Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The term “speak-in” situates this piece in the cultural upheaval and literary experimentation of the 1960’s. “Be-ins,” “guerrilla theater,” “street theater,” and “happenings” were terms applied to dramatic events designed to break outside forms and physical restrictions of conventional theater. They were often loosely scripted so as to create maximum involvement of the audience. The aim of these events was to create an “experience” that would be unique for each occasion, perhaps never repeated in exactly the same way.

Although Peter Handke’s piece is more conservative in its staging, deliberately setting itself on a stage in a theater even while it denies the conventions of the theater, it does have a measure of the spontaneity of these earlier forms in that the actors are instructed to make up speeches when they approach the front of the stage in the beginning and, once they are positioned, to choose their parts in whatever order they decide. On different nights, each speaker might deliver different lines. There are, however, limits to the openness of this piece: Apart from the fact that the order makes logical sense, it is a self-contained work with no scripted “openings” for the audience. The audience is expected to “sit and take it,” just as if it were watching traditional drama.

This factor opens up the other aspect of the category, “speak-in,” that Handke sets up. If the title suggests certain...

(The entire section is 539 words.)