Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation explores how representations of violence do dramaturgical work in theatrical production. Playwrights write scenes of violence, and directors and designers stage them, with specific dramaturgical goals in mind. The project of this work is to develop a theoretical framework for understanding how productions use representations of violence. Ideally, that framework will be of use both to critics seeking to analyze productions with violence and to practitioners who want to more consciously shape their own use of violence.

Representations of violence create a sudden change in the audience's affective experience of the fictional world. I call that sudden change "shock," and I call the thing that shock is changing "aesthetic distance": the degree to which an audience member is absorbed in the fictional world of the play. Because violence is enacted on bodies and theater is an embodied artform, distance is profoundly affected by representations of violence on stage. This shifting in distance has significant power to evoke empathy from the audience - usually for the character being hurt, but sometimes (if the conditions are correctly set up) for the perpetrator of the violence. Empathy in turn can significantly shape audience sympathy for certain characters based on the nature of their involvement with the violence. This chain - from shock to distance to empathy to sympathy - is the path by which stagings of violence do their dramaturgical work.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.