"Visual action can be as important on the stage as speech." Refer to Pygmalion and A Streetcar Named Desire in your answer.Please help me with finding quotes, and literary elements/themes. I am...

"Visual action can be as important on the stage as speech." Refer to Pygmalion and A Streetcar Named Desire in your answer.

Please help me with finding quotes, and literary elements/themes. I am supposed to write a detailed essay plan on this question. 

Thank you.

Expert Answers
gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You could begin by discussing the importance of visual action in drama generally. Although drama scripts can of course be analyzed in their own right, drama is primarily a visual medium, and stage action – the characters’ gestures, movements, physical interaction with other -  can be just as important as their speech, sometimes even more so.

The main part of your essay, I suggest, could be divided into three sections. The first section could deal with how visual gestures and mannerisms by characters help to establish and/or reinforce character traits and feelings. In this context you could then discuss Blanche in Streetcar, how her frequent nervous gestures – pressing her hand tight to her lips, fluttering about looking for drinks, and so on - help to establish her overall sense of insecurity and vulnerability. From Pygmalion, you could maybe discuss Henry Higgins. The way he frequently acts onstage shows that, in spite of his great erudition, in many ways he is still quite childlike in his wilfulness and petulance: sitting on pianos, or slouching off to the couch when told off by his mother, in the extract below:

He goes to the divan, stumbling into the fender and over the fire-irons on his way; extricating himself with muttered imprecations; and finishing his disastrous journey by throwing himself so impatiently on the divan that he almost breaks it. Mrs. Higgins looks at him, but controls herself and says nothing.(Act III)

The second section of your essay could then look at how the onstage action contributes to the overall mode of either play. Streetcar relies heavily on symbolism, such as the use of colour. Bright, vivid colours signify strength and power, so that when Blanche slips into her red robe during the poker night, this denotes that she is attempting to challenge the dominant presence of the poker players, who are all physically imposing men wearing brilliant vivid colours. Similarly, the action of slipping a paper lantern over the light bulb signifies how Blanche tries to shade herself from the harsh glare of reality. Such symbolic actions are quite lacking in Pygmalion, which is a different kind of play. It relies much more on literal representation. Stage directions are often extremely specific, making it quite clear how exactly characters should stand or sit or approach one another.  Such directions for the action may appear somewhat trivial in themselves, but contribute greatly to the overall sense of everyday realism. Therefore in either case visual action helps to identify the mode of the play.

The final section of your essay could look at how visual action sometimes helps to advance the plot, taking over from speech. One striking example of this in Streetcar occurs at the end of Sc. 4. Blanche has just finished airing her decidedly unfavourable opinions of Stanley to Stella, in Stanley’s absence  - although he secretly overhears some of her remarks. When Stanley noisily enters the room, pretending not to have heard anything, Stella immediately, and ‘fiercely’ embraces him ‘in full view of Blanche.’ Although she has silently listened to her sister running down her husband, by this action she shows very clearly that she remains wholly committed to him, in spite of whatever Blanche might say. Actions are certainly more powerful than words here. In Pygmalion, a notable example occurs when Eliza flings Higgins’s slippers at him, which is expressive of her frustration and anger at him. This sudden act forces Higgins to actually take notice of just how she’s feeling at this point, as her words failed to do. Her actions thus prove more effective than dialogue here.