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The Performative Image and the Power of the Audience : Shakespeare in the Visual Arts


The Performative Image and the Power of the Audience starts with a rejection of the assumption of spectatorial passivity, an assumption that lies at the foundation of even those theatrical theories which seek to activate and empower the audience. Instead, I take as a given that the audience is always already an active partner in the creation of art, and that every spectatorial interface is uniquely defined by the individual flesh and blood audience member. Proceeding from this point, I explore a wide variety of visual art pieces adapted from the dramatic work of William Shakespeare, presenting a case study in an experiential methodology, suggesting a reception theory based not on ideal or theoretical readers but on specific actual readers. My dissertation uses the concept of theatrum to analyze works such as Alphonse Mucha's Hamlet poster, Edward Gordon Craig's illustrated Hamlet for the Cranach Press, Frank Lloyd Wright's Romeo and Juliet windmill, and the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery, basing my readings on Bryan Reynolds's work in transversality, Scott McCloud's theorizations of comic books, the visual studies work done by W. J. T. Mitchell, and various reader-response theorists. By carving out a space in the academy for such experiential methodologies and by offering a definition of theatre that transcends the stage, I demonstrate that the audience is an unpredictable, independent, and above all free entity, whose experience cannot be discarded or belittled by the critic.'

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