Paradoxes of Acting: Bakhtin and Stanislavsky

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While much has been written about Bakhtin's later writings, most notably Rabelais and his World, little attention has been paid to his early manuscripts written in the mid-1920s. In this article Dick McCaw compares Bakhtin's early philosophical ideas about authorship and Stanislavsky's theory about how an actor creates a character. Bakhtin argues that actors can only be authors when they remain outside the character. He agrees that there is a need for empathy, but that this moment of co-experiencing with the character is followed by a return to oneself. Although this would seem to fly in the face of Stanislavsky's demand for the actor's empathetic identification with their role, McCaw concludes that both writers agreed that there was a necessary doubleness in the consciousness of the actor. This article develops ideas first considered in McCaw's PhD, ‘Bakhtin's Other Theatre’ (Royal Holloway, University of London, 2004) and now being reworked as a book on Bakhtin and the theatre of his time. Dick McCaw is a Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway, and has written With an Eye for Movement (2006) and edited the Laban Sourcebook (2011).
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge Uni Press
Pages29 - 39
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)ISSN - 0266-464X
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Feb 2014


  • Aesthetics

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