What is metatheatre/metatheatricality?

the correct definition and some examples 

Expert Answers
Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Metatheatre is a term coined by Lionel Abel, but there are various disagreements about its exact definition; therefore, allow me to share the different definitions that I have found through my research and you can explore the literary terms part of eNotes to add to my own exploration.  The term was coined by Abel to mean the following:

reflecting comedy and tragedy at the same time, where the audience can laugh at the protagonist while feeling empathetic simultaneously.

A perfect example of Abel's idea of metatheatre is Don Quixote.  However, there are many more examples with different definitions.  In fact, the etymology of the word "metatheatre" comes from the Greek "meta" which means "a level beyond."  Going back this far, then, the term becomes a device where a play or a novel or a work comments upon itself. 

Then Richard Hornby came along, changing the idea yet again. 

Richard Hornby gave five distinct techniques that may be found in metatheatre. These include, ceremony within a play, role-playing within a role, reference to reality, self-reference of the drama, and play within a play.

In regards to this definition, Shakespeare's Hamlet would be a good example with "The Murder of Gonzago" being the play-within-a-play and leading to the distinction of "Shakespearean Metatheatre."  Then Stuart Davis arrived and furthered the defintion by including the new noun of "metatheatricality" to mean having a fundamental effect of destabilizing realism.  In my research, I came upon this idea by Davis.  It is perhaps the most modern and current idea involving Metatheatre:

"Metatheatre" is a convenient name for the quality or force in a play which challenges theatre's claim to be simply realistic -- to be nothing but a mirror in which we view the actions and sufferings of characters like ourselves, suspending our disbelief in their reality.

Keeping all of these varying definitions in mind, I am interested to know exactly what theatrical work you are studying that inspired these questions.  No doubt that you have sparked my interest!  Or perhaps you are immersed in drama class and are exploring the many aspects of theater?  Either way, I hope my thoughts and research have helped you hash through it.

mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Meta" is "above," "beyond," or "about."  So, metatheatre or metadrama is theatre about theatre or drama about drama.  Also, it could mean a play within a play, as in the play, "The Mousetrap," that Hamlet and the Players enact within Hamlet.  Hamlet stages it to elicit a guilty reaction from Claudius, who murdered his brother, Hamlet's father.  By recreating the crime in public forum, Hamlet and the actors achieve the goal of tragedy according to Aristotle, katharsis (the purgation of pity and fear), in Claudius.

In metadrama, the 4th wall between the audience and actors is broken, as a character on stage will address the audience in an aside, prologue, or epilogue.  Shakespeare begins Romeo and Juliet with a Chorus who previews the "two hour traffic of our stage."  In the play Our Town, Thornton Wilder's Stage Manaer interacts with the audience: such is the nature of most choruses, to be a mediator between audience and actor, and in some cases, to be the ideal audience, one that is so informed that commentary about the play becomes essential to the play.

missooops | Student

i really want to thank you but i find it hard to differentiate between meta-drama and meta-theatre and this year i have to apply the two terms on Richard III and on Al pacino's approach as well .. and woundering if the props and costumes is related to these terms.for example the sward which ricard gave to  Anne to  kill him as a matter of persuasion and the corpse of dead king ..etc.