As scholars of the avant-garde assert, a distinguishing countenance of post-neoclassical art theory is the contradiction of established and historical certainties. The sceptical visions present in Naturalism, Dadaism, Futurism, Surrealism, and Expressionism echo highly influential thoughts on philosophy, psychology and modernity. Often aligned with Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy (1886), Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) or the sprawl of Marxist ideology, the twentieth century visions of the world resonated with reform ideologies that were also prominent during the previous fins-de-siècles – particularly in the theatre industry. In this paper, I investigate debates on the ideas and forms of ‘theatricality’ during transitional periods of theatre history, the turn of the 18th- and 19th-centuries, through the philosophical, pragmatic and artistic works of two prominent dramaturges and play-writes during these epochs; respectively: Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) and Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956). These two play-writes take on not only social and political reformative criticism, but also theatrical criticism. By looking through Tieckian and Brechtian satire, we see examples of theatrical and aesthetic debates surrounding the idea of the theatre itself.
This innate self-reflection has been referred to by scholars as: ‘Meta-drama’ (Abel, 1963), ‘meta-theater’ and ’play-within-the-play’ (Mehl, 1965; notably also Fischer & Grenier, 2007), a ‘Meta-theatricality’ (Nellhouse, 2000), and a ‘Critical Meta-theater’ (Dawood, 2014). These foci could be assumed to follow an interest trajectory similar to the decades of the terms they inhabit. The first term seems to from a more classical, Aristotelean focus, concerning the nature of seeing a drama within a drama, while the second encounters an ontological question about the nature of theatre in general. The third takes on a social concern about outward appearance, and then finally, currently, a political stance, implicating the structures of hegemony within and upon theatre. Though ‘theatricality’ is implied on the occasion of ‘meta-theatre’ and ‘play-within-a-play’, I choose to look through the lens of Meta-theatricality because I am interested in looking at the effect of Tieck’s audience involvement within the play Der gestiefelte Kater (1797). ‘Meta-theater’ and ‘play-within-a-play’ signify causal, not effectual relationships. To this this, I look to Brecht’s ‘anti-theatrical’ educational (Lehrstück) and alienating (Verfremdungseffect) approaches (Puchner, 2002), both of which highlight the play’s function as a play. I synthesise an idea of the effect meta-theatricality between the epochs of Romanticism and Modernity, displaying two major dramaturgical ideologies’ interplay with ideologies and the audience-distancing effect as necessary for ‘theatricality’.
Going back as far as Aristotle’s Poetics, the theory and the practice of the theatre have centred on the assumption of a “mythos,” a “plot”, to which the characteristics of the theatre are subordinated. This dominant narrative-aesthetic conception of staging gave way to the notion of “theatricality” – that which is different from the events in real life by being a preconceived and staged event. Sharing the root form thea, ‘theatricality’, the ‘theatre’ and ‘theory’ extend from the Greek notion of “a place from which to observe or see” (Weber, 2004). It is this notion of an exterior perspective validated by the sense of sight that renders the audience relationship to the stage as most important to the idea of ‘theatricality’. To this end, I analyse the integration of spectatorship in Tieck’s Der gestiefelte Kater (DgK) as meta-theatricality while comparing it with the Brechtian style of audience-integration as ‘anti-theatricality’. By framing theatricality via dramatic works that integrate it, I am able to outline pragmatic elements of theatricality as understood by Tieck and put them into conversation with the negative elements from Brecht.
Analysing Tieck’s conception of theatricality provides depth to the pre-modern condition of German drama. Written in 1797 and staged first in 1844, DgK umbrellas the take-off of the term “theatricality” in the early 1830s. Pre-dated only by the proper French noun “Théâtral” (1645: Aspects de théatre dan le théatre au XVIIe siècle, University of Toulouse-Mirail) and the adjective “théâtral” (1674: Chefs-d’oeuvre des lettres hispaniques, University of Paris), theatricality’s roots are situated in the French analysis of mostly Spanish and Italian dramas (Google Books, 2018). In the German language, “Theatralik”, a forerunner to the currently used term “Theatralität”, kicks off around 1870, with spikes in the early 1950s and 1990s (ibid.). “Theatralität”, as used today, sees soft undulations through the early 20th century and a continuous growth in use (ibid.). The late appearance of a German term for theatricality is notable because it suggests a subordinate, ancillary position to the French and English drama discourses, and also situates Tieck as a pioneer of the German concept. An analysis of Tieck’s “theatricality” allows a depiction of its meaning around and before the time of conception, effectively giving ground to an increasingly broadened and appropriated term (Fischer-Lichte, 1993; Davis and Postlewait, 2003).
