본문 바로가기
  • Home

The Theater of Law and the Law of Theater in M. Butterfly

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2010, 23(1), pp.209-233
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

YONGJAE HAN 1

1인제대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Will it be legitimate to discuss the nature of theater on the one hand and the nature of law on the other hand? This essay proposes that David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly offers a positive answer to the question. The play dramatizes the ways in which theater and law converge into each other on account of their performative nature. One must “perform” in court, just as he or she cannot avoid performance in theater. Not surprisingly, the question of performance appears as the main object of study in this essay, which is divided into two parts along the way. The first part focuses on the discussion of what it means to perform, especially in reference to act three scene two in which the clear distinction between theater and court blurs. The audience cannot determine whether Gallimard and Song “perform” in a sense of acting on a stage or they “perform” in a sense of carrying out their truthful legal duty in court. It is here that the traditional dichotomy between the true court and the false theater, as best shown in the case of Plato, begins to collapse. One cannot distinguish the legal performance from the dramatic performance at a fundamental level. Both performances relate to action or deed that one ought to play. The legal proceedings, in other words, are not so much the truth as the legal facts determined by performative action. The second part of the essay begins with a question that the first part entails: What does one perform either on a stage or in court? What, in other words, puts a person into motion in the first place? The answer lies in the fact that this play is framed by Gallimard’s story. All he does is to tell his story in front of the audience. Simply put, that is what the play is all about. For this reason, this part of the essay addresses the nature of telling a story in the analysis of Gallimard’s transformation caused by words power, and suggests that he, as well as every other character, performs with (or in) words in order to fulfill his will, which cannot be either finally or completely identified under any circumstances. The audience is only able to read his will as he or she intends. However, this is not necessarily bad news in that one’s given right to write the law is restored. Set free from ontological, as well as epistemological, pressure under which the process of signification is fixed enough to be calculable, one is now able to activate meanings behind any given performative acts. How do I want to change the world? This question becomes the condition of one’s performative acts in a world where there is no absolute correspondence between the signifier and the signified.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.