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Narrative Mediation, Narrative Levels and the Function of Narration in "Midsummer" (David Greig)

Seminararbeit 2010 13 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur


Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

2. The Narrative Situation in Midsummer
2.1. Authorial Narration in Midsummer
2.1.1. The Temporal Structure
2.2. First-Person Narrative Situation in Midsummer
2.2.1. The Narrative Situation in the Songs of Midsummer
2.3. The Function of the Narrative Situations in Midsummer

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In his article “Voice and Narration in Postmodern Drama” Brian Richardson complains of the lack of “critical literature on narration in drama”, as it is only recently that narratologists have even started to even acknowledge the existence of “narratorial mediation” (Richardson, Voice and Narration 682). Considering Midsummer (a play with songs) by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre, this recent development in narratology is indispensable for an appropriate analysis. This drama for two actors was first performed at the Traverse Theatre in October 2008, and being first published in 2009. Within this drama, a large amount of the text consists of “narrated dialogue” (Greig 4). Not only does Midsummer employ narration to a – for drama – rather great extend, but it also depicts different types of narrative mediation, and comments on the difference between the story told by people and that of reality. Thus, this paper will show that Midsummer is not only a play with narration, but also a play on narration.

First, I will point out the different narrative situations that can be found in Midsummer, their characteristics, and what functions they have in the course of the play. The analysis of the narrative situation is based on Pfister's typological cycle (cf. Nünning 111). In the course of the analysis of the authorial narrator that is employed in most of the drama, an analysis of the temporal structure of the play is also relevant. It follows Genette's “account of the categories of order, duration, and frequency” (Richardson, Drama and Narrative 147). For the analysis of the first-person narrator, it is necessary to look separately at the narrative situation in the songs.

Finally, I will show how the different narrative situations work together and in what way the drama shows how storytelling works.

2. The Narrative Situation in Midsummer

For the analysis of the narrative situation in David Greig's Midsummer it is necessary to distinguish several parts of the play, in which different narrative situations are employed. An authorial narrator can be found in most parts of the play, but the story of the “legendary lost weekend” in “Eleven” (Greig 47-57) is told by Bob and Helena as first-person narrators. The songs are also written in first-person narrative situation.

2.1. Authorial Narration in Midsummer

Taking a look at the narrator of Midsummer, leaving “Eleven” and the songs aside for now, he or she shows all characteristics of an authorial narrator according to Stanzel (cf. Nünning 112). To begin with, he or she refers to the characters of the play in the third person: “Helena's trying to make it from Marchmond to St. Mary's Cathedral in just under twenty minutes” (Greig 29). He or she is also clearly no part of the world Helena and Bob live in. This is apparent, for instance, when he or she follows Helena into her bathroom with Helena having a hangover. In this scene, the narrator appears to be a part of the audience that is watching Helena vomit: “We find Helena in her fourth-floor flat vomiting” (Greig 23).

Due to his omniscience and omnipresence Vera and Ansgar Nünning describe Stanzel's authorial narrator as being endowed with certain privileges, namely the “psychological privilege”, the “spatial privilege” and the “temporal privilege” (cf. Nünning 113). Considering the narrator in Midsummer (apart from “Eleven” and the songs), all these characteristics can be found. Firstly, the narrator describes what Helena and Bob think and feel, for example when Helena prepares to go on a date to “Whighams Wine Cellars”: “Helena […] thinks to herself – OK – she thinks – if I was him and I saw […] me – I would think – ‘yes’” (Greig 10), or when Bob holds the weeping Helena in his arms. The narrator tells us, that “Bob has found that he feels surprisingly OK” (Greig 20). These examples illustrate that the narrator has insight into Bob's and Helena's psyche.

Considering space and time, the narrator is always able to switch from Helena's to Bob's story and vice versa, although they are not in the same place: “So you imagine Helena running […] furious. Now you imagine Bob running” (Greig 29). He or she can even move into Bob's head (cf. Greig 39). However, he or she is not bound to the chronology of the story, but rather, the story is interrupted several times by ‘flashbacks’: “And there's these two people having sex – Bob and Helena. They've only just met. They met a couple of hours ago in a pub” (Greig 5).