Tieck’s DgK plays out from the standpoint of self-declared ‘enlightened’ male spectators, waiting to watch a play they viewed as beneath them; a child’s fairy tale play claimed to be “a whistle, ethos, an open hint to the masses,” (6):
Schlosser. Wenn ich meine rechte Meinung sagen soll, so halt’ ich das Ganze für ein Pfiff, Gesinnungen, Winke unter den Leute zu bringen. Ihr werdet sehn, ob ich nicht Recht habe. Ein Revolutionsstück, so viel ich begreife.
Schlosser. If I should really give my opinion,
I hold it all to be a whistle, ethos, an open hint to the masses. You’ll see if I’m not right. A ‘revolutionary piece’, of that much
I have chosen to translate this passage myself, because other translations both add additional sentences and leave out some words in order to emphasise Schlosser’s meaning; I consider this unnecessary and bad practice, because in both other translations Schlosser is characterised as having stronger ideologies backing his criticisms. It is important to point out that Schlosser’s commentary doesn’t live up to its English-translated rendition, so we don’t assume Schlosser as authorial as the Playwright, which he is not. In fact, Schlosser was completely forgotten by Tieck in the original list of Dramatic Personae, so I have mitigated the impact of these poor translations. Though an uncommon translation of Gesinnungen, I use the word ‘ethos’ in English to imply that Schlosser was pointing out that the play would be persuasive. The construction of ethos in DgK becomes most important in distinguishing Tieck’s meta-theatricality.
Schlosser, aptly named to describe one who demands “Geschmack!”, “Taste!” (8), quite literally ‘he who lives in a castle,’ positions himself against the Playwright for presenting something overly childish and simple and also for being “naseweis”,“cheeky” (ibid.). Schlosser criticises the piece as both excessive in its artificiality and empty in its meaning, mirroring the framework for historical critique of the theatre as proposed by Davis and Postlewait in their book Theatricality (2003). They state: “This negative attitude, whether engaged or merely dismissive, has often placed theatre and performers at the edge of Western society,” (4). This harkens back to Grecian ideals of class hierarchy and ascribes the play-within-the-play a plebeian feel. As stated by Johannes Parvenus in Policraticus, 1159CE: “[saints] despise the theatre of this world from the heights of their virtue,” the omniscient perspective over a performative world is judgemental and critical. Wouldn’t this be anti-theatrical, considering the criticism is towards the theatre itself? By bringing the play-goer to a level omniscient of the fictive audience’s judgement, a meta-perspective, the play-goer’s direct involvement with the play as the audience themselves is removed.
As pointed out by Beus (2007), Schlegel would suggest that the comedy of watching the men as spectators “reveals the central, hidden truth” about the play. By contextualising opinions within the audience reactions to DgK, Tieck, “punctures its fictional illusion and exposes its process of composition as a matter of authorial whim,” and “strives to impart his awareness [of earlier models] to the recipient of his work,” effectively fulfilling the conditions of Romantic Irony laid out by Baldick (2018) and Immerwahr (1969) respectively. Like Postlewait and Davis, Schlegel used the example of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to explain how theatricality is inherently tied with irony involved in societal critique: there was this Elizabethan problem of a Protestant present with regard to a Catholic past. Hamlet is a useful adjunct to the notion of the ‘danger of a play’ because the religious concerns of societal deception via theatre are at issue between the Prince and the Players (‘Theatre and Metatheatre in Hamlet’, 2005). Benjamin takes up this meta-theatre Shakespeare conversation in Ursprung deutscher Trauerspiel / The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1925) as an issue of ‘melancholy’ (139) and ‘eschatological structures’ (139); “the entire course of world history as a story of redemption” (ibid., 78). In Benjamin’s sense, Shakespeare’s and Tieck’s theatricality would be inherently political, because it is redeeming itself over what was lost to the trend of the Victorian and neo-classical. The character Schlosser alludes to the critical reflection on society, calling Puss-in-Boots a “‘revolution piece’” (DgK, 6). At the heart of this criticism is Schlosser’s position as a progenitor of the bourgeois demand for realism against the Playwright’s advocation for theatre being theatre, not life. Bentley discusses realism and theatricality as two poles present in history (Theatricality, 13; The Playwright as Thinker, 1946). Benjamin describes this as a break with the mythic traditions of classical tragedy, claiming that Aristotle’s idea of “containment” no longer applies because the audience is reawakened to theatricality lost since the age of commedia dell’arte.
