Bakhtin and Theatre : Dialogues with Stanislavski, Meyerhold and Grotowski book cover
1st Edition

Bakhtin and Theatre
Dialogues with Stanislavski, Meyerhold and Grotowski

ISBN 9781138891456
Published August 6, 2015 by Routledge
264 Pages

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Book Description

What did Bakhtin think about the theatre? That it was outdated? That is ‘stopped being a serious genre’ after Shakespeare? Could a thinker to whose work ideas of theatricality, visuality, and embodied activity were so central really have nothing to say about theatrical practice?

Bakhtin and Theatre is the first book to explore the relation between Bakhtin’s ideas and the theatre practice of his time.  In that time, Stanislavsky co-founded the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898 and continued to develop his ideas about theatre until his death in 1938. Stanislavsky’s pupil Meyerhold embraced the Russian Revolution and created some stunningly revolutionary productions in the 1920s, breaking with the realism of his former teacher. Less than twenty years after Stanislavsky’s death and Meyerhold’s assassination, a young student called Grotowski was studying in Moscow, soon to break the mould with his Poor Theatre. All three directors challenged the prevailing notion of theatre, drawing on, disagreeing with and challenging each other’s ideas. Bakhtin’s early writings about action, character and authorship provide a revealing framework for understanding this dialogue between these three masters of Twentieth Century theatre.

Table of Contents



Methodology: questions, double-faced images and dialogue


Time and Space, Body and Image

Character and Author, Body and Image

Realism and Revolution

Art and Life

How This Book Works

Part I

Chapter 1 –Bakhtin and Theatre


i. Early Manuscripts

ii. The Writings of the Bakhtin Circle

iii. Dostoevsky

iv Dialogue in the Novel and in Theatre

v Time, Space and the Chronotope in the Novel and in Theatre

vi. Carnival and Theatre

vii Last Thoughts and Reflections

Bakhtin and Theatre – Some Conclusions

Part II

Introduction to Part II

Texts and Contexts

Bakhtin and Stanislavsky as Thinkers

Concepts in Bakhtin’s Early Philosophy



Act and Action


I and Other

Chapter 2 – Time and Space in Novel and Theatre

Acting from the Centre

Experiencing not Thinking

Given and Created

Given Circumstances

Value, Sense, Meaning

Acts and Tasks

Time and Timing in Performance

Theatrical Space



Chapter 3 – Psychophysical Acting


Bakhtin’s Body

Face to Face

I and other in Space

To Know the Body, To Value the Body

The Value of the Human Body in History

Stanislavsky’s Resistant Body

Internal and External Images

Bakhtin, Stanislavsky and Psychology

Creativity and the subconscious


Chapter 4 – The Actor, Author and Hero

I and other become Author and Hero

Being, Playing and Imaging

Creating the Image of the Character

Who Authors the Character – Writer, Director or Actor?

Stanislavsky, the Playwright and the Play

Working with the Play Script

The Director

The ‘Double Life’ in Bakhtin and Stanislavsky’s Theory

Conclusion: Image and Human Being


Chapter 5 – Meyerhold’s Revolution in Theatre


i. Meyerhold and Stanislavsky

ii. A Dialogue about Symbolism

iii A Dialogue about Physical Action

‘a plasticity which does not correspond to the words’

The actor’s work on a role

iv Training the Actor’s Body

‘The actor’s art is the creation of plastic forms in space’

‘the route to image and feeling must begin with motion’

‘an actor whose natural abilities have been developed by systematic training’

Training, Training, Training

v A Dialogue About the Traditions of Popular Theatre

vi The Grotesque

vii Commedia, The Mask and the Emploi

viii A Theatre without footlights

Chapter 6

Outline of a Career

Grotowski, Stanislavsky, Meyerhold and Bakhtin


Grotowski’s dialogues with the public

Grotowski’s dialogue with actors

The Development of Grotowski’s Actor Training

In search of a method

The way toward a Poor Theatre

Overview of Grotowski’s Theatre of Productions (1959 – 1969)

Staging the Dialogue between Actor and Audience

Confronting and not illustrating the play


The Actor’s Score – in search of true signs

The Actor’s Body

Holiday, Carnival, Meeting – Beyond Theatre

From Acting to Action

From Theatre to Meeting



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Dick McCaw is Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at Royal Holloway, University of London.


"At last, a landmark book that stitches Bakhtin unapologetically into the performing arts. Bakhtin loved novels best—but this spectacular study shows how keen and creative his thought can be when theatre is its site."

- Caryl Emerson, Princeton University, USA

 "A lucid and stimulating book that does what Bakhtin himself failed to do: bring his theoretical positions into dialogue with the theatre practice of his contemporaries."

- Franc Chamberlain, University of Huddersfield, UK