MIMESIS Munich Doctoral Program for Literature and the Arts

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Elisa Leroy

Elisa Leroy, M.A.

Doctoral Student


Edmund-Rumpler-Straße 13, 80939 München

Room: B 284
Phone: +49 (0)89 2180-72144

Thesis Title

More than is set down: Text and performance in Hamlet and its contemporary German stagings


In the third act of Hamlet, the protagonist instructs a troupe of players shortly before a performance: „let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them“ (3.2.36-37). Hamlet, the character, condemns the excess of the clownesque performance that deviates from the script. But Hamlet, the play, presents such a deviation from the script in performance as a site of creativity: By feigning the „antic disposition“(1.5.170), Hamlet himself becomes a clown, providing performers of the character the opportunity to explore their playful autonomy with regards to that which is „set down“.

The dissertation project attempts to locate this creative act of performance, which takes place just outside the boundaries of the dramatic text, in the production conditions of the theater performance itself. It reads Hamlet as a metatheatrical play that investigates possible relationships between that which is „set down“ and its excess by reflecting on the role of author, actor and spectator in the limited time and space of each performance. Hamlet develops a theory on the complementarity and interdependency of the dramatic text and its performance on stage. 

The intricacies of its plot between imperative and delay can be traced back to the constitutive dynamics of drama as „text to be performed“ (Christopher Balme). Against the Ghost's imperative to carry out its authoritative revenge script, Hamlet posits the autonomy of the „actor's disposition“ to deviate from the script and play „more than is set down“. He stages the „Mousetrap“ in order to foreground the responsibility of the audience for the common process of production that brings forth the performance. Taking the idea of the „double existence“ (Lukas Erne) of Shakespeare's texts seriously, this dissertation aims to transgress the simple binary of text and performance in order to grasp the timeless metatheatricality of Hamlet, who holds not only the mirror up to nature, but to the conceptions of theater, of directing and acting at the historical moment of its production.

This metatheatricality in performance becomes most visible in live performance today: Therefore, as an entryway, analyses of Thomas Ostermeier's Hamlet (Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, 2008) open the dialogue with Hamlet, the play. I intentionally use a gaze backward, as a 'participant observer' looking back on Hamlet through the lens of Thomas Ostermeier's and Lars Eidinger's common work on the play and the role of Hamlet, drawing on contemporary debates on the role of the dramatic text for „postdramatic“ theater (Lehmann) and the specific aesthetic qualities of the performative (Fischer-Lichte) in order to sharpen the grasp on the notion of performance. The observations drawn from Ostermeier's Hamlet will help formulate questions to address to Shakespeare's text that seek to productively combine the methodological instruments of literary studies and theater and performance studies. The text analyses will then be firmly rooted in the time of the first performances of Hamlet through a thorough investigation of the historical production conditions of Elizabethan theater, and early modern discourses on the haunting uncanniness of theater and the carnivalesque foolishness of acting.