As seen on the very first page of DgK, the spectator called Fischer tells his fellow spectator Müller, “über solche Kindereien, über solchen Aberglauben sind wir weg, die Aufklärung hat hire gehörigen Früchte getragen”/ “We’re beyond such childish non-sense, such superstitions, the Enlightenment has borne its natural fruits,” but then on the next page, Müller and Leutner get giddy excitement with imagining just how the theatre would dress a live cat in boots. Using a semiotic coding system laid out by Fischer-Lichte (1992) for dramatic pieces, it is possible to look at the theatrical signs and processes that Tieck’s integrated audience reacts and doesn’t react to. Der gestiefelte Kater provides an unusual data source, the audience reactions, as a theatrical device that also acts as a socio-historical commentary on the relationship between the spectators and the stage. Fischer-Lichte reminds us that, “Die Konstituierung des “natürlichen” Schauspielstils des bürgerlichen Illusiontheaters,.. wird dabei als repräsentatives Sinnsystem der Aufklärung begriffen und entfaltet,” / “The constitution of the “natural” style of acting of the bourgeois illusion theater, .. is conceived and developed as a representative system of meaning of the Enlightenment,” (Volume 2, 212). By the end of the prologue, the spectator men are already singing the “Bravo!” of the theatre. This is a miniature commentary on the value of theatre as theatre. It is also evocative of theatre as inherently tied with epoch and ideas of matured taste versus childishness or heathenry.
This line is made ironic in the 2014 Heidelberg Theater Group Vogelfrei staging of DgK, when this spectator conversation between Fischer and Müller is set up within the audience itself. Sitting at four different locations amongst play-goers, the actors depicting the audience men use thick Swabian accents that convey their membership to the southern German middle class. Upon reflection, I realised that this Swabian staging was not a directorial choice per-say, but is in fact alluded to within the play itself. The names Fischer, Leutner and Müller all originate from the Swabian-Bavarian language area, as we can tell by the necessary Second Sound Shift in ‘Leutner’ (“Leuzner”), and the high-frequency of ‘Fischer’ and ‘Müller’ as family names for southern Germans. None of the names hold an aristocratic ‘von’ title, but still have enough money to attend the theatre. This denotes them as middle-class. Their southern Germanness is also notable because Tieck, who spent his life in Berlin and Saxony, opened this play in Berlin, effectively ‘othering’ these four southern bourgeois spectators from the Berlin play-going audience. While not actually capable of more than a colloquial German themselves, the four men beg play-goer criticism of the public’s seemingly genuine reactions to the theatre.
Schlosser, Müller, Fischer and Leutner, the ‘saints’ that grant us this meta-theatrical perspective, represent this conversation between ‘Western society’ (also referred to by Barish as “Christian thought”, Theatricality, 4), and “theatrical activity” (ibid.). They are staged as a bourgeois disjunction from the theatrical activity of a fairytale, allows the play-goer to watch the men watching the children’s play. This removes the romantic involvement with the play, a process known as “Verfremdungseffekt” / “estrangement”:
“This sort of self-conscious reflection, this playing with the boundaries between fiction and reality [suggested by Schlegel’s criticism and manifested within Tieck’s play] remains quite common in more recent theatre and film. The Verfremdungseffekt (device for making the familiar strange) through laying bare the play’s structure in Bertolt Brecht’s epic theatre does this, for example, as does the ‘anti-play’ of the theatre of the Absurd.” (Beus, 22)
Tieck’s ability to generate distance between the play-goers and the four men is an effect within the lineage of Romantic Irony and forward towards Brechtian theatre (ibid.). Using an analytical framework laid out by Burns (Theatricality, 1972), the integration of spectatorship in Tieck can be seen as ‘modes of perception’ that are historically defined. Tieck displays that the realist versus theatrical politics influenced him to this point of historicity. In his Kritische Schriften und dramaturgische Blatter / Critical Writings and Dramaturgical Papers (1848), he states: “The perception of such realism in the theatre (if ever it was real) is disgusting and contrary to the real purpose of the play,” (Hörmann, 1945). Tieck’s own positioning as an anti-realist is situated in his conversation about Victorian theatre with a “kind of protective self-mockery involving a playful attitude towards the conventions of the (normally narrative) genre,” (Baldick, 2018). Tieck’s particular relationship with irony is romantic, rather than Schlegel’s idea of arabescque irony, thanks to feeling “just a bit silly about it and… in jocular exaggeration,” (Immerwahr, 1969). When inspecting the comedy made of the audience within the play, the correlations between Brechtian and Tieckian “comicoheroic” drama and Shakespeare are clear; about Brechtian drama, but applicable also to Tieckian drama is Esslin’s analysis of a play’s fabular functions: “its use of fairytale elements, musical numbers, and broadly comical characters is a continuation of the old and once despised tradition and has been reestablished as a vehicle for the expression of ideas.” (174).
