The Semiotics of Theatre

  • Lars Kleberg
Part of the New Directions in Theatre book series (NDT)


The theatre is a complex art form. A theatrical performance includes a number of factors which the director combines to convey his overall vision or message to the spectator. One important function of a general theatrical theory or semiotics is to distinguish the various components of the scenic action or performance. Tadeusz Kowzan has defined thirteen such components, regarding each of them as a separate sign system. These are word, tone, mime, gesture, movement, make-up, hair-style, costume, accessory, decor, lighting, music, and sound effects.1 Such a list, however, immediately raises the question of how the various components operate as subsystems in the total sign system of the performance. In other words, what happens when these different factors are made to interact on a stage before an audience?


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  1. 1.
    Tadeusz Kowzan, ‘The Sign in the Theatre’, Diogenes, 61 (1968), p. 73.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    František Déak, ‘Structuralism in the Theatre. The Prague School Contribution’, Drama Review, 72 (December, 1976), pp. 83–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 6.
    Iu. M. Lotman, Stat’i po tipologii kult’tury, 2 (Tartu, 1973), p. 42.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Richard Wagner, Art and Revolution, in Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, trans. William Ashton Ellis, vol. 1 (New York, 1966), p. 34.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    Romain Rolland, Théâtre du peuple (Paris, 1903). First Russian edn. Narodnyi teatr (St Petersburg, 1910). English edn, The People’s Theatre, trans. Barret H. Clark (London, 1918). See also David Bradbury and James McCormick, People’s Theatre, (London, 1978) and David James Fisher, ‘Romain Rolland and the French People’s Theatre’, Drama Review, 73 (March 1977), pp. 75–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Lars Kleberg 1993

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  • Lars Kleberg

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