Social Minds in Drama

The Delineation of Mentalities and Collectives

by Golnaz Shams (Author)
©2020 Thesis 248 Pages


This study provides a new model for the construction of mentalities and intermental thought of characters in playscripts. It introduces a model that facilitates the analysis of the construction of consciousness, instances of collective thought, and the dynamics of group formation in late-Victorian drama. It can be placed within the framework of cognitive studies because cognitive studies are interested in examining the mental state and the relationship between minds involved in cognitive interaction in narratives. For a long time narrative studies have neglected drama as a genre and, even after the long overdue acceptance of plays in the family of narratives, most critics were eager to focus on performance rather than on playscripts. This book introduces a model through which the analysis of playscripts will be rewarding and worthwhile.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • Chapter 1 Introduction
  • 1.1 Topic and Major Questions
  • 1.2 (Intermentality and) Social Minds
  • 1.3 In What Way Does This Study Go beyond Previous Studies?
  • 1.4 Methodology and Approach
  • 1.5 My Corpus
  • 1.6 Structure of the Book
  • Chapter 2 Theoretical Background
  • 2.1 From Classical Narratology to Postclassical and Cognitive Narrative Studies
  • 2.2 Alan Palmer’s Construction of Fictional Minds and Intermentality
  • 2.2.1 Palmer and His Work
  • 2.2.2 Palmer in the Context of Cognitivist Ideas
  • 2.2.3 Palmer’s Intermentality
  • 2.3 The Status of Drama within Narrative Studies
  • Chapter 3 Character and Consciousness in Drama
  • 3.1 Character and Characterisation in Theatre Studies So Far
  • 3.2 Character and Consciousness in the Embedded and Doubly Embedded Narrative of Playscripts
  • 3.3 Character and Consciousness in the Stage Directions
  • 3.4 Character and Consciousness in the Introductory and Explanatory Passages
  • 3.5 Conclusion
  • Chapter 4 Mentalities and Fictional Minds I
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 Introductory and Explanatory Passages
  • 4.2.1 Introductory and Explanatory Passages in Ibsen
  • 4.2.2 Introductory and Explanatory Passages in Wilde
  • 4.2.3 Introductory and Explanatory Passages in Shaw
  • 4.3 Stage Directions
  • 4.3.1 Stage Directions in Ibsen
  • 4.3.2 Stage Directions in Wilde
  • 4.3.3 Stage Directions in Shaw
  • 4.4 Conclusion
  • Chapter 5 Mentalities and Fictional Minds II
  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 Embedded Narratives
  • 5.2.1 Embedded Narratives in Ibsen
  • 5.2.2 Embedded Narratives in Wilde
  • 5.2.3 Embedded Narratives in Shaw
  • 5.3 Doubly Embedded Narratives
  • 5.3.1 Doubly Embedded Narratives in Ibsen
  • 5.3.2 Doubly Embedded Narratives in Wilde
  • 5.3.3 Doubly Embedded Narratives in Shaw
  • 5.4 Conclusion
  • Chapter 6 Intermentality and Group Formation in Ibsen
  • 6.1 Introduction
  • 6.2 Group Formation and Intermentality in A Doll House
  • 6.3 Group Formation and Intermentality in The Wild Duck
  • 6.4 Group Formation and Intermentality in Hedda Gabler
  • 6.5 Group Formation and Intermentality in The Master Builder
  • 6.6 Ibsen’s Plays in Criticism
  • 6.7 Conclusion
  • Chapter 7 Intermentality and Group Formation in Wilde
  • 7.1 Introduction
  • 7.2 Group Formation and Intermentality in Lady Windermere’s Fan
  • 7.3 Group Formation and Intermentality in A Woman of No Importance
  • 7.4 Group Formation and Intermentality in An Ideal Husband
  • 7.5 Group Formation and Intermentality in The Importance of Being Earnest
  • 7.6 Wilde’s Plays in Criticism
  • 7.7 Conclusion
  • Chapter 8 Intermentality and Group Formation in Shaw
  • 8.1 Introduction
  • 8.2 Group Formation and Intermentality in Arms and the Man
  • 8.3 Group Formation and Intermentality in Candida
  • 8.4 Group Formation and Intermentality in You Never Can Tell
  • 8.5 Group Formation and Intermentality The Man of Destiny
  • 8.6 Shaw’s Plays in Criticism
  • 8.7 Conclusion
  • Chapter 9 Summary and Outlook
  • Appendix
  • A Doll’s House
  • The Wild Duck
  • Hedda Gabler
  • The Master Builder
  • Lady Windermere’s Fan
  • A Woman of No Importance
  • An Ideal Husband
  • The Importance of Being Earnest
  • Arms and the Man
  • Candida
  • You Never Can Tell
  • The Man of Destiny
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

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Chapter 1 Introduction

1.1 Topic and Major Questions

Within the rapidly expanding field of cognitive studies, how are we able to incorporate a useful study of the consciousness of characters in drama? I would like to propose a cognitive approach to analysing playscripts. My main focus is the rendering of characters’ minds and their intersubjectivity in drama in particular. In this study I am primarily concerned with the construction of mentalities and intermental thought of characters in playscripts, that is I will analyse the constructions of minds, examine instances of collective thought and explain groupings of characters in drama. In this study I will work with a selected corpus of plays by Ibsen, Wilde and Shaw, but as I will explain in later chapters I do not see any hindrance in expanding the study to other plays and other literary periods.

Cognitive sciences are focused on the study of the mental states and the relationship between minds that are involved in any cognitive interaction. This outlook makes it well suited to the analysis of the consciousness of groups of character within different storyworlds of drama.

Ever since there were discussions about the dichotomy of the mimetic versus the diegetic, the status of drama as narrative has been a point of dispute among narratologists. Only with the advent of postclassical narrative studies have more scholars started to agree that drama can be regarded as narrative. Nonetheless there is a general disagreement on the telling versus showing problematics. One might argue that with playscripts this debate is superfluous, since the object of analysis is still, very much like the novel, a verbal manifestation of a storyworld and its inhabitants and what happens to them. Thus, the argument that in a novel there is a narrator mediating between the fictional world and the reader, which is normally missing from drama, is not valid. In any type of narrative, with or without an overt narrator – novels as well as playscripts – we are given information about the storyworld and the characters. Fludernik, who defines narrativity as based on experientiality rather than story or plot, even argues: “[a];ll drama, in fact, needs to have characters on stage, and from this minimal requirement, narrativity is immediately assured” (2008: 360). As Fludernik in her article “Narrative and Drama” further states, the reading process and staging the pictures while reading drama is different from that of reading fiction on account of “the explicit staging information in the stage directions” (363). I do not disagree with this difference between reading drama and fiction; however, I find the ←13 | 14→following similarity between the two to be more significant: the fact that readers create a mental picture of fictional characters and minds in action. The more information on the characters’ disposition, mood and state of mind the reader is given, the richer this mental picture becomes. From both novels and drama readers generate a mental picture of the characters. The obvious differences in drama are that the characters are presented in action and that the so-called lack of descriptive information only invites readers to make more use of their imagination, regardless of whether the information is provided by a narrator or not. There is no need to exclude drama from narrative on the grounds of its lack of narratorial mediation in its traditional sense.

One of the main proponents arguing against drama being excluded from narrative fiction is Chatman. In his Coming to Terms he argues:

Is the distinction between diegesis and mimesis, telling and showing, of greater consequence (higher in the structural hierarchy) than that between Narrative and the other text-types? I find no reason to assume so. To me, any text that presents a story – a sequence of events performed or experienced by characters – is first of all narrative. Plays and novels share the common features of a chrono-logic of events, a set of characters, and setting. Therefore, at a fundamental level they are all stories. (1990: 117)

Jahn applies a slightly different terminology. He uses “genre” instead of “text-type” and starts with the division between narratives and non-narratives. And then, within the category of narratives, he makes the distinction between the written and the performed; this distinction is a very important one, especially for this study. Here, the focus will be on the written form of drama, what Jahn repeatedly calls the “playscript mode” (2001: 673).

Since drama is a character-driven genre, one would assume that considerable work and research have been done on characterisation and characters’ consciousness in drama. Surprisingly, however, this is not the case. There are numerous instances of general character analysis and characterisation in drama, yet overall, there has been a marked neglect of characters’ mentalities, more specifically of characters’ construction of consciousness within narrative theories. I claim cognitive narrative studies can provide the ideal toolkit for analysing playscripts and characters. There are numerous cognitive aspects about the characters in plays to examine. In order to do this, we first have to take a step back and to take into account the common categorisations for character. Wilson (1979) in his “The Bright Chimera: Character as a Literary Term” suggests four categorisations for character:

Most critics use the third and fourth categories. It is generally believed that the first two are subcategories of the two latter ones. Thus, there are those who consider character as a mere textual function, a device on the verbal level disregarding any referential quality it might have inside or outside the textual world. Characters in this category are seen and treated as artificial constructs to be analysed in the development of the plot. The second group treats characters as if they were real people. Characters are equated with real people and their thoughts and actions are judged and evaluated accordingly. Analysing characters in this manner is equivalent to understanding how a character feels and thinks like a real person. But even Wilson states that these divisions are not mutually exclusive (1979: 737) and merging of the two categories might prove the most fruitful type of approach towards an analysis of character. Why not regard the character as if it were a real person and try to understand its consciousness, feelings and thoughts via real-world tools and techniques? Simultaneously, though, one should acknowledge that character is a construct that has a function in the narrative text and makes use of the authorial and textual techniques as further helpful means of analysis. I will apply this type of eclectic method when I reconstruct the characters’ consciousness in the plays.

In this study, I explore the social aspect of characters in late-Victorian drama. I demonstrate the construction of the characters’ individual mentality and then concentrate on how they interact collectively within different group dynamics throughout the play. I start out from the assumption that drama is a narrative genre, and therefore, follow in the steps of Bal (1991, and 1997), Fludernik (1993, 1996, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009a, and 2015), Richardson (1988, 1997, and 2001) and Nünning/Sommer (2008). Although drama is generally still perceived to be more mimetic than diegetic, the aforementioned scholars have pointed out a number of diegetic features in plays. Thus playscripts should not be discredited because of the mimetic/diegetic dichotomy. After all, it is true, as Richardson ←15 | 16→states that the boundary between the two is “more porous and unstable than is usually imagined” (2001: 691).

1.2 (Intermentality and) Social Minds

The title and idea of this book draw on Alan Palmer’s ideas on “social minds in fiction” and his concept of “intermentality”. Palmer is an independent scholar, whose seminal book Fictional Minds (2004) deals with the concept of the constructions of mentalities and collectives in novels. He finds fault with the general trend of privileging of direct thought and free indirect thought over thought report and believes that often while analysing the thought or consciousness of characters, their emotions and states of mind are ignored. Moreover, Palmer advocates a more active and social view instead of the more traditional, passive and private approach. He criticises existing theories of character by stating that they apply an internalist approach which pays more attention to the psychology of the characters. The important features become the ones that are inward, hidden and unconscious. According to Palmer, cognitive studies would benefit immensely if they included externalist approaches where characters are analysed through their outward behaviour. The attention here shifts to the social and public side of the characters. In order to do this, he deconstructs the thought/action dichotomy and regards these two concepts as belonging to one continuum. Thus, all descriptive statements range on a thought-action continuum,1 dealing in various degrees with the thoughts and actions of the characters in a storyworld. The thought-action continuum is the foundation of Palmer’s approach. Palmer believes fictional minds are inevitably intertwined with action and that decoding characters’ actions could give access to their minds. Thus, characters’ actions are described in terms of their mental functioning, for example X decided to do A, Y wanted to do B, etc. (2003: 333). He is very much aware that it is not always easy to undertake such a decoding.

Palmer believes the very key to fictionality is the construction of fictional minds (2007: 205). He then states that there are at least two minds in action in ←16 | 17→any given narrative2: these (minimally) two characters each have a consciousness of their own. We attribute a consciousness to the characters because we see them as if they were real people3. In order to do so, we use every piece of textual evidence we have at our disposal. We use every clue from the introductory/explanatory passages, stage directions and from the embedded/doubly embedded narratives of the characters provided by the other characters to form an illusion of the whole consciousness of each of the characters throughout the entire narrative.

Here I need to introduce two more key terms of Palmer’s terms, which I am also going to use in my project. According to Palmer, embedded narratives are composed of all the information a character provides about himself/herself. Everything readers are able to glean from a character’s thoughts and actions (including speech) belong to the embedded narrative of that character. By contrast, Palmer calls all the information a character provides about another character doubly embedded narratives. Everything readers are able to understand about the thoughts and actions (including speech) of a character that gives them information about another character is the doubly embedded narrative of that character. Since drama mostly consists of dialogue, naturally the embedded and doubly embedded narratives play an important role in my analysis of the playscripts. It is important to note that the term “embeddedness” has been used very differently in many narratological studies. For example, following Genette the term indicates a shift in narrative level. However, I am using the terms embedded and doubly embedded narratives in Palmer’s sense in order to be consistent with other terminology I am adopting from his approach. In Chapter Two I will explain in more detail the different uses of this term.

Following Palmer, this study argues that readers are engaging in a continuing consciousness frame as they are constantly constructing, revising and configuring the consciousness of a certain character throughout the narrative, even at moments when it is not present. Palmer uses only novels for his analyses, but he mentions that his preferred type of novels, or narratives in general, are behaviourist narratives (2004: 206–7), that is narratives where there is the least amount of the author’s (as narrator) interference and where we see the characters as they talk and act.4 In drama, more than in the novel, we see the characters as ←17 | 18→they talk and act and the interference of the playwright (as narrator) is minimal. Thus, I believe that the genre of drama is perfectly suited to a Palmerian type of approach based on a thought-action continuum to analyse the characters’ mentalities and interactions. Palmer uses the concept of the thought-action continuum to elaborate on the fictional mind in novels, but the usefulness of this concept is even greater in drama. Since almost everything that goes on in the storyworld of drama is presented in dialogue, or in the form of speech acts, and these speech acts indicate and incorporate the action of the plays, almost all of the thoughts of the characters are represented on a (if one may say so) thought-speech-action continuum.5

Palmer argues that individuals in the storyworld are based on the thought-action continuum and regards this type of characterisation as the construction of fictional minds on an intramental level. On this level, one can find out about the action, as well as disposition, dreams, wishes and expectations of the characters. However, this level does not cover the whole fictional mind or consciousness. Since characters in a storyworld almost always function in a social setting, inevitably they have to interact. It is in this interaction that a fictional mind is constructed in its entirety. This interaction in a Palmerian approach is called intermentality. Intermentality and group-formation focus on the social dimension of characters and their interactions.

Intermental thought is one of Palmer’s concepts that is central to this work. In an externalist approach, once the mind is put out there for everyone to observe, it becomes accessible to others and it starts to interact with other minds in action. It is this interaction and intersubjectivity that brings about the dynamics of the narrative. It is important to mention that, for Palmer, intermentality does not necessarily mean cooperation or only joint decision-making. He uses it in a much broader sense that not only includes joint states of mind, but also conflicts between individual minds or groups, or even competitive behaviour.6


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (April)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 238 pp., 2 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Golnaz Shams (Author)

Golnaz Shams was born in Tehran. She holds a PhD in English literature. She taught English and German most of her life. Her research has been about Victorian literature and especially on theatre and drama. She is also interested in narratology, theatre studies, and literary theory. She used to stage plays in an amateur theatre group at the ÖKI (Österreichisches Kulturinstitut) in Tehran and also took some acting classes with the late renowned theatre director Hamid Samandarian.


Title: Social Minds in Drama