Romantic Irony such as in Tieck can be seen described by Brecht in his dramaturgical work, Little Organon for the Theatre (1948):
“Since the public is not invited to throw itself into the fable as though into a river, in order to let itself be tossed indeterminately back and forth, the individual events must be tied together in such a way that the knots are strikingly noticeable: the events must not follow upon one another imperceptibly, but rather one must be able to pass judgement in the midst of them… The parts of the fable, therefore, are to be carefully set off against one another by giving them their own structure, that of a play within the play,” (XYZ)
Like Aristotle, Brecht defined the essence of the theatre – theatricality – as production front of an audience; just as the pleasure of Aristotle’s “catharsis” is dependent on spectatorship, for Brecht, only when, “the individual events must be tied together in such a way that the knots are strikingly noticeable,” could the audience complete their, “purification through fear and pity, or from fear and pity,” (ibid. XYZ). By announcing an audience within the play and then following their reactions and interactions with the theatrical piece at hand (Puss-in-Boots), Tieck provides a parable of every-day characters perceiving a fable. He says about this technique, “In order that the play must be real, the imagination of the spectator must do half the playing.” Tieck is telling the tale of theatrical activity’s impression on the people – theatricality’s parable.
DgK does this by drawing attention to itself as a piece of theatre, where the action is continuously interrupted by comedy and the “theatrical illusion is again and again destroyed.” Just as the first scene begins, after the Prologue’s introduction of audience characters and one thinks they’ve settled in to a proper fairytale does Fischer announce: “Unmöglich kann ich da in eine vernünftige Illusion hineinkommen,” / “I simply can’t perceive any rational illusion in that” (11); or in the middle of a scene between two lovers, when the neighbouring audience member of Fischer helps the audience cast judgement on Fischer (29): “Das war doch etwas fürs Herz!” / “That was certainly something for the heart!” – “Sie wissen such in der Freude night zu mäßigen.” / “You don’t know how to contain your joy.”
Of course, there are other actors besides the audience members who break the illusion of the theatre. For example, in the third scene, when Gottlieb is concerned that kingly happiness won’t be enough for him because the “Komodie bald aus ist,” / “comedy is nearly over,” or when Hanswurst falls out of his roll as a “bloße Schauspieler”, and maybe most notably when the Hinze introduces the play within the play. These stock characters (i.e. the princess, the king, etc.) are used to “literalise and discuss” the issue at hand. In the commedia dell’arte, stock characters were used as abstractions of social groups or mythical characters put together in various different situations – comic, tragic and improvisational. DgK becomes a sort of meta-comedy by virtue of the stock characters within a comedy making fun of themselves. Their satirical carrying-on draws attention to themselves as elements of satire. Martin Esslin discusses this quality of broken illusion concerning stock ‘noble’ characters:
“The heroes are seen through the eyes of theirs valets and chambermaids. This produces a characteristic duality of language: the high-flown bombast of the “noble” characters stands against the homely, vigorous common sense of the people” (A Collection of Critical Essays, 174)
The play feels like a half-baked middle school drama gone awry, or maybe more aptly like a Jean Luc Godard film in which Ferdinand complains to the viewer about his Marianne before being swiftly pinched for doing so. These instances comprise another instance of Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt by “breaking the fourth wall”, that is, addressing the audience out of character or showing cognisance of the audience’s existence. Brecht first describes this estranging effect in a 1936 essay “Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting”:
“playing in such a way that the audience was hindered from simply identifying itself with the characters in the play. Acceptance or rejection of
their actions and utterances was meant to take place, instead of, hitherto, in the audience’s subconscious.”
The objective is for the actor to “appear strange and even surprising to the audience,” forcing the viewer into a pupil position (Willet, 92). For Brecht, the audience cannot achieve catharsis without this didactic and therefore self-reflexive method. Fried describes this method in Art and Objecthood as an object being positioned ‘in the way’ rather than alongside (127). This sort of unheimlich (unsettling) is described by Brecht: “At once, any sense of the familiar illusion is removed from the European stage,” (“Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting”, 201) and a sort of social political awareness emerges. In comparison to a Wagnerian unity, in which the theatricality isn’t turned inside out to face the audience, but rather relies on the illusion, Brecht uses a systematic auto-critique of the theatre itself. DgK also reacts against this neo-classical Enlightenment ideal. In the scene with two lovers, ‘He’ exclaims, “How my heart overflows with rapture when I see the whole of harmonious nature gathered thus about me, when every sound only repeats the confession of my love…” (28) and yet goes on to call the cat, Hinze, a barbarian for interrupting such a unity. Davis and Postlewait argue that ‘theatricality’ always carries a certain political and social implications via a dialectic between the natural and theatrical (37).
In DgK, most strongly annunciated as a break in the illusion are the various announcements of the Playwright. Occasionally appearing as a seemingly direct mouthpiece of Tieck, the Playwright speaks in the Prologue to the fictional audience about the value of fairytales: “Durch Laune, went sie mir gelungen its, durch Heiterkeit, durch wirkliche Possen zu belustigen, da uns unsre neuesten Stücke so sultan sum Lachen Gelegenheit geben,” / “Through hilarity, though genuine nonsense – I wanted to try my hand at amusing the public, since our newest plays so seldom give us an opportunity to laugh,” (9). The end of the third act also displays the connection between the Playwright and Tieck: “Ich hatte den Versuch gemacht, Sie alle in die entfernten Empfindungen Ihrer Kinderjahre zurückzusetzen,”/ “I made the attempt to transport you all back to the remote feelings of your childhood years,” (61); also, the Playwright very openly introduces Tieck’s contemporaries and friends’ new publication, Xenie by Goethe and Schiller (1797).
He is the only mitigator of the fictive audience’s applause, and also speaks only directly to the fictive audience. Though the internal play is self-referential and self-conscious, the Playwright doesn’t speak beyond the fictive audience members. This presentation style is reminiscent of Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt in as much as the Playwright provides an insightfulness to the piece of art. Brecht distinguishes the Verfremdungseffekt as an “attempt to make the spectator adopt an attitude of inquiry and criticism in his approach to the incident,” but also points to several elements of staging that are not included in Tieck’s DgK. These elements include stage lighting, signage, “fixed” opinions of the actors, involvement of the grotesque, “gest” – gesture with attitude, and montage of multi-media. Clearly Tieck’s late-18th century play would not have the technological advantages of Brechtian theatre, but Tieck advocated for a similar use of “unpretentious scenery, subservient to the playwright’s intentions” in his Kritische Schriften und dramaturgische Blätter / Critical Writings and Dramaturgical Papers (1852, qtd. Hörmann). Though both theatres were estranging the audiences, the Tieckian theatre’s political messaged circled around dramaturgical debate itself, while the Brechtian theatre took on larger issues of society and humanity. Though both authors sought for the audience to accept the artistic reality they conceived, the intonation of that reality causes a different experience for the play-goer.
In DgK, the “cheeky” Playwright aspires to fill in the gaps between art and reality for the middle-class, while Brechtian theatre aspires to educate about social injustice under the influence of external oppression and the human condition. Thinking back to Schlosser’s comment that the play would display ‘Gesinnungen’, ‘ethos’, we are hinted at that the internal play and the external play in DgK might both display some “characteristic spirit of a culture, era or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.” This understanding of Gesinnungen matches more closely with the word’s use at the time of Tieck’s 1797 publication of DgK. According to all of the books available to Google’s Library, which includes all the major scholarly search engines, at the height of its use between 1765-1795, ‘Gesinnungen’ was used mostly in combination with dogmatic Catholicism and political attitudes by publishers in the northern half of Germany. The appropriateness of this discovery provides a historical-social framework for considering the context of Tieck’s ethos in DgK.
