nebr., 1965 ).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Anthony Gash 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anthony Gash

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations