Some Reflections on Drama and the Dramatic Experience
Since Shakespeare, the dramaturgical metaphor has become a commonplace among both playwrights and social scientists (e.g., Buss & Briggs, 1984). Shakespeare told us that “ All the world’s a stage and all the men and women on it merely players.’’ Similarly, various modem sociologists and social psychol ogists insist that much of ordinary life is spent in playing roles-in taxi cabs whose passengers are afraid to give the impression of being cheap while waiting as the driver adroitly fumbles for change (Davis, 1959), or at cocktail parties, in
which husband and wife carefully stage manage the event so all possible mishaps are relegated to a hidden backstage area (Goffman, 1959), or in wards for the terminally ill in which doctor and patient conspire to maintain the fiction that ultimately all will be well (Glaser & Strauss, 1965). While such descriptions have a certain sardonic aptness reminiscent of an unusually biting Comedy of Manners, one may wonder whether we as psychologists really understand the life-is-a-stage metaphor well enough to use it as confidently as we sometimes do. Just what is it that a play-or a film or television drama-evokes in the audience that beholds it? What goes on in the actors as they perform their roles? Why is it that we as audience submit ourselves to watching staged events in which people voluntarily take out their own eyes or exit, pursued by a bear?