Discourse theory and deconstruction: the rhetoric of the york cycle passion plays
Church, Jo Hall
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This analysis examines five of the York Cycle plays, The Last Supper, The Crucifixion, The Death of Christ, The Harrowing of Hell, and The Resurrection, which form the core of the prophecy-fulfillment structure and produce the metaphor of atonement. Through analysis, the critic identifies and explains multiple layers of meaning embedded in the rhetorical strategies used by playwrights in the texts. Two types of analysis are used: the structured method found in James L. Kinneavy's theory of discourse and the identification process of pulling away layers of multiple meanings of the text respresented by deconstruction. This theory considers the triangular movement of meaning from encoder (here playwrights and players) through signal (plays) to decoder (audience). The application of Kinneavy's theory demonstrates that the playwrights imply meanings in the text, the players interpret these meanings, and the audience infers the meanings. Whereas Kinneavy proposes four aims--expression, exposition, literature, and persuasion--which seldom occur separately and distinct, he recognizes that in most writings a dominant aim emerges. In the plays, the aim of persuasion dominates. Also Kinneavy distinguishes the modes, the manner in which discourse appears, as narration, classification, evaluation, and description. In these plays, the dominant mode often shifts to emphasize a change in character or subject matter. After the aims and modes of the plays are determined, further unraveling of layers of meanings takes place through the process of deconstruction which emerges from Hebraic hermeneutics, rabbinic Midrash. This process interprets meanings by examining rhetorical elements which are found in juxtaposition, contiguity, and contrast. Through analysis, the critic discovers rhetorical features that enable him to extend an interpretation to the player so that the player can deliver the meaning to the audience, a process which ignites an energia that cycles back to the player during performances. As this reciprocal energia cycles, the playwrights move the audience toward a religious experience through the metaphor of atonement which lies at the heart of the drama.