Localizing Tieck’s critique points to the difference between Tieck’s meta-theatricality and Brecht’s anti-theatricality. Brecht’s seemingly Communist agenda, informed by Russian and Chinese theatres, seems drastically different than Tieck’s reliance on the Shakespearean and German stages. Brecht’s integration of various elements differs from Tieck’s adherence to lineally descendent stagings from Shakespeare. I position the effect of this difference on the audience as the difference defined by the Brechtian ‘Lehrstück’ / ‘teaching play’. Tieck’s dramaturgical writings castigate the British use of dramatic works as merely outlines for rendition. Distortions to original works were seen by Tieck as:
“that violent tearing asunder of emotions, thoughts and transitions, or the elimination of resting places, all of which have been introduced by a wise poet with deliberation, in order to give us the highest kind of delight.” (qtd. Hörmann, 1945)
In the most complete study of Tieck’s dramaturgical philosophy, Hörmann notes Tieck’s reluctance to “revive” Shakespeare within a “Frenchified” German stage (459). Reacting against the gaudy and “magical” set designs, Tieck advocated for maintaining the Shakespearean simplicity of three-part divided stage. Brecht wouldn’t agree with such a maintenance of conventions because of his purposed rejection of absolutest conventions for relativist conventions. Of course, Brecht was responding to the dominant “Frenchification” that took hold despite Tieck’s efforts. Brecht took what seemed static – the Wagnerian synthesis – and, “showed that it was capable of being changed”.
Like Brecht, Tieck prioritised the actors’ playing over elaborate staging: “no person covers the other, all are independently and equally set into frames,” (457). This type of staging is reminiscent of Brechtian ‘Gestus’ / ‘Gesture’ in which attitudes are revealed. For Tieck and for Brecht, each actor is meant to support their character’s ethos with bodily framing. Roland Barthes sites Brecht when discussing the relationship between consciousness and identity in Camera Lucida (13): “this headrest was the pedestal of the statue I would become, the corset of my imaginary essence.” Tieck portrays a similar aesthetic tone, both alluding to Grecian In a Lehrstück, though, the actors become teachers of social consciousness. The voice of the Brechtian author is not only available to the audience, like is the case with Tieck’s seemingly “protective self-mockery” as the voice of DgK’s Playwright, but actually present to the audience. This, I argue, it committed in Brechtian theatre by the presence of verbal signage, songs, and lengthy monologues by The Lehrstück is hinted at by DgK’s Playwright, but does not express itself directly to the audience, nor with peripatetic narrative-like disturbances in the action. Tieck’s auteurist tendency doesn’t stand in contrast to Brecht’s. However, Tieck assigns the actors to signify ethos, while Brecht assigns the actors to state it out loud.
The difference between Tieckian and Brechtian staging choices speaks to the difference between meta-theatricality and anti-theatricality. Tieck privileges the stage for the sake of ‘theatricality’, not education:
“ “The stage, in order not to contradict itself in the presentation of poetic drama, must clearly always be nothing more” than a stage. In the theatre of his day, the German discerned a disregard “of the most natural demand that in the theatre one really wants to see—and indeed see the human figures and what they are endeavoring to perform on the structure erected for them.”” (qtd. Hörmann, 456).
The set design is erected for actors to frame themselves and their ‘ethos’, in contrast to the more assertive Brechtian style of the actors being teachers – that is, literal exemplars. Tieck’s Playwright may be teaching a lesson to the audience within the play, but he hides it under a tone of “Respekt for den Leuten” / “respect for the people” (DgK, 8) and Tieck curtains this wall between the fictive audience and the play-goer. Instead of being directed ‘instructed’, the play-goer is left to be critical in their estrangement. The play-goer is enchanted by the meta-theatrical perspective regarding the theatre itself, rather than by an anti-theatrical, educational perspective.
By analysing Tieck’s Der gestiefelte Kater along the lines of meta-theatricality rather than just meta-theatre, it is possible to differentiate its potential separately from Brechtian theatre. A current example of this difference would be the genre gap between two recent examples of meta-cinema: Shia LeBeouf’s latest project Honey Boy (2019), in which LeBeouf plays both the narrator and the role of his father in his own autobiography, would be more like a Brechtian Lehrstück and is classified as “drama”, while the 2017 self-aware smash-hit La la Land, that oscillates between commentary on the theatre industry via a theatrical performance, is labeled “comedy”. By accessing the difference in subject of commentary, it is possible to position meta-theatricality as the critic of the theatre industry, while meta-theatre remains a broad critique of society itself. Tieck’s conception of ‘theatricality’ at the dawn of its usage in German literature shows at the same time a linguistic “Frenchification” of the German theatre and a push-back against its demands. Tieck invests in maintaining the theatre’s semiotic function with the audience, but also criticises a typified audience itself. Tieck is asking the play-goers to question their understandings of theatre, and a century later Brecht demands the play-goers to question their understanding of theatre on the world stage – the theatrum mundi. This discussion leaves open the possibility to discuss ‘theatricality’ with the theatre itself, rather than the normal everydayness of performative actions.