Theatre Semiotics: Text and Staging in Modern Theatre


201 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7589-4
DDC 792'.014




Translated by John Lewis
Reviewed by Rolf Hellebust

Rolf Hellebust is a professor of Russian language and literature at the
University of Calgary.


When Semiуtica del teatro: Del texto a la puesta en escena first
appeared in 1987, it represented a pioneering effort in the development
of a comprehensive theoretical approach to theatre from a semiotic
perspective. Despite the reservations expressed by de Toro in his
preface to this expanded and updated translation, there is no question
that the structuralist and semiotic project has not lost any of its
relevance for the study of this field.

Drama is not merely a literary genre; nor is the sum of its individual
onstage concretizations. As a product of numerous interrelated
signifying systems functioning simultaneously as literary practice and
performance practice, the dramatic text is uniquely amenable to semiotic
analysis. De Toro considers the dual function of theatre as literature
and performance from various angles. He begins by comparing theatrical
discourse with that of other literary genres. He continues his
investigation of the specificity of theatre discourse by comparing the
types of texts, both written and oral, in which the dramatic work is
embodied. After a chapter focusing on the semiotics of theatre per se
(i.e., the variety of signs involved in the production of meaning in the
dramatic work), he discusses audience reception, the actor/character
relationship, and, finally, the theory of literary historiography as
applied to theatre.

Throughout, de Toro complements his arguments with examples from
theatrical practice—in particular, that of Latin America, the
author’s field of special interest. At the same time, he approaches
theoretical issues with remarkable analytic rigor. However, his efforts
to clarify fundamental terms, while commendable in themselves, lead him
to dwell excessively (in what is, after all, a relatively short book) on
current debates about the nature of such general categories as
“discourse,” “text,” and “literary history.” This comes at
the expense of what might have been a less-schematic presentation of the
main topic, including greater explication of the examples, and of what
remains a largely implicit second theme of Theatre Semiotics: de
Toro’s conviction of the key sociosemiotic role of the theatre within
Latin American culture.


De Toro, Fernando., “Theatre Semiotics: Text and Staging in Modern Theatre,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,