Employing an authorial narrator gives Greig the possibility to use certain stylistic devices such as the direct address to the reader/audience. This device occurs at numerous points of the drama, sometimes even in a question like “Where do you go when there's nowhere left to hide?” (Greig 33). This question animates the reader/audience to think instead of just let the action go on, on its own. The most direct address to the reader/audience is, when there is a “BANG” followed by the narrators explanation of it just being the one o'clock gun of Edinburgh Castle (Greig 42). Bob and Helena who are living in Edinburgh do not need the explanation, thus it is only necessary for the reader/audience. On the one hand, Greig here inserts a detail that depicts the place the drama is set in, namely Edinburgh[1]. On the other hand, it is also a clear break with the “convention of the fourth wall” (Nünning 79). Already in the aforementioned quote where the narrator uses the pronoun “we” meaning him- or herself and the audience/reader, he or she is rather situated in the audience of the theatre, rather than on stage. The reader/audience is hence being made aware of the fact that the drama is a piece of fiction. Moreover, it makes the reader/audience participate in the story, because one is requested to think actively while watching/reading.

Furthermore, the narrator fills his report with references to scientific researches, such as the research on how decisions are made (Greig 35), which states that the brain shows an activity only after one has already acted according to a decision that is supposed to be made by the brain before. Those scientific references support the reliability of the narrator, but they are also a part of his or her comment on the story, as he or she tries to find reasons for the actions of the characters.

Also, there are instances where the narration in Midsummer becomes rather absurd, one example being the conference in Bob's head which brings up Bob's age and what the options for his future life are. This rather comic depiction of Bob's situation relieves the audience/reader from the depression one must feel when seriously considering Bob's life. Another scene, which appears rather absurd, starts as the weather forecast and then transfers over into Helena's situation, sitting on a bench and considering the last encounter with her affair (cf. Greig 67). Here, comic relief can be found, too. But it could also be interpreted as a way of depicting how the human mind works: Listening to something we tend to associate things with that are occupying our mind, and mix both things up.

The following chapter focuses on the temporal structure of Midsummer which is closely linked to the authorial nature of the narrator in the bigger part of the play.

2.1.1. The Temporal Structure

Genette states that order is “the relation between the chronological events of the story and the sequence in which those events are presented to the audience” (Richardson, Drama and Narrative 147). Considering the order in the representation of time in David Greig's Midsummer, one recognises that especially in the beginning of the play the story is not told chronologically. One piece of the story can be leading to a ‘flashback’ that reveals the information we need to follow the story. The narrator starts the story with Bob and Helena “having sex” (Greig 5) although up to that point the reader/audience does not even know who they are, or what has led to their spending the night together. This is only revealed in a ‘flashback’ about their first meeting at a pub. Furthermore, there is another ‘flashback’ inside the first one of how Helena happened to go to this pub (Greig 10).

Basically, this way of telling a story is common in oral conversations where people tell a story, interrupting it from time to time in order to supply the interlocutor with information that is necessary to follow it. When Greig employs this technique in Midsummer, his narrator is depicted in a rather realistic way. This is also intensified by the choice of words because the narrator uses quite a colloquial language (e.g. “piss artist”, Greig 7, “You'd bang on the door of the bank like a mad tramp”, Greig 30).

Apart from the order of the plot-line, also the duration, “the relation between the time represented in the narrative and the time it takes to read the representation of those events” (Richardson, Drama and Narrative 147) has to be taken into account. While Richardson states that in a huge amount of dramas story time and discourse time are principally the same, because many playwrights stick to the unities of time and space (Richardson, Drama and Narrative 148), “Midsummer” contains am uncommonly large amount of narration. Since the narrator often reflects on events he or she is narrating, the discourse time is longer than the story time, thus there are stretches (e.g. Helena's contemplations on how the wedding will be. p.26). Still, at several points of the story we can find an ‘ellipsis’ which shortens the duration again (For example, Bob walks home (cf. “The Song of Bob’s Cock”) and in the next scene, scene seven, it is 10.00 am, Greig 21-23).

Another characteristic of the play causes stretching: Every time Bob and Helena are not together, there are two alternating plots, wherefore the discourse time takes twice as long as the story time. With this double plot, which proceeds rather parallel, the play becomes vivid because of the quick alternation between the two stories, but it also gives structure to the narration. If Bob is running, Helena is running, too, thus it appears natural that they finally meet somewhere, in this case St. Mary's Cathedral (cf. Greig 34).


[1] David Greig has often been referred to as a Scottish playwright (cf. Greig ix)


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Institution / Hochschule
Bergische Universität Wuppertal
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Titel: Narrative Mediation, Narrative Levels and the Function of Narration in "Midsummer" (David Greig)