Although a play clearly presents a body relates and communicates with other bodies, many spectators still ignore the existence of these bodies in front of them due to an imaginary screen which separates actors and spectators as well as a performance and a “real” life. However, Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Hwang’s M. Butterfly, Yeats’ Purgatory, and Albee’s Zoo Story cross that invisible border by consistently problematizing body of each character in the whole acts. One of the problems which is presented in those dramas are a fight between each body over a place to stand. In Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, body is constantly appeared whether in a whole packed or in some pieces in the play. In the first act, we have already been presented with four tied up bodies (Tamora, Alarbus, Demetrius, and Chiron) Titus brings to Rome after he wins a battle with the Goth. Titus then hands over Albarus’ body as a tribute to Roman ancestors as well as Roman people as a ritual to keep Roman empire in its glory. However, his position as a noble Roman soon slips from his hand when Tamora executes a plan to have a revenge for the death of her eldest son. This revenge is carried by killing and mutilating Titus’ children. When Tamora knows that Titus is planning to have a renge on her as well, she and her two sons disguise themselves as Revenge, Rape, and Murderer in front of Titus in order to gain his trust though Titus actually knows about it and kills Chiron and Demetrius in the end. Yet, he dies in the end of the play after fighting with Tamora and Saturninus, who are also dead, and does not get his former position as a noble Roman. He even dies as a traitor of Roman Empire.
Meanwhile, Hwang’s M. Butterfly presents another issue concerning the body. The issue of Asian and West is brought up in the play by problematizing the feminine and masculine body. Said in his book entitled Orientalism (1979) discusses this issue, saying that Western people consider Asian as “the passive, seminal, feminine, even supine East” and, thus, European people need to “articulate the East” (139). Hwang precisely shows this idea in Song’s and Gallimard’s bodies as well as the connection between France, China, America, and Vietnam. Song who is actually a man guises and disguises himself as a woman in front of Gallimard. They first meet in German ambassador’s house in Beijing when Song performs his play as Butterfly. Gallimard immediately adores him by his act in displaying a “pure sacrifice” to the man he loves. He strongly believes that Song is the ideal woman every man could ever dream of. He, as Lacan says, is on a mirror stage in which he creates an ideal image of Asian people as a feminine body, both men and women, which is influenced by Western symbolic order. This issue frequently appears in the play whether a dialogue between Gallimard and Song or Gallimard and Marc. On the other hand, Song takes advantage of Gallimard’s belief by pretending to be the passive and submissive Asian woman so that he can be a spy of China to collect confidential information about America’s plan towards Vietnam. In the end, Gallimard commits suicide in disguise as Butterfly as his ideal self because he cannot accept that the body he thinks as a woman’s body turns out to be a man.
Yeats’s Purgatory and Albee’s Zoo Story also present a different issue of body although both of them also shows a dead body just like the former plays. Here, Purgatory and Zoo Story construct a character who does not want the existence of the body they live in. Both plays choose a projector and a story rather that a disguise to question their beings. Both characters of the plays, Old man and Jerry, do not want their body to exist in the first place because they do not belong to the place where they live now. The old man feels that his body is a fault and a sin because of the mix blood, his father is a drunker while his mother is a land owner. That is why he decides to kill the boy, his own son, in hope to cut the gene, go back to his mother womb, and to purify his mother. Jerry, on the other hand, does not want to live anymore due to his lonely life. In addition, he is a homosexual who is isolated from society due to his sexual preference.
Organizing the dramatic and theatrical techniques and devises is the other thing those dramas use to minimalizing and erasing the space between actors and spectators. M.Butterfly especially uses a projector, many stages, lightning, music, and sound effect as devices used in the play to externalize the conflict of each or within character. In addition, the play also uses a ‘radical’ text type which “break[s] the frame [of the ‘fourth wall’], in order to shift the terms of interaction with the spectators” (Elaine, Aston 1995: 130). This is marked by the communication between Gallimard and the spectators as well as Song and the spectators (in the last scenes of the play). He can freely address and interact with the spectators as if the spectators are one of the actors. Meanwhile, Zoo Story, Purgatory, and Titus Andronicus do not use that kind of techniques. They only use a projector, lightning, sound effect, and music as their tools to externalize psychological conditions and mental images into the stage.
Thus, all dramas need a trained body to perform it so that the spectators will also feel the same way, especially when the actors need to act as a dying person. In my personal experience, I have to physically hurt myself by giving tension to the flexor digitorum longus muscle, biceps femoris muscle, and diaphragm so that I can put myself in the seventh level of tension in order to act out the scene. In playing Gallimard, Titus and the Old Man, I do not have to put myself in a really painful condition because Gallimard’s, Titus’ and the Old Man’s dialogues do not really show an effort to keep on fighting when they are in the brink of death. They do not have any dialogue after the suicide or murderer so a red face and a shaking body are two dramatic techniques which are required considering their standing position. After that, they need to drastically decrease the tension into the first level by slowing the heart rate (pulse) and breath and enervating all muscles until their bodies cannot hold their weights and, finally, fall. However, Zoo Story needs an extra effort in acting out the death scene since Jerry keeps on talking after he got himself stabbed. I need to talk until my voice is hoarse because of the tension and make my face red and some kind of paranoid so that the spectators can see and feel the agony as well. Yet, Jerry is in the chair when he is dying which means only his hands and head which are allowed to shake. All of his muscles also have to be weakened for he goes to the first level of tension. Nonetheless, he does not need to fall from the chair he is seated.
Albee, E. (2016). Zoo Story.
Aston, E., & Savona, G. (1995). Theatre as Sign-System: A Semiotics of Text and Performance. New York: Routledge.
Hwang, D. H. (n.d.). M. Butterfly. New York: Dramatics Play Service Inc.
Said, E. (1979). Orientalism. London: Penguin.
Shakespeare, W. (2005). Titus Andronicus. San Diego: Icon Classics.
Yeats, W. B. (2016). Purgatory.